Keali’i Reichel



Original air date: Tues., Oct. 16, 2007


In the premeire episode of Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox, Leslie sits down with Keali’i Reichel – composer; performer; teacher and an icon in the Hawaiian music and culture scene.


Keali’i Reichel Audio


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Aloha kakou. And welcome to the premiere episode of Long Story Short. I’m Leslie Wilcox. We hope that PBS Hawaii’s newest television program entertains, informs and perhaps even inspires you through conversations with some of the most interesting people in our community. And through our website at, you’re invited to take part in our program. Log on and see who some of our upcoming guests are. Suggest questions for them. And make suggestions for other people you’d like to see featured on Long Story Short. Your involvement in our programs – and support of our mission – will help us to make our community even more diverse, informed and perhaps even inspired. We’re about to sit down with Keali’i Reichel – an icon in the Hawaiian music and culture scene. But in this conversation, we’ll try to draw out the character behind the musician, chanter and kumu hula.


How do you define yourself? Songwriter? Kumu hula? Recording artist?


I’m Hawaiian. First, for me personally, first and foremost, I’m Hawaiian. And so I try to do things that connect myself to my ancestors, my kupuna; and find my way today through my music, through chant, through hula. I think that’s first and foremost, and everything else just happens, I think.


I recall reading a while back that you were surprised when you had these hit songs because you never considered yourself a good singer.


No. And I think most singers don’t think they can sing. I know I can hold a tune, but I’m not sure that I would go see me in concert [chuckle]. But no. I’m thankful for what we have and I’m thankful for the gifts that were bestowed upon us. And so we try to utilize them as best as we can without being too pushy about it, you know?


Are you a perfectionist?


Yes. We rehearse lots. We do a lot of practicing, making sure that songs are correct, the chords are correct, the language is correct, the ano or the feeling is correct, as much as possible. Because you know, people are – especially if they’re coming to see you in concert or at a performance, you know – they’re paying money to come see you. You know, you don’t want to disappoint. And you want to make sure that people leave happy and worth their time to come and see you.


Are you tougher on yourself or other people?


Probably. Maybe little bit of both, depending. I think we try to pick and choose of those who are around us, who have the same kind of mindset. You know, where excellence is up here. We try to reach that. We’re never gonna reach it, we’re never gonna be perfect, but at least we have something to strive for, every single time.


You mentioned to me before we got started here that this situation is a little odd for you, because—


Mm hm.


— as a kumu hula, you like to be in charge and in control; and this TV setting is not quite your way of doing things.


Yeah, it’s a little um, different [chuckle], for lack of a better word. But you know, insofar as, you know, being a kumu hula, we are responsible for everything to do with the education of our students when it comes to the hula. And when you think about the hula, you know, there’s so many different parts of our cultural fabric that’s in the hula itself. You know, within the hula you have language, you have gesture, you have dance, you have mindset, poetry, you know. And within all of that, you have little sub- things like history and cultural aspects like different kinds of practices. You know, fishing, farming, kapa making. All – everything comes under that particular umbrella of – that we know of as hula. So it’s not just dance. And so when you’re a kumu hula, we believe that you are the singular source for your particular brand or thought process of – I shouldn’t say brand – thought process of hula. And so you have to be strong. You have to make sure that your students um, follow everything to the letter as best as you can, because that’s what our kupuna did. Yeah it’s – how I teach is how I learned.


Not a democracy.


Absolutely none. Yeah, yeah. If we say jump, you ask how high. You know, that kind. But …


And you feel comfortable with that, being the source of all the direction?


Yes, yes. Because I started with that. You know, this singing thing, as I like to call to it sometimes, ‘cause sometimes it’s – you know, it just happens, is – it actually came out of my hula training and out of my oli training and chant training. So yeah, that’s always where I’m gonna go back to, no matter what. ‘Cause I know that this ‘career,’ for lack of a better word, is – you know, it’s fleeting. It can be. You know, these things don’t last forever. But our culture is much more grounded than that. Yeah. And that is where I derive – we derive a lot of our strength and um inspiration.


When you say ‘we,’ is it the ‘royal we’ or ‘halau we’?


Yeah, I know [chuckle].


Or your—


I get asked that a lot. You know, I don’t like to use the word, ‘I.’ And so sometimes it’s kinda weird when I say ‘we’ ‘cause it sounds like the ‘world we.’ But it’s an uncomfortable thing for me just to say. So kalamai, if it sounds weird.


[Chuckle] You know, I hear through the coconut wireless that you began life as a kid named Carlton.


Mm hm, yeah. That’s my English name. Carlton Lewis Kealiinaniaimokuokalani Reichel.


How did you become Keali‘i Reichel, much in demand recording artist and performer?


I don’t know. I don’t think you start off anything in your life with that kind of thing in mind. Maybe some people might, but I know that we didn’t. You know, oftentimes for us – and I can only speak for myself, you know. We work at bettering our chant, our hula, learning about our language, you know? And as you move along on this particular path, and you affect others and you teach, and you learn yourself it’s a give-and-take process, every once in a while you look up and you see what has happened. And some people go, ‘Ah yeah, yeah. Good for you.’ And you know, that kinda thing? You get all these accolades and stuff. But you know, we just put our head back down, and go back to work. So I don’t know how we got here. All I know is that we’re here, and we do what we can while we’re here in this…


There was some adversity in your background. You went to prison.


Um, almost. Not quite; almost. We – I used to hang out with a group of people that – we were very competitive. And it’s probably part of my personality where, you know, I always have to strive, yeah, to be the best at what you do. And so long story short, uh, I was convicted of grand theft. Yeah, when I was in my mid-twenties, I think.


What did you do?


Um, took some money from the company that I was working for. And uh…


Why did you do it?


Uh, why? Let’s see. In our little group, it started off small. It started off with, you know, taking a pencil, and then a pen, and then something – it just escalated. And so it was a little competition between all of us. And I had to be better. And so mine was the biggest one.


Grand theft.


Yeah [chuckle]. Gr—


That means, what, two hundred fifty dollars or more, right?


Oh yeah. I guess so; I don’t know. But you know, I was convicted. And the interesting thing was, you know, at the time, I was living with my grandmother. And I was kinda known on Maui as a kumu hula and – or at least an advocate of cultural, Hawaiian cultural things. And I received a phone call from my – at my grandmother’s house from the investigating uh detective. And he said, I’d like to come and – you know, I’d like for you to come and talk to us in Lahaina. I’m like, ‘Okay.’ So we went to Lahaina, and…


You weren’t scared, like, oh-oh?


I kinda knew. I kinda knew. And so I got there and immediately was arrested. And so I sat down with him and he was – he knew my family, he knew that I was living with my grandmother. He didn’t want my grandmother to see this at all. And so we sat down and he – after I signed all the papers that I had to, he said, ‘Okay, you can go home, and we will contact you.’ I was very lucky. A few months later I had to go to court and the judge at the time was again familiar with my work as a kumu hula. And so was the prosecutor. And they were very, very staunch supporters of what I was doing, even though they had to you know, uh, punish me for what I had done. And so they felt that it would be better if I stayed out of prison and worked towards bettering myself culturally than actually going to prison. So that was a huge turning point for me.


Was that community service in lieu of prison time?


Yeah, yeah. And I had to pay all the money back. You know. And I speak freely about it, because if I can provide one example of what you can do, how you can change your life. And it was because of the things that I was doing within the Hawaiian community that prevented me from going to prison. I had to, in my mind, turn around and pay back. And from — it was from that point forward that it became even more imperative for me to strive for, you know, cultural excellence as much as I could. So that as a huge turning point for me.


Overcoming adversity. That seems to be a prerequisite for success in the music industry. And Keali’i Reichel undoubtedly has found success – as a composer, performer and teacher. We’ll ask him what he thinks about being Hawaiian, being creative, and being a celebrity… next.


Do you think your life would have been different if you didn’t get caught?


Maybe. Uh, I think so. You know, if I hadn’t gotten caught, I probably would have done more. Who knows? I really don’t know. But I think, again in retrospect, you get to – you know, if you’re lucky enough, you get to look back on that path that you took, and all the paths that you could have taken. And so yeah, I think I did the right thing at the right – or the wrong thing at the right time.


You know, you say you are first and foremost in your life a Hawaiian.


Mm hm.


So traditional Hawaiian roots very important; but you live and you succeed in a contemporary society. How do you bridge the two worlds?


I don’t know. I think – you know, again, it’s like of those things. You don’t work at bridging the two worlds; you just work at survival and being as comfortable in your own skin and in your culture, as possible. And I think that’s it, really – you know, I enjoy electricity, I enjoy my TV. But I also enjoy waking up and doing ceremony, doing protocol, reliving and reviving, and re- articulating Hawaiian things either through chant or hula or whatever the case might be. I think it’s being comfortable in your own skin and just doing it.


You express your creativity through music, through—


Mm hm.


— the hula. Do you do art, do you do creative writing as well?


Oh, I wish I could draw [chuckle]. But I can’t.


You could do your own album covers if you drew.


M-m-m …




I – no, I don’t do a lot of that. I – most of my creativity is – it really is channeled or funneled through the hula itself. I think that’s imperative for a kumu hula to be creative. That’s what we do – we create. We create um new avenues in which to plug back into our history. And to meld ourselves with our kupuna, and to make it viable for today. That’s what kumu hula do. That’s their creative process. And they will always be doing that. Every generation of kumu hula will bring their experiences of that particular time to the forefront, couple that with their training. And their training usually comes from –not always, but most of the time, comes from a long line of kumu hula. And so those particular gestures, those particular thought processes always break through to the modern world, through that that particular person, through that kumu hula. So yeah. For myself and for many other kumu hula, that’s our creativity. And everything else just kind of gets – it’s like shrapnel [chuckle] uh, for lack of better word. And so the singing thing is kinda like shrapnel, almost for me, because it was through the hula and through chant and that particular training that the singing kinda branched out of.


You know, as I listen to you, you don’t seem caught up in the recording artist, celebrity part of it all. You really are into the hula and the halau part of it, aren’t you?


Yeah. I’m actually uncomfortable with um, this kind, you know [chuckle]. But I – there’s certain people, there’s certain times that I think it’s important. And this is one of them. And so we, you know, you’re right. We’re not comfortable. We’re not caught up. And I think once you get caught up in it, it becomes a dangerous wave to ride. It becomes distractive. And I think that, you know, whatever success we’ve had with the singing career happened in a later time in my life. I think I was thirty-two when this happened. And so I already went through the evil twenties, you know? [Chuckle]


Mm hm.


I got a lot of that stuff out during that particular time. I think, on a personal level, had this success happened when I was twenty- one, twenty-two, twenty-three, I think it would be different. And so I’m thankful for that.


And you don’t seem to have trouble saying ‘No, that’s a great opportunity, but I don’t want to do that.’ I mean, I’ve heard a lot of people say, ‘Oh, it’s really hard to get Keali‘i Reichel, he’s tough to get.’


Right. Um, you can’t say yes – we learned early on, after the first or second year of this, that you cannot say yes to everything. You have to build parameters around what it is that you’re going to do.


Even though you’re asked to do a lot of good things.


Right, yeah, there. And everything is good. That’s the thing; everything is good. But once you start to spread yourself thin – um, I’m gonna quote something. It’s – you feel like too little bit butter on a large piece of bread. You know? You get spread so thin that it doesn’t taste good anymore. And so you want that butte. I like butter, yeah? So butter gotta be thick, and right on top that piece of bread. And so yeah. And so we’ve learned to build parameters to say no; and to say yes to the things that are

important. Because otherwise, you become useless to the ones that you want to help if you’re doing too many things. Especially in this community, in Hawaii. It’s a small community, and you know, you only have so many venues to perform. And you can

only perform so many times. You know, after a while, it becomes too much.


Your island is the first island I think of when I think of a lot of newcomers with new ways, and different expectations.


Um, like how you mean?




Okay. You’re correct. Yeah; the demographic is changing on my island.


And the demographic changed probably for Maui, earlier than other islands.


Yeah. And actually, it’s still different, very different.


Is it a good thing? Is it a bad thing? Can you work with this? [Chuckle]


Well, we have no choice. Yeah; that’s the thing. It’s difficult, because you see things changing right before your eyes. And very, very quickly on Maui. You know, a lot of you know, local people from the neighbor islands, you know, they criticize Honolulu, the city. Oh, it’s the city – all the traffic and the freeways. But you know if you look at it, if you look at Oahu as a whole, you still have these old neighborhoods that have mom and pop stores. There’s lots of them on this island. Um, mom and pop restaurants, where the waitresses are grouch, you know? And you get, you know, fat and gristle in your saimin. You know, that kinda stuff. And that is almost all gone on Maui. You know, because it’s a different kind of movement. It’s a different kind of… for lack of better word, maybe ‘progress.’ I’m not sure. It’s difficult to see and difficult to be around sometimes. But you have no choice. You have to work with it and stand your ground when you have to. And some people don’t like it. They think that it’s either unwelcoming or it’s even racist.


What does it mean to stand your ground?



Stand your ground, meaning, you know, that this is how we do things here. This is our mindset. You know, we – you know, I wouldn’t presume to go anywhere else in the world and change how that community thinks. Yeah, ‘cause that’s not my job. You know, my job is to meld into the community. And there are, you know – and I’m sure it happens all over the world, and there are people that just can’t meld – they just want to make it how they want to make it. And that happens yeah, kinda often on Maui. It’s just different, yeah?


Sentiments that probably resonate throughout Maui and all of our diverse communities. Coming up… Keali‘i Reichel tells us what he does to stay grounded and keep his focus.


One of our PBS Hawaii viewers has a question for you.


Uh oh.




Okay [chuckle].


When you need to recharge your creativity—


Mm hm.


–what do you do? Where do you go?


I stay home… and I work in the yard.


And where is home, and what is your yard like?


Well, I live up in Piholo.


Which is upcountry Maui?


Upcountry. It’s in the ahupua‘a. It’s namoku of Hamakua Poko. And it’s about thirty-five hundred feet above sea level. So it’s kinda cold. And you know, I do a lot of yard work. As much as I can while I’m home, anyway. You know, mow da lawn. You know, I get four dogs. We – I just planted, you know, forty ohia trees on the property. So you know, all those—and I have kalo and uala, and all of those kinds of things. So um, for me, if I’m getting just a little bit too bombarded with this kind of work lifestyle, it always feels good to go back and get your hands dirty. And I had to clean my fingernails before I came, because I didn’t realize my fingernails were so dirty. Before I got here, I was like, ‘Eh, brah! Clean your fingernails!’ But yeah, that’s where– that’s how I recharge.


And where do you get the strength from to go on? I mean, ‘cause we’ve talked about how people in the public eye tend to get criticism, or you get people pulling you on different sides. How do you find strength?


You find—I think there’s a lot of different ways you can find that, and for everyone, it’s different. I have a great family. I have really, a small – very, very, very small group of close-knit friends. Yu know, halau keeps you grounded ecause you are responsible for so many people that you can’t be you know, flitting around too much. And you have to be grounded. Your students are direct reflection off of you. So you have to make sure that you are strong enough for them to be able to be grounded, because of you. Yeah. So that – there’s a whole bunch of stuff. I don’t think it’s just one thing.


And now you’re releasing a high definition DVD. Is that a new creative challenge for you?


A little bit. You know, when we do our – every year we have a show. We have three or four – three concerts on Maui. And we’ve been doing it for a few years. And it has become the venue in which not only to – for us to be – to sing. And for our fans or for those who like our music to come and watch us sing. But also it becomes an avenue for our halau to perform. And because that’s part of the learning process, that’s part of the cultural learning process – is learning how to get on a stage, learning to how to take your craft that you learn in your – in class and actually bring it to fruition in real time. Yeah. That’s a huge part of learning for halau. And so these concerts become that avenue for us. And we do interesting stuff. We try to bring in as much modern technology into the concert itself ‘cause I think that from a performance level, that you know, we can keep up with the Joneses anywhere else in the world if we utilize video, we utilize high def, we utilize different kinds of things that you normally wouldn’t see, I think, in a local performance.


But not cellophane hula skirts.


Absolutely not [chuckle] ‘cause – and you know, there’s nothing wrong with that, if that’s where you are at the moment and if that’s what you’re doing, that’s fine, yeah. We haven’t done that. That’s not to say that we won’t in the future. But right now, no.


So you’re a traditionalist, but you can see yourself – you don’t rule it out in the future doing wacky cellophane hula skirts?


I wouldn’t rule it out. But I don’t think so [chuckle].


I thought so.




You’re just being generous, right? Don’t want to criticize the next kumu hula.


No, no, no. Because everybody has a purpose. Everybody has a place in this huge fabric. Yeah, and you put one – you pull one thread out and everything unravels. Yeah. So there is value in everything that every kumu hula does. Whether you agree with that kumu hula or not, it’s the entire whole that you have to take a look at.


What is next for you, do you think?


I don’t know. And that’s a good question, because I think I never knew. Even in my – in retrospect, you know, there are certain things that are definite. I know that halau is definite. I know that my family is definite. I know that where I come from is definite and the community that I associate myself with is there. I think that’s it, really. And whatever you do – and I’ve been lucky in my life, and sometimes not you know, that – to take whatever comes your way and roll with it and try see what happens. You know, I’m known for being able to jump off the cliff and seeing where you going land. Or if you land. Sometimes you don’t. And sometimes you fly, sometimes you crash. You know? And it’s okay. But I don’t think – I don’t know what’s next [chuckle].


Stay tuned, right?


Yeah, maybe. Yeah, I have no idea, I have no idea. And I think maybe if I was in my twenties, I’d be more definite. But you know, let’s see; I’m forty-five. And I think that you know, I’m feeling real settled with a lot of different things, you know? I think it’s time for the next group to start, you know, doing stuff. And I see it happening. I see it happening with a younger generation of Hawaiian musicians that are you know, speaking Hawaiian and singing and reviving old songs and writing new songs in the old fashion. You know? So yeah, it’s wonderful to see. And I’m glad to have been a – to be a part of that, of course.


Constantly learning … creating new challenges … and reinventing himself. Perhaps that’s what defines Keali‘i Reichel. I hope you enjoyed getting to know this man who calls himself – first and foremost – a Hawaiian … who has faced adversity and change, and remained true to his roots. Mahalo to Keali‘i – and to you – for joining me for this Long Story Short. I’m Leslie Wilcox. A hui hou kakou!




Marlene Sai



Original air date: Tues., Aug. 18, 2009


Hawaiian Music “Diva”


Singer and actress Marlene Sai tells Leslie Wilcox about growing up in the golden age of Hawaiian music, of her early years as a recording artist, her unusual after-hours recording session in a bus barn, and her iconic portrayals of Queen Liliuokalani on stage and on television.


Marlene Sai Audio


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So now, this Kainoa. [PIANO] I have to honestly say that I have never learned the words, because I believe that your recording is classic. No one else should have to ever record it again; and yet, at the same time, we do want the song to live. And that’s why this is such a great night, because we get to do it just one more time, and I get to play for you.


Yes; that’s my act.


When you think of walking through Waikiki at night, what images come to mind? Maybe traffic congestion, street vendors? Well, how about live music? Marlene Sai grew up in the golden age of Hawaiian music, a time when Kalakaua Avenue was full of the songs and voices that beckoned the world to the romance of Hawaii. Marlene entered that magical world at the early age of eighteen, and never looked back.


Aloha mai kakou. I’m Leslie Wilcox. Welcome to PBS Hawaii’s Long Story Short. There are only a handful of true divas in Hawaiian music, women who wrap their powerful voices with grace, elegance, and beauty. You can add to the list, Marlene Sai. This product of Kaimuki and the Kamehameha School is quite comfortable in a business setting; but she was destined first to be a singer, an actor, even to inhabit the role of queen. This regal performer started out life with the most undignified of nicknames.


You know, one time, I was kind of on the fringe of watching what you were doing, and uh, and somebody called you Goofy, and I was just offended on your behalf.




Little did I know that all of your friends and family call you Goofy.


Yeah; I’m Goofy.


Why is that? How did that get started?


Oh, gosh. There is a story to that. When I was little, I had very curly, curly hair, and as my parents would say the Hawaiians would always comment, and they would say, Oh. And the older folks would say, Pupuka, referring to me. Instead of saying, Oh, she’s cute, oh, she’s pretty, oh, she’s this, they would say, pupuka. Pupuka means goofy.


Because they didn’t want you to get conceited?


No, because that’s the way Hawaiians are; you don’t compliment in that fashion. So you say the opposite.


You say the opposite.


You say the opposite. So as time went on, and of course, it just kind of stuck, and the personality became goofy oftentimes, you know.




And of course, my father would always say, Oh, gosh, she’s so goofy. Well, it was he who kind of left me with that uh, nickname. But then our entire family, we all have nicknames, you know. I have siblings; I have three brothers, a sister, and myself. I’m—


Okay; what are the—


—right in the middle.


What are the nicknames?


My oldest brother Ronald, his name is Jiggy.




Jiggy. And he works for Kamehameha Schools; he’s a retired fire captain, and he’s on the gate. So you drive in, you say, Hi, Jigs.




My second brother Dennis, he’s retired from the telephone company; and his nickname is Big Head.




Because when he was born, his head was a little bigger than the rest of his body. But then as he grew up, they all kind of blended in together. And, of course, then it’s me. And my sister just below me, her name is Yvonne … Peewee.


Does that mean she was big, or she was small?


She was tiny.   The story goes that they could fit her in a shoebox, she was so small. And ‘til today, she still is very tiny. And she still works at Kamehameha Schools. And my kid brother, Gary, retired from the telephone company, he loved Hopalong Cassidy. So his nickname became Hopalong.


[chuckle] And nowadays, the new generation probably wonders …




What is that?


Yeah; oh, yeah.


You know, you lived in Kaimuki.




Nowadays, we would consider that town, but in those days, it was a bedroom community to—


Oh, yeah.


I mean, what was it like living in Kaimuki in those days? Because now, it’s such prime real estate, because it’s so close to town. I don’t know if you considered yourself town folks, though, right?


No; it wasn’t town, but it was a family community. And what I liked about it is, because as I was growing up, I loved the ocean. So I paddled a lot, I used to go surfing.


Did you catch the bus?




HRT? [chuckle]


[INDISTINCT] or you walk it, you know. But no such thing. And, you know, we had our own little path. Made our own, because 4th Avenue never went all the way through, so you would just kinda make your way through the bushes and everything.




Did all of that. Yeah. Good memories, though.


Off to uh, Kuhio Beach—


Off to Kuhio—




—Beach. Well, you know, the wall?




Okay; we used to swim over there a lot; the wall. I would go to Ala Moana to paddle, because I paddled for Hui Nalu, Hui Kalia, uh, Healani.


And that’s a whole other kind of subculture and culture of Hawaii, the paddling community. So you were very much involved uh, in your life, first in paddling.




And then music. And not one of the others went into showbiz.


No. None of them did. I was the only individual from the group. And I think because it—you know how in life, if you’re there, and things happen, and it’s meant to be, and it just develops in that fashion—and see, we were always surrounded by music as we grew up. Always.


What kind of music?


Hawaiian music and a variety of them, really; a variety of music. But I remember our house on Kaimuki on 4th Avenue; it was our grandfolks’ old house and my mom and dad took it over. And I remember every New Year’s, we would have um, a luau. And we would—Mom and Dad would uh, kalua pig and uh, you know, dig the hole and do the whole thing. And everyone would, you know, make something, and we would have a uh, a feast. And Uncle Andy and his musicians—that’s Uncle Andy Cummings, and musicians, and I remember Uncle Sonny, another aunt’s—my mother’s sister’s husband, got on the piano. And it was music … always. You know, it was continuous.


It was your own live music, you’re—


Oh, yes.


talking about?


Oh, yeah.




So we kids were exposed to this all the time. As we grew older, Uncle Andy would be traveling, and we developed into our own music and besides hula, you know, we’d try to sing a song or two. But at some point in time in my growing up years, uh, I remember Uncle Andy and the Cummings family moved to the mainland. But when they moved back for just a spell while they were looking for a place, they stayed with us. And I remember attending Kamehameha Schools, and Uncle Andy would say uh, when he’d see me coming home from school, he’d say, Come, sit down over here. This was before doing homework. This was before doing anything. So I would sit on the steps with him, and he’d have this ukuele and he’d be playing a song, or whatever instrument. If it was a mandolin or—you know, ‘cause he played so many.


Was he—


So many.

—known at that time as a composer?


Yes. And he was I think this was my sophomore year at Kamehameha or even my fresh—I can’t remember. But in my early years. He was going to the Big Island, and he was working with a composer by the name of Jimmy Taka. And Jimmy Taka had the song, Kainoa, but he didn’t know how to write the music, to actually write it in music form. So Uncle Andy was helping him by putting it in meters an—and writing it and structuring it for him. So he was making these trips back and forth. So Uncle wanted me to listen to the song; and I said okay, and I would come home from school, sit me down, and uh, on our steps outside of the house, and he’d play the song. He said, Now, I want you to learn the song. And that’s how I started to learn Kainoa, which was the song that started me in the business.


It’s the signature song—


It’s one of—


—for you.


—the signature songs. Yeah.


How does it go?


[SINGS] I’m waiting on a warm and sunny seashore, yearning for the one that I adore. My heart is true, I’m thinking of you; forever I will love you, Kainoa.










Now, Andy Cummings is a heck of an uncle to get started—




—in the music business with.




Now, I have to ask you something about him. He was, of course, one of the greatest hapa Haole composers, ever, um, and he wrote Waikiki, which is another song you are known for.


Signature; yeah.


But I heard that he also tended to write songs about causes. I think he might have been against—


The puka in the Pali.


—statehood. Yeah; no puka in the Pali, right?




‘Cause he didn’t want to see the Pali Tunnel built.


Yeah. He did all of that.


Do you remember all that?


Oh, yes; I do. And I remember him singing it, too. You know, I—


How did it—


—don’t know—


How did it go? I’ve never heard it sung.


Oh, gosh; I can’t remember it right now. Oh; it was the puka in the Pali. But when we would have these gatherings, you know, his group, which was made up of uh, Gabby Pahinui, Uncle Andy, and Ralph Alapai, and all of these old folks, and they would come to the house, and they would jam, and they would practice. And you don’t know all of this wealth of talent that’s right there with you.


You don’t realize these are—


And you—


—very special people. You think—




—everybody’s got uncles like this.


Exactly. Yeah, it was Uncle Gabby, and it was Un—uh, Uncle, Uncle, Uncle all over the place, which is the way we are, right? And then as you grow older, and then you realize all of this talent that’s right there with you, and how privileged you’ve been through your younger years.


I don’t think Uncle Gabby was at a whole lot of backyard—




—luau. I think he was pretty selective.


Yeah, but you know, he was the baby in that group. So he was so kolohe. So when he played, you know, he was playing always from the soul, and the heart, and the seat of his pants. And he would just go into, you know, one song, and the rest of them would just jam. But it was um, it was a nice experience through those young years.


You know, when um, Uncle Andy would call to you on the uh, front porch—




—um, did he pick any of the other kids, or did he sense—




—something in you?


No one else; it was just I. And I don’t know why. And because I would try to sing around the house, and I guess he would, you know, hear. Oh, maybe there’s possibility here, you know, with this child. Or nothing in particular for him to just pick me out of the—


He never said anything to you—






Never did.




Never did. But all he said was, uh, he would help me with the phrasing. Then, if I wasn’t hitting the note, he’d make sure that I’d get up to it, and we’d go over it, over and over again.


What did he tell you about phrasing?


Like, I’m waiting on a warm and you don’t take a breath until, seashore.




You’re waiting on a warm and sunny seashore.




So we say you see what I’m saying? You see what I’m saying?


It’s the thought.


It’s the complete thought. So you’re waiting on a warm and sunny seashore, yearning for the one that I—so you don’t break up your phrases. Okay; okay. So here you are [chuckle], tenth grade, ninth grade. Okay, Uncle. But this would go on, sometimes for a couple of hours. Then my parents would step in; she has to do her homework, and she has chores to do. And so … things of that sort.


Did you have a—




—disciplinarian family or—




—or structured?


Oh, yeah; Dad and Mom were very much the disciplinarians. Yes. You know, with five kids, I guess you would have to be.


You went through Kamehameha Schools, and then what?


M-hm. You know, with all of the music besides all of the complete education that one gets, but the beautiful music that the students do learn, and that’s all the choral singing and that became a learning process too for me.


Yes, but I think you were doing it at a time when Hawaiian language was not in favor at Kamehameha.


Exactly; exactly.


So you got the music, but not necessarily the Hawaiian lyrics?


You would—


Or the meanings?


—get the lyrics, but we didn’t have, in those days the Hawaiian language was not taught at Kamehameha. This is my fiftieth reunion this year, so it’s been—’59, so 2009. So this will be fifty years for me. And back then they didn’t speak Hawaiian.


So you would sing Hawaiian songs, and not know what they meant?


Exactly. Or you would have to sit down with my parents or kupuna, and ask, you know, What does this mean and what is this all about?




Because the language wasn’t spoken, because the language wasn’t taught. You know.


Did your parents think you should learn the Hawaiian language? Probably not in that generation, right?


No, because they hardly spoke it at home. Rarely, did they speak it at home. It was hush-hush.


You’ve seen it come a long way.


I’ve seen it come a very long way.


Have you learned to speak Hawaiian since?


No. And I would love to.


You must hear it all around you now.


I do, I hear. And you know your phrases, and you know some things about Hawaiian, but that you can relate to. And yes; that, I know. But to converse; no, I don’t. And I would love to.


But you grew up at a home and at school in an environment that uplifted music as a value in life.


Well, and at that time too—well, when I graduated from Kamehameha, and during that period uh, my later years at Kamehameha as I said, you know, with all of the choral singing the music that came from there, I thought it was just a natural.




And so you apply it to oneself, and as you go to parties, and you’re with friends, and you’re sitting with an ukulele and you’re playing along with someone else, who has an instrument, and you’re carrying on; you’re singing all of these songs, knowing basically what they all mean, but not completely and totally. But you’re also bringing out what you’ve learned at the school.




All that was taught you. Because there’s music appreciation, and so therefore, you’re learning all different facets of it.



So at this point in Marlene’s life, the building blocks of her singing career are falling into place. A family that embraced the concept of kanikapila, the musical craftsmanship of her famed Uncle Andy Cummings, and an appreciation for music nurtured at the Kamehameha Schools; now, Marlene Sai just needed to be discovered.



It was when I came out of Kamehameha, and the plan was to go, because it was full-on business courses that I was taking at Kamehameha, ‘cause that was my intent to go on and further my education in business. And that was the concentration. I was working during that summer uh, in travel. Matter of fact, Uncle Andy had gotten me a job, ‘cause he was with either Aloha or Hawaiian Airlines. So he got me this job in this travel agency, and I would sell tours and do all of these things and earn some money during the summer. Well, my friends got to have jobs in the industry too, and so we would meet every Sunday. A good friend of mine, Vicky Hollinger, and this other gal, Norma, and I would meet at Joe’s in Waikiki. Because we were low on the totem pole, so we had to carry all of the Sunday work, and everyone else was home with their family. But we didn’t care; we were young. So we pulled the Sunday duty. And when we were done, we always planned, Okay, let’s meet at Joe’s, let’s have lunch and everything, and then plan from there what we’re gonna do. This one particular weekend, we’re at Joes, and in comes—and the beach boys would always come over.


Because you were attractive young women?


And because I used to paddle, so I knew a lot of them too. So, you know, they always—you know, Hi, Jessie, hi, you know, Rabbit, hi, hi, hi, and all of this. This one day, they were sitting around and everything, and said, Hey, uh, you want to come down to uh, this place. Our friend has a bar, restaurant bar, club on the other side of the island, Kaneohe. He’s taking care of it for his mom, and he manages the place. You folks want to go down next week? They have nice music, good music. Okay. So the next Sunday, we plan, and we all meet, and we all get in the car and we’re driving down. So one with the ukulele and another with the guitar, and the top is down, and we’re singing on our way down to Kaneohe from Waikiki. And we get to the other side of the island, and we get into this—park in the back, walk into Honey’s.




Honey’s. And he’s giving us the lowdown on who this guy is, he’s a beach boy, and oh, they got great music. Sonny Chillingsworth, Gary Aiko; oh, these guys, they’re good, good. So we get there, and we’re hearing this music. Oh, my gosh. So this guy comes over and he says, I want you to meet Don Ho; I want to meet—this is Marlene. Eh, this wahine can sing; she was singing in the car. You gotta call her up to sing. And this is her friend Vicky. So we sat there for a little bit, and we were having our libations, and having a nice time. He calls me up to sing. I said, Oh, gosh. Do you know Kainoa? If I sang it, do you think you could play it? Sing it to us. Sonny. So I hummed a little tune to him, and he says, Oh, I can get it, sure. So I sang Kainoa, and they asked me to sing another song. I sang another song. And then I went and sat down. Before we left, he came up to me and he said, Can you write your name and your address, and your phone number, just you know, so I can get in touch with you? I said, Okay. He says, What are your plans? I said, Well, I’m planning to go to the university, and I want to get my degree. Well, maybe you can make some money; extra money. Think you might want to sing here? Sing? Really? Oh, my gosh; how much am I going to get paid? And I’m asking all of these questions. He says, I’ll call you. One week went by, two weeks went by; and I didn’t hear from him. And I thought, oh, gosh; put it out of my head completely. And I thought, okay, that guy was just all wapa. One day, I’m driving down Kalakaua, and I’m looking in my rearview mirror, and it looked like a Thunderbird, and the top was down, and I see this car darting in and out. And it’s approaching me. And this guy’s hair is blowing; no shirt on, and he’s coming up closer to me. And I’m getting nervous. So I roll up my window, roll up this window, and I’m going further, and he comes and he’s telling me to pull over. So I pulled over, and I’m looking at this—and I’m thinking, Who in the world is this? ‘Cause he—I didn’t recognize him. He got out of the car, came over to me, and he—I had the window up, and he’s knocking on the—




—window, and he’s saying to me, You remember me? I was playing the organ for you; you remember me? And I’m thinking, What church is he talking about? I gotta remember organ? Where—and then he said, You came to my place with Jessie. When he said Jessie, my play—and I said, Oh—


Don Ho—


—Don Ho.


—is at your window.


And I’m looking at—so I rolled my window down, and he said, I lost your number. He says, I don’t know what happened to the paper, I lost that. He said, I’ve been trying to get your phone number. So he asked, Can you come down to the um, to Honey’s tonight or tomorrow night? He says, I’d like to know if we can get some songs together. If you’re still interested, I’d like for you to sing, and maybe make some extra money. And that’s really how it all started.


Singing at Honey’s. And your boss was Don Ho.


And my boss was Don Ho. Yeah. But things happened so fast. Because that night that I got down to Kaneohe, and there were these men that were sitting there; Bill Murata, George Chun, and I didn’t know who they all were, and they were all recording individuals. Herb Ono and I’m not sure if Jack DeMello was there too. And they were there to hear Sonny Chillingworth.


Because they were gonna make a recording of him?


Right; right. Sonny pulled me over; he told me what was happening. And he said, Don’t worry about it and just be comfortable, and we’re just going to rehearse. We went through rehearsal, and at the end of that time, Sonny said that a couple of the individuals wanted to talk to me about recording. I mean, it all happened that fast. So I said, What do I do? He said to me, Don’t worry; he said, just meet with them, and we’ll get a lawyer or somebody that you trust. And it just escalated from there. And in a matter of a short time, I mean, I was meeting Lucky Luck, and Jimmy Walker, if I remember correctly.


Who’s Jimmy Walker; another radio guy?


Yeah, he was a radio guy. And then J. Aku Head Pupule.


The uh, top paid disc jockey in the world—




—as they said.


Yeah; yeah. But—yeah, and things really started to escalate, and really happen very fast.


And here you were, how old; nineteen?


No; seventeen, turning eighteen. I just got out of high school. And it was just that quick.


Quick, indeed. What began as casual conversations with her Uncle Andy had now turned into the opportunity of a lifetime. In Part 2 of our Long Story Short with Marlene Sai, we’ll hear the story of a highly unlikely recording studio that was the setting for one of her iconic songs. And we’ll hear advice for anyone aspiring to pursue a career in music. Until then, thank you for spending this time with us. For Long Story Short and PBS Hawaii, I’m Leslie Wilcox. A hui hou kakou.


I enjoyed Donald; and you know, his nickname is Quack.


Donald Ho?


Yeah; you knew that.


No, I didn’t. [chuckle]


Yeah; he was Quack.


You were—


And I’m Goofy.


—Goofy, and he was—


Yeah; yeah




Yeah. Uh, matter of fact, all of the uh, beach boys, everybody, all of his close friends called him Quack. Many of the songs that he recorded for all his beach boy days songs, lot of it you know, all of the different songs that he sang. And he would just sing it over and over, and over at his shows. I loved them, because they reminded me of my paddling days. So it was good fun. [SIGH] And I didn’t mean to interrupt you; I’m sorry.


Not at all.


As we’re talking, all of these different stories are just popping in my head.


Well, just the idea that you call him Donald, and if you don’t call him Donald, you call him Quack.




This is Don Ho we’re talking about. [chuckle]


Yeah; yeah. I miss him. Yeah.




Joe Rice


Original air date: Tues., Mar. 6, 2012


President of Mid-Pacific Institute


Leslie Wilcox talks with Joe Rice, president of Mid-Pacific Institute. The genial private school leader opens up about his childhood, marked by abuse and poverty. Joe is writing a memoir of his experiences – a catharsis that stings long-open wounds. Now nearing retirement, Joe supports programs serving orphans and foster children, while nurturing the 1,500 students of Mid-Pac and a family of his own.


Joe Rice Audio


Download the Transcript




Some days, we’d just eat the one meal a day, and make it last. My mom and I, we … always last to eat, make sure the others … in our family, it started off with my dad first, any of his friends second, then the babies, and then all the way up to my mom and I. And sometimes, there wasn’t that much to go around.


It’s a story that you can identify with if you’ve been poor and abused, wondering when you’ll have your next meal, or your next beating. For the down and out, bouncing from a car to a tent, and back again, this is your life, a hard scrabbled life. But surely, not the life of the leader of a distinguished private school in Honolulu. Indeed, that was Joe Rice’s life. Join us, as we get to know Mid Pacific Institute’s president and CEO, Joe Rice, here on Long Story Short.


Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox is Hawaii’s first weekly television program produced and broadcast in high definition.


Aloha mai kakou. I’m Leslie Wilcox. In this edition of Long Story Short, we’ll meet an affable executive who laughs easily, travels in prominent circles in education, and is on first name basis with many influential people. You might guess that to achieve this level of success, he must have been born to comfort and attended Ivy League schools before eventually settling into his position as president and CEO of the Mid Pacific Institute in Manoa. Who would guess that he was dealt an incredibly tough start in life? It’s a long way from the migrant farm camps of California and Washington State to a graceful Manoa home and the leadership of a well-known Hawaii college prep school. But that’s the journey of Joe Rice.


You’re a distinguished headmaster of a respected school, and you have this very comfortable demeanor and openness about you. And yet, you’ve had this very dark and troubled childhood.




How much does that childhood play with your life now?


Almost every day. I’ve probably been spending too much time thinking about my past lately. I’m in the midst of writing a memoir about it. People have been encouraging me to, so I’ve been remembering a lot the past couple of years.


Is it painful?


Yeah. That’s why it’s taking so long to write the book.


Have you come to new conclusions and had new epiphanies, thinking about this as an experienced adult?


A lot of people ask me, yourself earlier, and others have asked me how did I end up getting where I’m at. And a lot of people think I was born with everything, and especially the nice house I live in and things. But, I reflect once in a while on how it is that I got into a position where I can help a lot of kids, and I can help a school. And I kind of trace it back to my beginnings and how I became appreciative of education and what it could do for you. And I’d have to give it all of the credit for getting me through to my position now. And I believe I’m a good example for kids who think there is no chance for them, that if they hear my story, they would say, Well, if he can do that, I can do it.


So much of your life … I know you had a loving, hardworking mom.




But in many parts of your life, adults you should have been able to trust simply weren’t there for you, or weren’t telling you the truth, or hurting you. How do you get over that?


Well, one, you come to those conclusions later. When you’re living your life, you’re pretty much focused on your brothers and sisters, and even though you fight and you do terrible things to each other all the time, they still care about each other, and they cared about me, and I cared about them. My mom was always somebody I could depend on that, if I needed an ally or somebody who would stand by me, she would be the one. And she took a lot of hurt for doing that, and she could have turned her back on me, and she didn’t. And so I gained strength from all of that. But I would be the first to tell you, and I’ve done this a number of times talking to young kids at other schools and things about there are so many people willing to help you, and giving you the hand of friendship, are willing to lift you up, but you don’t see them or you won’t take it when it’s offered. And at various times in my life, there had been people who have done that, whether it was a teacher, Salvation Army helping us out at Christmastime and bringing you a gift so that you could give your mom something. Or the local store where you go down, and you’ve been caught before for stealing food for your family, and this time, they just come in and say, What do you need?, and they give it to you. So, there have been those folks all along in my life, and I know they’re there for other kids. And sometimes they don’t see them, or they have too much pride to take it when it’s offered. But for most kids, it is offered, and they just don’t see. So I try to talk to them about that, because I certainly didn’t get to being the president at Mid Pacific on my own.


You’ve managed to navigate through very different worlds.


I learned early about getting up at four-thirty in the morning, and going to work, and dragging yourself to the car, getting your brothers and sister bundled and throw ‘em in the car, go. Either watch them while your parents work, or get out in the fields and work. Come back, work ‘til noon, one o’clock when it gets too hot to work. Go to school in the tent, go home, help cook. Take care of people, hope you don’t get hurt, make it through the day. I learned those lessons young. So, when you’re in college and you’re living in your car, and you’re eating the six burgers for a dollar at the Arctic Circle, and you drink Diet Coke or a cola, or whatever. I think it was Tab in those days, because I didn’t want to get too fat. I forgot that lesson.




But, I did that day-in and day-out. It was all better than when I was growing up.



If you worked your way through college, you have an idea of what it’s like to hold down a job and still do the required studies. Surely, Joe Rice’s rough upbringing in the fruit orchards gave him the work ethic to do whatever it was going to take to graduate from a university. But he needed to do more than work for a living and study for a degree. He needed to rise above the emotional scars, the terrible uncertainties created by lies and abuse. It’s a legacy that haunts him to this day.


Tell me about your early life.


Ah, well, let’s see. [CHUCKLE] I was born to a mom who told me she was fourteen when she had me, but I found out later she was probably around sixteen. And I only found that out when I figured out what her birthday was, ‘cause she kept that hidden. I’ve often told people I’m two years younger than I actually am, because that’s what my mom told me, that she lied about my birth, among other lies that she had and gave to me to protect me, for some reason or another. But I’m the oldest of twelve. I can even name them, if you want.


What are their names?


And it’s Joe, Jessie, Joyce, Judy, Jimmy, Bobby, Dale, Harold, Denise, and Homer. And the one that died about three days after birth was Haley. So we had a bunch of J’s in a row, and then a bunch of H’s, and then a few odd names, uh, in the mix, like a Denise or something.


And you were the oldest, so I assume your responsibilities grew as the family grew.


My parents, both of ‘em, had an eighth grade education, so it was clear they weren’t going to get good paying jobs unless they went back to school. And my stepfather, I learned that he was my stepfather. I thought he was my father in the beginning for many years, they became migrant workers. And so, the first time I went to a school steady, I was starting um, eighth grade. I went to half a year at one school, and then ninth grade, I finally went to Series Union High School in California. And I finished my four years there, living in a house. The rest of the time, we were migrants on the road. I went to school mostly in the tent out in the fields and they’d send a teacher out to us. We worked in the mornings, go to school in the afternoon.


So you had spotty childhood education.


No. Actually, not spotty, because you’d still go to school.


But you said half a day, or …


Half a day. But it would start like at one o’clock, and go to four, five o’clock. I actually started when I was three and four. My mom wouldn’t have anywhere else to send me, so they let me to go and sit with the older kids in the schoolhouse, which was just a large—


At three or four.


Large tent. But all multi-aged, so they had an elementary school tent, and a high school/middle school tent. So I just sat in the back and listened, and actually learned how to read real early that way. Went to school. One year, we lived in Hood River. I actually went one year, fourth grade, in Hood River, Oregon. I remember that. Couple other times, we went about a half a year where we lived in one place, and got a rental. But the other parts, we were on the road and went from Lancaster, California up to Wenatchee, Washington, picking apples. So wintertime you’re up North, and summertime you’re down South. We did that for many, many years. I took care of the younger ones when I was younger. You’re sitting out on the blanket under the tree, and then when they move from tree to tree, they pull along, and you sat there and stick the bottle in the kid’s mouth, or something like that. Soon as I was able to work, I was picking fruit, and got pretty good at it too, to where it was better my mom start watching the younger ones than me, ‘cause I’d do so well. That was pretty much my younger life. My dad was an alcoholic, very abusive person.


To whom?


To my mom particularly, and me second.


Because you as the oldest, or you as the stepson—


Me as the stepson, me who liked to read. Me, who … I just didn’t go and do all the stuff that the other kids were doing. I’d stay at home, I’d take care, I’d clean the house, I’d help my brothers and sisters. I did those things, and I was about as different as he could have been.


But that’s a good thing, what you were doing. Right?




Every member of Joe Rice’s large family suffered abuse at the hands of his stepfather. One night, in Joe’s senior year of high school, his stepfather gave his mother a particularly bad beating. The oldest son decided it all had to stop; and the events of that night would change the course of his life.


You mentioned how you were going up and down, up from lower California, up to Canada in a car, and sleeping in a car and tents.


Big station wagon. [CHUCKLE]


You got yourself to college, working your way fulltime through college, but you used your car … you were still living in your car, but you were going to college and living in your car.




How did you get to college from the big station wagon with all the dysfunction?


My dad did another horrible thing to my mother. And it was in my senior year. I was seventeen, and around November of my senior year. And he came home, and he beat her real bad. And left her bloody, and my other brothers and sisters were gathered around her, scared. And I was hiding in a closet. Just hiding. And I heard it. After he left, I went out and I got my mom, and I took her in the bedroom, and cleaned her up, and I told her that it won’t happen anymore. And so, I uh, kept my mom with my sisters in their room, and I had them barricade the door. And then, I went and got a knife, and I went to my room, and I waited. And when he came back, he was yelling for me. And—


He was going to beat you up?


He had been looking for me after he beat my mom, and I was hiding in the closet. It was one of those closets, if you don’t lift up the door, and if you turn it you can’t get in. And so, he gave up, and he left, and I was just sitting there. So I waited. And he came home about four. And he came in, stood there in the doorway and took off his belt, and he started hitting me. And I got the knife, and I went after him. And they said I stabbed him probably like about twenty-some times, and my family came in and held him down and said, Go Joe, go. And I ran away and hid in a vineyard near our home we had in middle of California. And I stayed there for about three days, and they said he went around looking for me. I didn’t hit anything, I just mangled him arm and his shoulder. And I turned myself in to a local grocery store, a little mom & pop, and I asked them to call somebody, and they called. And they put me in foster care for the rest of the year, and I finished high school, and nobody came. And then, I worked picking beans in the summer, and I bought a bus ticket for Washington. And I went there, and I went to the local welfare office and I asked for help. And they said, Why’d you come here? And I said, Because it’s you guys who’ve helped us all along, and we’ve been on welfare most of our life. And I said, It was either you or the Salvation Army. [CHUCKLE] And so, they found me a place to stay in this … it was like a redone house that had been put into little apartments. And they had a bathroom that they rented out, and there was a bed. So you had your sink, your toilet, and the bed. So you needed to climb over all that stuff to get to the bed. And I did that. And they got me a job at … working for the City of Tacoma on a survey crew. So I did that for six months, and they worked out a deal that a certain percentage of my pay would go into a fund, and this group called Neighborhood Youth Corps would match it if I would go to college. And so, I did. And they started me in at Tacoma Community College. So, I got a job working at a garage, and I worked an eight-hour shift after school. I got up in the morning and I went and I cooked at the cafeteria, and they fed me in the morning. Then I’d go to classes. And you’d only take like three or four classes, so it’s not like it is now where you got six or seven classes. And then, I’d go to work, live in the place. Did that for the first year. Second year, I went to work for Button Veterinarian Hospital, and they gave me a little room off of the vet hospital, and I cleaned pens and washed all the poop up, and all that junk. And they gave me a place to stay, and I did that, and still continued—that was my nighttime work after I finished at the garage.


And what kept you going as you were doing this? ‘Cause that you must have been exhausted.


Yeah. You get up in the morning, and you go to your job at the … cook breakfast before you go to school. Then you take PE for your first class, so you can take a shower and stuff, and then you go to class. It was all about I’d made up my mind that I wasn’t going to be like my parents, and I was going to show my brothers and sisters that it didn’t have to be that way for them. That even though I ran away and left them, I would show them that there was a way for them too.


When you’ve been through so much, how do you put it behind you? For many, catharsis is found in writing. In 2012, nearing retirement age, Joe Rice has been writing to tell his story, and to purge himself of the demons of his past. It’s been a challenging process. Sometimes, when you rip off the bandage, the wound reopens.


So, you’re writing a memoir about your life. How do you put all of this in context, and process it all for your book?


Well, it’s going on three years, because I start writing, and you won’t believe this, Leslie. But when I graduated from high school, troubled as I was, I was voted in the yearbook most likely to succeed as a writer. And because my mind was in the clouds, and I lived a fantasy life as you’re living the bad news, you’re dreaming of something different. And I wrote. I wrote lots of poetry.


Did you keep it?


Not too much. [CHUCKLE] I sent many things away to see if anybody wanted to publish. But I wrote a lot of things that told the truth too much, and people would read it and start getting worried about what’s happening at your house. And so I did that, and I wrote short stories and things, so people thought I would one day be a writer. And of course, after that, you’re working every day, and you’re trying to go to school, and you write lots of assignments, but you never do writing uh, like this. So as an adult, people said, Joe, you should … I know you want to help people, maybe this would help. And so, I’d start writing, and I’d get all gung-ho. And then my very first chapter is about hiding in the closet to kill my dad. And then I can’t write again. And the ending chapter of the book is when I actually do try to kill him. [CHUCKLE] And I fill in the middle with all the other stories. Some of ‘em are humorous, and this and that. So, sometimes, I can go and write a couple chapters and keep going, and other days, I break down and I then I can’t think. And I just get worried about things, and that maybe it’s all going to turn for me.


Even after all this time?


That this is not really me.


Yeah. You must have something very strong inside you, to have been able to handle all of what you did, and then all of what came later that was positive. I mean, not to minimize it, but you handled a life that was so negative, and now you’re handling a positive life. It seems like two different skills at play there.


I don’t know how to answer that one. I’d just get up and do it. I just think that someday, I’ll make a difference, I’ll do something.


Did you—


I don’t know what, but something.


Well, you already have, haven’t you?


Well, um …


Peace Corps, teaching, you know, molding minds.


I know, but those are all just stuff. Those are just stuff. It’s not like … excuse me. I … I don’t know what it is I’m supposed to do.


Do you feel like there’s something else—




–you need to do?


Something. I don’t know what.


While he gets up every day, goes to work, nurtures some fifteen hundred students at his school, minds his own children, and cares for his wife, Joe Rice still struggles with the legacy of a childhood filled with emotional and physical pain. Maybe that’s why he reached out even farther to the Future Light Orphanage in Phnom Penh.


Well, you’re supporting an orphan, right, in Cambodia?


I have a boy in Cambodia that I started supporting maybe nineteen years ago or something. He’s now out of the orphanage, and he graduated from high school, and he’s in a university in Cambodia, and I’m helping him. And he’s going to be in information technology. And so, that’s good. And I’m a member of Family Programs Hawaii, and we deal with orphans, and foster children. And I think that’s helped me a little bit.


But you still feel self doubt. Right?


I don’t know what it is. But I don’t feel like I’ve done … what it is.


You know, you had a life of such unrelieved pain. How did you learn how to feel joy, and just find joy every day?


The best times—[CHUCKLE], I don’t know, when your children are born, and you see them, and you watch them grow up. That is a great joy. To wake up with your wife, and know that she loves you, and you’ve got something good going. That’s a joy. It’s hard to express. It’s kind of like you feel like something not going to go well, or something’s going to happen. And so, do good, and ward it off.


What do you enjoy most about being the head of Mid Pacific?


Well, believe it or not, my best times are when I go to the preschool. And you go over there ‘cause if you’re having a bad day, just go to the preschool or kindergarten classes, and they … about three years ago, I must have come dressed in green, kinda like you are. And they called me Mr. Gecko.




And so now—these are three-year-olds. And so, they surround me and sing a Mr. Gecko song that they make up.




Now, these kids are like second grade, and they still call me Mr. Gecko.




And that makes you feel good.


There were times in this conversation that I could hear student crew members sniffing, fighting back tears. There were times when Joe Rice and I shed tears. The abused child who watched out for his mother and siblings grew up to have many fulfilling moments and chapters in his long, successful educational career. Yet, he’s not sure this is his ultimate calling in life.


To the head of Mid Pacific Institute in Honolulu, we say mahalo for all you’ve done for the young people in your care. We wish Joe Rice the best in his personal quest, and we’ll be on the lookout for his memoir.


For Long Story Short and PBS Hawaii, I’m Leslie Wilcox. A hui hou kakou.


For audio and written transcripts of this program, and all episodes of Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox, visit


A lot of people think I was born with everything, and especially the nice house I live in and things. But, I reflect once in a while on how it is that I got into a position where I can help a lot of kids, and I can help a school. And I kind of trace it back to my beginnings and how I became appreciative of education and what it could do for you. And I’d have to give it all of the credit for getting me through to my position now. And I believe I’m a good example for kids who think there is no chance for them, that if they hear my story, they would say, Well, if he can do that, I can do it.




Pat Saiki



Original air date: Tues., Sept. 16, 2008


Former Hawaii Congresswoman


Pat Saiki, Hilo-born public school teacher, wife and mother of five, became a U.S. Congresswoman and head of the nation’s Small Business Administration.


Not one to let racial discrimination, gender bias, government bureaucracy or social injustice get her down, Pat worked to put them down and was elected, as a Republican, to serve in the State House of Representatives from 1968-1974, the State Senate from 1974-1982, and the U.S. Congress from 1986-1990.


Today, Pat continues to advocate for women, minorities and those less fortunate, taking a special interest in elder care. And she continues to inspire those she meets.


Pat Saiki Audio


Download the Transcript




Aloha no; I’m Leslie Wilcox of PBS Hawaii. In today’s Long Story Short we get to chat with a former Hilo girl, public school teacher, wife and mother of five who became a U.S. Congresswoman and head of the nation’s Small Business Administration. A conversation with Pat Saiki, next.


Patricia Fukuda Saiki is not one to let racial discrimination, gender bias, government bureaucracy or social injustice get her down. She’s worked to put them down. Obstacles she faced early in life and early in her career motivated her to take action. And to hear her stories, you can see why.


My parents were, well, let me put it this way. My father was the original feminist. He had three daughters. There were three of us; I was the eldest. And he said, You can be anything you want to be. But look at school teaching and look at nursing as the first two priority occupations. But other than that, you can choose to do whatever you want to do. And he wanted each of us to be a star tennis player, like he was. He was a tennis coach at Hilo High School. So he trained each of us to play tennis, and he called us Sonny Boy; ‘cause he had no sons. [chuckle] But we felt a sense of independence, and my father gave us that. My mother, of course, was a seamstress; she worked with her hands. And she supported us all the way.   So growing up in Hilo was nice.


When your dad said you can be anything you want —



Did he truly mean that? Because —


He really —


– he did direct you to teaching and nursing.


Well, he thought those were two honorable professions. But, he said, if there’s anything else you want to be, go for it.


And were other parents of that age saying, Find a good guy, get somebody to support you?


[chuckle] I don’t know. I would suspect so. But he was very independent, so he made us feel very independent.


Why do you think he was so independent with his girls?


I don’t know what it was. But he was a sort of a trendsetter in that he wanted to excel, and he wanted to push us into competing, and you know, that sort of thing. Even if we were girls, just girls, he felt that we could win. So he was a champion, in my book.


Did you feel racial prejudice?


No, not at all. No racial prejudice. Maybe some sex bias. But other than that, nothing that we couldn’t overcome.


What kind of sex bias?


Well, you know, girls are not supposed to march forward and speak up too loudly. You have to sit at the table on the ocean side, instead of the mountain side, because men are higher than women. That sort of thing. And that’s old, old style Japanese folklore, I used to call it. And I broke all those rules.


And what —


It was okay.


– happened to you when you broke those rules?


Nothing. Because my daddy backed me up. [chuckle]


Okay; so you became a teacher.




And you thought that was what you were gonna do for the rest of your life?


Yes, I really did think so. I found it challenging. I graduated from the University of Hawaii. And the interesting thing is, because we were not a wealthy family, we knew that we had to help each other—my two sisters and myself, we knew we had to help each other. And because I was the eldest, and I stayed in the dormitory for one year, at Hale Laulima, which is right across the street from your studio. And I was able to stay there for one year. After that, I said, the sister below me wants to go to the mainland to school, we don’t have the money, so give to her; I’ll work. And so I got a job with Rudy Tongg, who started Aloha Airlines. It was called TPA, Aloha Airlines. And we had those propeller planes, the D6s, you know, propeller planes. And we worked—there were five of us from the University of Hawaii who were the weekend girls that came down and took over from the regulars.


Back before they were called flight attendants; you were a stewardess.


I was a stewardess; that’s right. And we worked weekends, holidays, vacations, and we got double pay when the volcano erupted. In those days, we’d fly right into the crater. Of course, my parents almost had a heart attack every time I took that flight. But it paid my way through school. And so my second sister—my sister just below me—got to go to Teachers College in Iowa. And we both helped the third one to go to school. So it was an adventuresome period, a fun time, and we earned our money, worked hard. Oh, and then my first job was at Punahou School. Dr. Fox, who was then the principal of Punahou, came up to the University and looked over the flock of people that he could hire, and he said, Well, Pat, why don’t you come over and teach at Punahou; we need some local girls. So I was one of the few local girls, the first ones, to be on the staff at Punahou. And it was exciting, because you know, here, you’re breaking ground and you’re forging ahead into an arena where nobody else had been.


Were you sort of a quiet groundbreaker, or were you pretty flashy?


[Chuckle] some people would say I was flashy.


Because you spoke up quite a bit?


Oh, yes; because I was outspoken, and because I said my piece. And I enjoyed the years at Punahou. And after that, of course, I got married to my dear husband who was an obstetrician gynecologist. We went to the

mainland, I taught there in Toledo, Ohio. And that’s a whole new and different adventure, because the people in Toledo had nothing, no idea about what Hawaii was. And now here I was, teaching their kids. So I—for discipline purposes, what I did was I told the—my children—I shouldn’t say children, they were eighth-graders, eighth and ninth-graders. I challenged them to behave and perform, and I will teach them the hula. Now, I was not exactly what you would call a connoisseur of the hula. But I had watched it enough to know —




— what to do. [chuckle] And we would put on a May Day program, and we rehearsed, and we got those kids in line. And I’m telling you, I never had a discipline problem. In fact, at the same time, the parents invited me to their homes, because I had never been exposed to the bar mitzvah, I had never been to a Polish wedding, an Irish wedding; I had never been to any of these ethnic celebrations. And so I was exposed. First time I went to a Jewish store and ate those nice, big pickles. And it was wonderful teaching there and meeting these kids and these families while my husband was doing his residency in OBGYN.


Sounds like you got a chance to introduce them to Hawaii and break some of the misconceptions about this place.


Exactly; right. Of course, they thought we lived in huts and —




— wore hula skirts all the time. But we were so dynamic in our May Day presentation, that the chamber of commerce of Toledo, Ohio invited us down to put on a performance in middle of town. And the school was very happy; they got a bus for us, and we went down there, parents all came and joined us. And you’re right; they were exposed to what Hawaii really can be like, or is like.


So at that point in your life—you eventually had five children –


Yeah. [chuckle]


And you’re married to—he became chief of staff at —




– at a hospital. You could have just settled into a life of raising kids, and done a wonderful job being a wife and mom.


Oh, I could have; yes. Except —


Im not saying you didn’t, but you also did other things.


Yeah; I could have done a lot of things. I had many, many choices. But there were several things that pushed me into the political arena.


Pat Saiki was a woman of action and the arena she chose in which to take action against social injustice was politics.


The one thing that really hurt my feelings was when we came back from the mainland, and we wanted to buy a house in Aina Haina. Well, the Aina Haina association met, and denied us.




We were Japanese Americans. People forget that this kind of prejudice existed, you know, just fifty years ago, sixty years ago.


So this was in the 50s?






We came back, and that didn’t set well with me. Okay; that was one reason.



So what did you—where did you relocate? Did you take no for an answer from Aina Haina?


We had to. So we rented a house on Crater Road, and then eventually bought a house in St. Louis Heights. But the other reason is that, as a schoolteacher, I was teaching at Kaimuki Intermediate then; today it’s the Middle School. Here, we had a different set of rules that were dictated to teachers by the central office of the Department of Education. And I’m sure the old-time teachers will remember this. We were told what to teach, when to teach it, and how to teach it. And we had to teach history from the beginning of the book, to the end of the book. No skipping; no idea of doing team teaching with a teacher who was teaching English. I wanted to join up with


English and history




— and we could time it so that we could see American history growing, along with English literature. No, no, no, they said, you can’t do that. I mean, you have to stay in your classroom and do what is supposed to be done. Well, I said, Is that right? Is that how we’re going to teach here in Hawaii? And as an eighth grade teacher then, I began to realize that I had the thirty children in my class in my hands. I could determine their destiny, because I had to track them. I had to say which ones could go to college, and which ones can’t.


Because they—in those —


They tracked them.


– days, you were in different tracks?


Tracked them. That’s right.




Different tracks And so I said, That’s not right. You know, who am I to tell a child, that child can never go to college? Forget it. We’re gonna give that child every opportunity to excel, and go as far as he or she wants to. Well, this was not according to the rules. So I had a few difficulties with the principals and district superintendents, et cetera, et cetera. So then, I organized and got other teachers who felt exactly like I did; and we formed ourselves into a loose association. I went down to the HGEA office, and talked to the leadership and said, What you need is a teachers’ chapter of the HGEA, because we have no unions around here.


Was that before the Hawaii State Teachers —


Before —


– Association?


— the HSTA, before the AFT, before anything. No other organization existed. So HGEA created a chapter for teachers. And I said, Under those circumstances, I want to sit on the board of directors and have an equal vote. And I want to be able to lobby the legislature on behalf of teachers. And Charlie Kendall was the big boss then. There’s a building named after him today. But he was farsighted; he and I sat on my patio and drafted up the charter for the Hawaii teachers—the teachers chapter of the HGEA. And that kicked in to a very vibrant organization, and we gathered many, many members, about three thousand teachers all signed up. And we became a force. Then, the HSTA was created through the HEA at the national level. And that’s when I said, We are going to disband because the HEA, Hawaii Educational Association can lobby in Congress. Whereas, the HGEA cannot. And we need Congressional help. And so I disbanded the whole organization. [chuckle]


You ever heard of an association being disbanded? Well, it did happen. And then the teachers came to me and said, Well, why don’t you run for office, you can represent us in the Legislature, not through the organization but as an independent. And so I did run for the Constitutional Convention, though, at first.


Was that a nonpartisan race then?


Nonpartisan race.




Yeah; 1968, and I got elected.




So then, I was approached to run for the State House of Representatives, and by the Republicans.


Now —


And I decided, well, that would be a challenge, wouldn’t it, in this state.


Well, you know, I’ve always wanted to ask you that.




I mean, you were probably a young teacher at the time of the Democratic revolution of 1954, where AJAs, got into power.




And you weren’t among them; instead, you went against the grain a little later and —


That’s right.


– ran as a Republican.


Because I saw what was going on in the State, and I knew that we had to have alternative choices. We had to have representation from both sides; not just one party, but two-party representation. And I felt very strongly at that time, that the Republicans were not doing well at all, and the Democrats were running roughshod in many ways. So I decided that, Hey, what I’ll do is, I’ll run for the other party, and make a few more waves.


Did the —


Which I did.


– Democrats try to woo you?


Oh, yes; oh, yes. Oh, yes; they did. But they were not successful. [chuckle]


Because you wanted to shake things up.


Yeah; yeah. That’s what I wanted —


But it was a lonely job much of the time.


Lonely, and difficult.




But you know, people can—people who believe in you don’t care about your party; they care about you as a person, as an individual, what you stand for; and they’ll vote for you no matter what party you’re in. And that’s what I learned, as I ran for public office.


Pat Saiki was elected, as a Republican, to serve in the State House of Representatives from 1968 to 1974, the State Senate from 1974 to 1982, and the United States Congress from 1986 to 1990. Thanks to her efforts and the work of many others in her lifetime, we know the truth of the cliché, “You’ve come a long way baby.”


In the State House, you were able to do some things that when women look at what they have in society now, it’s hard to believe that all of these things occurred just in the last thirty, fifty years.


That’s right. It’s been —


Certainly within —


— very recent.


– your adult lifetime.


Absolutely. When I got involved in politics then, President Nixon appointed me to the National Association of Women.




It was kind of an interesting organization at the national level. And so I was, of course, pleased at being appointed, and went to Washington and sat in on many of the meetings, and watched the Congress perform, et cetera, et cetera.


This is while you were in the State House?


This was when I was in the State House. And at that time, the whole interest of women being equal rose up.


And you had—you remember some of those women who were really outstanding in what they were—they burned their bras and, you know, they marched around and they did all their things. And they were stunts, but they called attention, the media’s attention to what was going on. And it aroused my curiosity to come home and take a look at the laws that we have. And by golly, with Pat Putman’s help in the Legislative Reference Bureau, I asked her to review all the laws that were on the books, and see where there may be discrimination. At the same time, I asked her, and the lawyers, to draft up an equal rights amendment; because this is where the national effort was going. And so we prepared this package of twenty-eight bills, and the Equal Rights Amendment. And I had some good friends in the Legislature—I didn’t work alone; I mean, this was a bipartisan effort, although a lot of people didn’t know it. But people like Senator John Ushijima from the Big Island, his wife Margaret; we had Pat Putman, we had quite a few others —




— who were Democrats, and committed ones. John Ushijima introduced a companion –


In the Senate.


In the Senate. And I told him, If you can do this, I’ll do the lobbying in the House. And we did; and we were successful.


Well, what are some of those bills that came into law as a result of your steering things through?


Well, there was so much. I don’t think the young people today remember. A woman could not have a credit card in her own name. She couldn’t own a mortgage in her own name. And if she were divorced, she had all kinds of problems; her husband—ex-husband had to give permission for her to be able to have access to the bank account. I mean, these were crippling things that held women back. And the private sector, as well as the public sector, could determine the wage of a woman according to the lowest wage of a male in the same job.


That was all legal.


All legal.


And people took it for granted?



And took it for granted. We changed all that. And a woman who was pregnant couldn’t get maternity leave, with pay. You just couldn’t do it. And we had to change that. We had to change—oh, and if a person wanted to use her maiden name for whatever reason, professionally, or whether when—after divorce, she wanted to retain her maiden name, can’t do it. We changed it; so that today, a woman can use any name she prefers. But the Equal Rights Amendment went flying through our Legislature, because people here understood. The legislators knew that this was the right thing to do for all the women in the world, especially in Hawaii. And you know, we had the very highest percentage of women who were working.


Mhm. That was in 1972, when the ERA —




– passed here.




In fact, a Star-Bulletin columnist, Richard Borreca, did a column a year or so ago where he said an intern in the office couldn’t believe that it was such a big deal when you steered that —




— that bill through, because —




— it just seemed like that should have happened, you know, a hundred years ago. But it didn’t.


It didn’t.


It happened in 1972.


That’s right. And that wasn’t that long ago.




And those were fun years, because we had interested people, concerned people, thinking people, who looked at what Hawaii should be, and how people should be treated. They weren’t that concerned about the petty little things that today, sometimes, take up too much time.


Why do you think that is?


[SIGH] I don’t know. It’s partisanship gone to the edge, to the far end. It’s the lack of appreciation, I think, of what legislation could do, instead of holding back and trying to constrict and sort of confine people. You don’t have the big thinkers anymore. And in those days, it was fun to work with Jack Burns, Governor Burns. And we had Tadao Beppu, who was really terrific.


Youre naming Democrats here.


Yeah; they were all pals. I mean, we used to fight like heck on the floor of the House, or on the floor of the Senate, but after that, we went out and had saimin, you know, and we talked about legislation. But I will tell you, the most fun I had, really, was when we joined up with a rascal group of Democrat senators and formed a coalition. Dickie Wong, Cayetano was involved in this, and so was Abercrombie. And we took the power away with half Republicans, half Democrats, and joined the coalition for two years.


And that was called the dissident faction —

The —


— by the media.


— dissident faction by the media; right. And I was fortunate enough to head up the committee on higher education. And it was at that time that we created the Kapiolani Community College up at Fort Ruger. I worked with Joyce Tsunoda —




— who was chancellor at the time, and we not only drafted up the legislation to make this exchange, which was acceptable to people like Jack Burns, who really wanted that area for a medical school. And we plotted out the parking spots; we wanted to make sure that we had enough parking, so the neighbors would not have to put up with students parking in their streets. It was —


And it happened within a fairly —


Two years.


– compact period of time.


Oh, Fudge Matsuda was president of the University at the time. I called him up; I said, Fudge, two years, that’s all you’ve got, because that’s all I’m going to be chairman of this committee; let’s do this in two years, and get it done.


And look how long it took to get the medical school and West Oahu University.


Right; right. But we did that—oh, and the same year, we built the law school library. So in those two years, we accomplished a tremendous number of things.


Okay; and what do you attribute that to?


Again, to the coalition; we had the power, we had the votes, and we could move it through. We had Governor Ariyoshi who was open-minded about things.


So it wasn’t about, as you said, partisanship to the max; it was about bridging gaps.


Right; it was bridging gaps.


And it was people who liked stirring up a little dust too.


Yeah; that’s what it was.


[chuckle] What was it like working with the media at the State House? I mean, you saw the advent of television and now we talk about how there isn’t a lot of time given to television news in terms of digging out stories.




Have you seen a change in media news coverage?


Oh, yes; oh, yes. Because I remember Jerry Burris when he first started, and Borreca. You were there. Lynne Waters was there. I mean, there were many, many people who were part of the legislative scene. And you had a role to play, and you played it well. And we could talk to you. I don’t know what it’s like today. I thought you people did more in-depth.




And you came to seek answers.


And you took some hard questions, right?


Oh, always; always take hard questions. And tried to be very honest, and straightforward. And so I congratulate you too, for all you did.


Thank you very much. You’re from a neighbor island and —




– you made it in the big city of Honolulu. And then you distinguished yourself representing Hawaii in Washington. How do you look at where we are as a state, and how do you feel about Hawaii today?


I think there’s hope for all of us. People in Hawaii are real. They’re true, they’re honest, they’re straightforward, and they’re sympathetic. They believe in this State, they believe in each other, they believe in family. And they’re very close. And this is something that no one can take away from us. And so we will meet the challenges of the future.


You say that, but look at the big dispute we’re having over rail. You know, people saying the city can’t handle a big job like that, I mean, we have some major issues that we can’t seem to solve, or get together on.


We will. We will. It’s an issue that has come to the forefront; it’s an issue that is going to be dealt with people — honest people, thinking people. And in the final analysis, it’ll be solved.


Why do you think we’ll triumph over this? What makes you think that?


Because people are going to realize that—it might take time, though, but people will realize that we are not solving any problems by taking these partisan stances and by being so negative about things, and not having an overall view of what is in the future for us. And I have every faith that they will; no question about it.


And you’ ve always had faith, haven’t you?


Oh, yes; always. Always.


Pat Saiki is a get-it-done sort of person – a believer in cooperation across the political aisles;- and not, as she puts it, partisanship gone to the edge. She says she’s pau running for elective office. But she is working for improvements in how Hawaii faces another social issue: eldercare. More on that as our conversation continues with next week on Long Story Short. Please join me then. I’m Leslie Wilcox of PBS Hawaii. A hui hou kakou.


Were you good at everything?




What werent you good at?


My golf game has gone to pot. [chuckle] It’s not as good as I would like. There are things that I would like to do. I’ve never learned to play the piano, which is something I’ve always wanted to do. I haven’t yet done it.


Do you plan to?


Yeah, I think so. I think I’ll pursue that. So I have other goals.


Aloha no; and welcome to Long Story Short on PBS Hawaii; I’m Leslie Wilcox. Last week, Pat Saiki recalled a time in Hawaii’s history when there was bi-partisan collaboration in the State Legislature, instead of what she calls “partisanship gone to the edge.” A Republican, she served as a State lawmaker, U.S. Congresswoman and head of the nation’s Small Business Administration. More with Pat Saiki next.


Pat Saiki, wife, mother of five, and public school teacher, entered politics in order to open doors for people, especially women and minorities. And though she was another kind of minority in Hawaii, a Republican, she was able to work across the political aisle to get laws changed. When collaboration failed, the former Hilo girl could be a fierce opponent.


Did you ever look at yourself as others might be seeing you, or did you do a lot of introspection that way, or did you just say, Whatever?




This is who I am.


That’s right; exactly.


And you didn’t—did you look for mentors or people who could show you by example?


There weren’t any. [chuckle] You know. There—I hope that the women who follow after me will pursue their goals and find the successes I did. And like I say, my life with my children, though—I mean, throughout this whole thing, the five kids were raised well, I thought. And my husband was a big help; he was the kind of support that you don’t see or get very often.


Ive heard you credited for co-founding the Spouse Abuse Treatment Center.


Oh, yes.


Is that right?


Sex abuse; yes. You know, I have to give credit to my husband for this one. My husband was an obstetrician gynecologist. And he was involved as chief of staff at Kapiolani Medical Center. And he knew about these cases of violent abuse of women, for whatever reason. He wanted to give them help. If they were raped, at that time, they were sent to the morgue to be—shall we say, examined by the pathologist in the morgue.




He just didn’t think that this was right. So he came home one day and he told me, You know, we’ve gotta do something about these women who are being abused, these women who are suffering, not only at the hands of their husbands, but at the hands of those people who really care less about the value of women, respect women. And so he said, What do you think we can do? I said, Well, you’re at Kapiolani Hospital, it’s a medical hospital, it’s a women’s medical hospital; isn’t there something that you folks can do there at the hospital? I said, Why don’t you talk to Dick Davi, Richard Davi, who was then —


Who was the head of —


— CEO —


– Kapiolani, right?


Yeah; Kapiolani. So he did. He chatted with Dick Davi, and then he came home and told me, You know, Dick Davi understands the need for this; we have to provide some place where women can feel safe, where women can come in and tell us their story, that they can be examined by physicians, and be given the sympathy and the help with very sympathetic people. He says, But how are we gonna do it? We need money. I said, That’s when I come in. We’ll see what we can do to add this program to the budget, as an add-on. [chuckle]


And you were a Republican in the minority.


Oh, yes; Republican in the minority. But you see, it’s very easy to tell the story of distressed women, or it could it these legislators’ daughters, it could be their wives, it could be their aunts, it could be anybody close to them in their family. They understood. As long as you presented it to them on a personal basis, these legislators, whether they were Democrats or Republicans, understood the need.


Are you saying —


And they supported me.



Are you saying nobody did any horse trading, that they didn’t say, Well, I’ll support that if you support this? But, otherwise, you’re not gonna get my vote on that one.


Not on this one; not on this issue. You can horse trade on something else, but not on this one. This is an emotional issue. And there is no need to do any horse trading. And I made it personal to these people. They understood; so they funded it, and it became an add-on to the budget. Later, we wanted to include it as part of the Health Department’s budget. And today, there’s an organization that really promote—the Sex Abuse Center. And, they’ve done their own fundraising, and they’re making themselves more independent.


But back then is when rape victims stopped having to go to the morgue to be —


Oh —


– questioned.




And —


Can you imagine —


– counseled.


— that? I mean, thirty-five, forty years ago, that was it.


They werent being counseled, actually, now that I think about it.


Not counseled.


They were simply being—their statements were being taken.


That’s right. And they were sent down to the morgue, and they were examined there, and the police went there, and got the report, and that was it. So I think the Sex Abuse Center of today has done much to help the women who have been caught in this situation.


You know, being a Republican in Hawaii at the time—you were serving in the State House—in the minority in the State Legislature. But on the other hand, you were a Republican in a time of Nixon, followed by Reagan, followed by George H.W. Bush.




Did that help you?


Yes, I think so; because I got good ideas from the national level, as to what was available, and I could bring that home. And let’s go back. Let’s go back to Ronald Reagan—when we passed out of the Congress the Reparations Bill.


For Japanese Americans?


For Japanese Americans who were interned during the war.


Did you have a personal connection with internees?


My uncle.




My uncle and aunt; my uncle was an alien, and he worked for a cracker company in Hilo. And he ran also a taxi company. He left those businesses in the hands of my father, because he was taken away and shipped out to Topaz, Utah.




My cousins then had to go up to Topaz and be interned with their parents. So ‘til today, I have a cousin; we call him Topaz. [chuckle] But this Reparations Bill had been sitting in the Congress for years, and years, and years. And Republicans were especially hesitant about passing a Reparations Bill for a minority group; until I got elected. I got elected to Congress, went into the Republican caucus room, and I said, What the heck are you guys doing? Do you know what this means? Do you know it happened? Do you know why it happened? And I’m going to lay on the biggest guilt trip you ever had, and I want you to pay attention, because I’m going to do it now. And I laid it out to them. Newt Gringrich, all of these people were there at the time; he was —


This was when you were a —


— the leader.


You were a brand new, fledgling —




– Congresswoman.


Freshman. Who pays attention to freshmen Congresswomen? But Hawaii never had a Republican in the Congress, so my Republican colleagues paid attention. If I could make it through this State, I must have something that I could share with them; which is what I did, and laid it out on the Reparations Bill, and I got their vote. And so the bill passed the Congress, and then we had to deal with President Reagan. Is he going to sign, is he not going to sign? And the White House people called me and said, I think he’s going to need a little nudging here. So I went down the White House and talked with the president. And I’m not saying that I did it; you know, I’m not claiming that. But I’m saying that maybe I helped move it along.


Well, what did he say when—or did—was he aware of the issue when you spoke with him?



Yes, he was aware of the issue. But he had to think twice, he said, about giving reparations to one segment of the population; there are many, many others who have been discriminated against for one reason or another, and so forth. And he had his arguments, but in the final analysis, he did sign it. So I’m proud of that because I feel the Japanese Americans who were interned—it happened so –




— unfairly, and unjustifiably.


Former President George H.W. Bush said this about Pat Saiki: “She’s an effective, compassionate leader whose voice gets heard, who makes things happen.” The first President Bush appointed Pat Saiki to head the U.S. Small Business Administration. That, after she gave up her Congressional seat to make a run for U.S. Senate against Dan Akaka and lost. She served two terms in Congress.


I got to see you in Washington, DC when you were the fledgling Congresswoman. How would you describe how you carried yourself? I mean, you had a big learning curve; anybody who enters —


Oh, yes.


– Congress does. But were you feisty, were you statesman like, or how did you handle yourself?


Well, I don’t know how people looked at me, except that they knew this was a strange kid from Hawaii, the little island in Hawaii; Oriental. They called me a freshman person who needed to be trained, you know. And I bowed my head, and I said, Yes, I’m here to learn.


Because seniority is considered everything.


Seniority is considered everything. And I’m here to learn, so I need for you to teach me. And I think I could work with those people, and we got a lot of things done. It’s amazing how much was done with this kind of attitude, where you don’t strut around and say, Well, hey, I’m the new kid on the block, and you know, I’m gonna show you a thing or two. Instead, it was, I’m here to learn; teach me, and we can share things.


And did you like that job? Did you want to stay in office for quite some time, as it seems like everybody who runs for the Hill wants to stay forever. Did you want to stay in the House for longer than you did?


No. [chuckle] No.


You ran for Senate.


Yes. The House is made up of four hundred and thirty-five people. In order for you to get anything done, you have to deal with four hundred and thirty-four people. And you have to do it every two years, while running a campaign. And I had to run here every two years. And it’s a struggle. I wanted to go in the Senate, where at least you had six years.




And you had only a hundred bodies there; you had to deal with only ninety-nine. I figured the math is for the Senate. And the opportunity came, of course, unfortunately, when Senator Matsunaga died.




And so I felt—and my husband did too; he says, Look, you’re not in this game, this political game for any self- aggrandizement or motivation, you’re here to do a job, and you have to do what you think—you have to do it the way you think you can, and do it most effectively. So if you feel that you want to run for the Senate, hey, run. If you win, you win; if you lose, you lose. You haven’t lost anything.


Although you had a pretty sure thing hanging on your—you would have hung onto your Congressional



Well, so I was told by my Republican colleagues who wanted me to stay. But you know, life is too short; you have to do what you feel you have to. And so that’s another reason that I decided to go for the Senate.


So you launch yourself into a Senate race against one of the most beloved men in Hawaii, Daniel Akaka.


Yes. He was. Danny is an honorable man; no question about it. But when Matsunaga died and created that opening, I felt that I should go for it. So after discussion with my husband and my campaign people, I decided that I would make a run for it. Well, it also caught the attention of the White House. And this is now George H.W. Bush. He called me, and asked for me to come down to the White House; he had something to discuss.


Was that a kick when he called you, or was that just sort of life on —


It’s always —


– Capitol Hill?


— a kick when the President of the United States calls you. And it, you makes you—well, you gotta go.


You don’t say, Oh, I’m busy.


[chuckle] No, you can’t say, Well, make an appointment. No; so I did go down to the White House. And George Bush was very interested in my running for the United States Senate race. And I said, Well, yes, but it’s going to be a tough race, because Hawaii is a Democrat state, and Senator Akaka, who is now the incumbent, because he was appointed to that position by Cayetano —


These jobs just dont come up very often.


They don’t come up very often. And it’s gonna be a tough race, so I am thinking it over. I’m looking at possibly running. He says, Well, is there anything I can do? Well —




— yes, Mr. President, there is something you can do. What is it? I said, Well, the first thing you have to do is stop the bombing of Kahoolawe. He says, Kahoo what? He calls in John Sununu, who was Chief of Staff – he says, John, come in here; now Pat, will you spell this out? Kahoolawe; I did. I did for John Sununu. And I said, Mr. President, it’s very simple. I did my research, and the bombing was permitted by executive order of the president. Therefore, the president can rescind the executive order, and the bombing can stop; it’s part of the RIMPAC exercises.


And the military desperately wanted that island because —


Oh —


– it was a great —


— they wanted it.


– place to target —


To do —


– bomb —




– practice.


But I explained to him the dangers of the continued bombing; how our state is populated, how the tourist industry has grown, especially on Maui. And when the bombs hit Kahoolawe, the windows shake in Lahaina, and in the whole island. And one day, a bomb is going to go astray, Mr. President, and I don’t think you want to be responsible for that. I think it’s time for us to return that island, a sacred island, to the Hawaiian people. They have wanted that island back, because it is a place where they pray, and they have their history of that island. So he says, the president says, Well, I don’t see why we can’t do this. We’ll have to tell the Navy to go find someplace else to bomb. Well, it didn’t take two months. I called up Hannibal Tavares; remember Hannibal Tavares?


The mayor of Maui County.


That’s right. And he was chair of the Save Kahoolawe Project.


And there was a group; lots of folks who’d been fighting the target bombing for a couple decades at that—




– point.


Decades. And I don’t know if they ever did their research to find out that it was a presidential —




— order; because it would not have been that difficult, I think, except maybe they were all Democrats, and we had a Republican president. But Hannibal was a Republican. So I called Hannibal, and I said, Here, this is the news; we’ll see what happens. Two months later, John Sununu called me and said, The president just rescinded the order. I said, Where are you gonna bomb? He says, Well, I don’t know yet, but that’s up the Navy.






And that was—at that point, you were already in a fight for Senate with Daniel Akaka?


No, no; it was at that point that I determined that I would run.


And you had something to hang your hat on —




– as far as —


That’s what I thought.


– I got the president to do this.


I thought so.


That was a tough race.


It was a tough race because Dan is so beloved, you know, and he’s one person that you really don’t want to defeat. And although I ran as —


Well, it must have been hard —


Oh, yeah.


– attacking him, because he is so —


I couldn’t attack him.


– genuinely nice.


Yes; I couldn’t attack him.


But you did very well, when you launched. You were —





You were ahead in the polls.


It was circumstantial. It was the year when the president had said, Read my lips, no new taxes, and he went back on that word, and everything began to crumble after that.


We also saw excellent Democratic feet on the ground —


Oh absolutely.


– helping —


Oh, yeah. The marchers —


– Congressman Akaka.


— came out. Yes. The unions came out, the marchers came out; they got their act together, and, although I was doing real well in the polls and everything, I was defeated. And it was an honorable defeat; it was an honorable try. I don’t regret it at all, and I’m glad that Dan Akaka is still healthy and well, and working hard for us.


And you’ ve always been for the Akaka Bill, haven’t you?


Oh, yeah.


Are you surprised it has not gone anywhere? Not far enough, anyw ay.


Well, no, I’m not surprised, because of the way the voting is going on there. I mean, it’s so partisan, and it’s caught up in that whole mishmash of emotional bills. And this one has, of course, all kinds of nuances.


Pat Saiki has been able to make her voice heard and make things happen, especially for women and minorities. She’s a political veteran and risk taker who’s quite familiar with both victory and defeat.


Youve won some big races, you’ve lost a couple of big ones.


Big ones, yes. [chuckle]


The Senate one was a big one, and then the race —


The governor.


– for governor was a —




– big one.


That was a big one; right.


What was that like?


Well, that was tough; that was a real tough race, because it was a three-way race between Cayetano —


And Fasi jumped in.


Frank Fasi jumped in, myself; and Cayetano won.   But he did not win with a huge majority of the vote. And Fasi leaked off quite a few of my votes, and that’s the way the cookie crumbles, I guess. It was one of those things. I don’t know if the State was ready for a woman governor at that point. They are now, because they elected Linda Lingle after that, and she was reelected after that.


Do you feel it was a timing thing?


Politics is all timing. Everything about politics is timing. It’s who you run against, when you run. It’s like Kirk Caldwell situation with the Office of the Clerk, and when he resigned his House seat, and when he got his papers ready for the Senate race, and all of that. I mean, it’s all a matter of timing. If Ann Kobayashi had announced earlier, if this and that; if, it could have been different.


And so—but you say you don’t have any regrets. You—it must be hard when you don’t really have control over these elements and these factors that can completely bash your chances.


Well, it’s—but you know, I go back, and I reflect on the times when I was in charge. Like when I was the head of the SBA.


Okay; this happened after, right?


Oh, yeah.




So I lost the race for the Senate. And George Bush, the president, called me at home, and asked me to come back to Washington, and take —


How many—how many times did the president —




– call you?


Do you know, I got a call from President Reagan, who wanted me to go, and I did, to the Contras in Nicaragua. I took that flight because he asked me to. George H.W. Bush wanted to talk to me about the Senate race. And he also called me after the race was lost, and asked me to head up the SBA.


Were you the first Asian to ever head a federal agency?


Yes. And the first one from Hawaii too.


And a woman, at that.


And a woman, at that. And I loved it; it was wonderful. I mean, there you are; you know, you’re heading up this agency, you’ve got four thousand employees, you’ve got a six-billion-dollar loan capability, you have almost a four hundred-million-dollar budget, and you can direct things. You can get things moving.


Did you enjoy that more than politics? Although, I know there are politics in those high level government jobs; but did you miss the elective politics?


No; at that point, you know, I sank everything into this job. I had to fight with Dick Cheney at one point; he was Secretary of Defense. And I wanted that ten percent of all federal contracts in the Defense Department to come to Small Business. And he was a little hesitant about that, but he finally gave in. And so ten percent; ten percent of all federal contracts had to be referred to minorities. And so we had to control all that, and make sure that, truly, they were minority corporations.


Lots more accountability as the —




– head of an agency than in a place with four hundred thirty-five votes.


That’s right; that’s right. It was—that’s a different job. You know, you go out and you try to get the votes to support your stances. In this other case, you have to be responsible and prove that what you’re doing is right. Oh, remember when we had Hurricane Andrew in Florida, and Hurricane Iniki within a couple of months.




Iniki was in Hawaii, I got a call from the White House. They said, Pat, this is your state; your state is going to be in the middle of this huge hurricane. I think you’d better get over there right away. So I handled that and tried to get loans for those people on Kauai. But you’re in charge; you know, so it was a different experience. But it was enjoyable; it was fun. I’m glad I did it.


And why did you leave it?


Oh, I had to. Change in —


Oh, change in — uh-huh.


Yeah; Clinton came in.






Thats right.


George H —


So there’s no way you were gonna say —




– Excuse me, Mr. President —




– I’m a Republican, but I —

No, we all had to turn in —


– really like this job.


— our resignations at that point. So after that, I came home.


Oh. And then I’m sure a lot of folks said, Pat, I’m glad you’re back, ‘cause we want you to do this, and—




will you run for that, and what about that?


Yeah, but you know, I feel like I’ve done my job; I’ve done my duty. I enjoyed every minute of it. I hope that I contributed something that’s worthwhile. And I think I have, with help from a lot of people, Democrats and Republicans.


Is there something


And I have no —


– you would have done differently?


— nothing to regret.


No regrets?


No regrets; no regrets at all. And so today, I sit on the board of governors of the East West Center, which is an institution that I really believe in. I helped to move it along in its early stages when it was developing. And I have another cause, and that is to try to get help for the elderly, for those who are in need. I took care of my father, who died two years ago. He lived with me, I took care of him at home. That’s when I found out that we need to have home care. People want to stay home when they get old; they don’t want to be stuck in an institution at the costs that are exorbitant. And so we have to find ways to give them the kind of life that they deserve, after they’ve worked so hard.


Excuse me; but that sounds kinda like a stump speech.


Well, no, no. It isn’t.



Youve ruled out politics?


I’ve ruled out politics, but I play politics from a different position now. I’m trying to influence people to think like I do, and think ahead. Because the biggest tsunami that’s gonna hit this state yet is the elderly; the care of the elderly. People are getting older, and we’re not ready.


Pat Saiki went from Hilo to Honolulu to Washington DC, always a change agent. Now she’s set her sights on improving Hawaii elder care. From her record, we know that her voice can be calm, persuasive, collaborative; and it can be feisty, even fierce. I’ll be listening for her in the eldercare debate. Mahalo to Pat Saiki, and to you, for joining me for this Long Story Short. I’m Leslie Wilcox of PBS Hawaii. A hui hou kakou.


I just have one more thing to ask. You know, I got to see you in your office, in Congress, on Capitol Hill, did a couple of news reports about you then. And then many years later, after you retired, and I think you were taking care of your father at the time, you had girls’ night out, and you and some —




– women friends were at the Blaisdell watching a show. And I was sitting, I think, in the seat—oh, the row in front of you. And you guys were having a ball; you were passing around kaki mochi, and —


Yeah, yeah.


– li hing mui, and —




– you said, Hey, Leslie, you want some? You just looked like you were having a great time.


Oh, I do. I did, and I still do.




Roy Sakuma


Original air date: Tues., July 15, 2008


Hawaii’s Foremost Ukulele Teacher


When PBS Hawaii President and CEO Leslie Wilcox sat down with ukulele teacher Roy Sakuma recently, she thought she had a pretty good idea how the conversation would go. Roy would tell her about his family and his school days; and we’d find out how he became a teacher.


It’s no secret that Roy Sakuma dropped out of high school. But, during this Long Story Short, he explains why.


In the first of two parts of this very moving conversation, Roy Sakuma reveals – for the first time publicly – that he was raised in a home filled with mental illness. His late mother and brother suffered from serious mental illness. And Roy, his father and his sister suffered too, keeping the family’s secret and living with the stigma and the guilt.


Roy Sakuma Audio


Download the Transcript




Aloha no, I’m Leslie Wilcox of PBS Hawaii. Today’s Long Story Short features Roy Sakuma – a name that belongs to an ukulele studio, an ukulele festival, summer zoo concerts, an award-winning record label, Hawaii’s foremost ukulele teacher, and a man who’s lived his entire life hiding a family secret.


When I sat down with Roy Sakuma, I thought I had a pretty good idea how the conversation would go. Roy would tell us about his family and his school days. And we’d find out how he became a teacher. It’s no secret that Roy Sakuma dropped out of high school. And, as the story goes, he went to work for the City Parks Department and came up with the idea for an ukulele festival while cleaning restrooms at the Kapi‘olani Park Bandstand. But I had no idea why Roy Sakuma dropped out of school. Or that he’d reveal, for the first time publicly, that he was raised in a home with serious, untreated mental illness.


When you were little, was it obvious to everyone around you that you would go into music, and you’d be a teacher?


Oh; absolutely not. In fact, I think it was the opposite, because I can remember as a child, all the way through my years in intermediate school, I never listened to music. Now, you know, people may think that’s weird, but I was always outdoors. And being outdoors, you’re never listening to the radio. So for me, that was the last thing that I ever thought I would get into, would be music, and to be you know, teaching the ukulele. I was always involved in sport. That was my number one thing that I enjoyed the most.


What were your growing up years like?


Uh, it was difficult. You know, I went through a lot of pain, and I didn’t realize it ‘til years later, but you know, when I was born, my mother was diagnosed as—you know, she had paranoia, schizophrenia. And she had it severe. So I didn’t have a normal childhood. And growing up, it was difficult, because I couldn’t distinguish, you know, what was right and what was wrong; and so I developed a lot of misconceptions in life. And as the years went by, it only got worse, because my brother at nine years old also had a mental breakdown. So you know, our home was filled with a lot of difficulty. And so it was a struggle for me. And I think for that reason, I was always cutting out of school. I mean, you know, who cuts out of kindergarten? But I started cutting out from kindergarten and all the way through first through sixth grade; I was always cutting out of class?


What did you do instead of going to class?


I would just go down to the river and just hang out there, or I would come home and hide in the garage so that my mother wouldn’t see me.


By yourself?


By myself; by myself. Because um, I realize now that I was going through a lot of struggles. And these struggles naturally come up later in life. But at that time, you don’t understand it; so the only thing you do is, you’re more comfortable being out of that environment of school, because you don’t know how to relate to your peers. And so it really was difficult for me, but it turned out to be a blessing later on in life.


Was your dad in the home?


My dad was home, but because my mother and brother were both mentally ill, it was hard for him. I didn’t expect him to be home, because it was hard. You know, there was never any logical communication, so my father would go out every night and, naturally he enjoyed drinking, so he’d be drinking seven nights a week. I was happy for him, knowing that he was enjoying his life. I was struggling, it was okay; but I was happy for him.


Paranoid schizophrenia today is a very treatable disease. Was there medication available for your mother?


You know, at that time, way back, from what I understand, my father told me that they didn’t have or—what’s the word I’m trying to say is that he couldn’t take my mother to get any help, because at that time it was shameful. If you had this type of mental illness, and people around you knew what it was, it didn’t look good. So my father had to just, what’s the word? He is just to live with it. He did tell me years later, though, that he tried to commit her. But what happened is that no one would help him in the family, because my mother’s mother would not allow it.


I see.


She felt that was taboo.


That means your brother was also untreated when he had his—






We—my father sent him to the Kane‘ohe mental institution, where he received treatment. And he would get these uh, medications where they would release him. But the problem is that every time they released him, he had to go back in, because he would get another breakdown. And so it was a struggle, because—I remember when he was young—when I was young, he tried to kill me one time with a knife. And so ever since then—I was only like eleven years old—every time he came home, I would be—I couldn’t sleep in bed. You know, I’d be shivering, because I’d be afraid that, you know, in my sleep, he was going to do something to me and harm me. So it was a struggle, those years; it was very painful.


When you said you didn’t know right from wrong, how did that translate?


I think because there was so much anger in me, there was so much frustration, I felt like I was the only weird kid in the neighborhood, and how come I have all these emotional problems, and everybody around me looked so normal. And so it would be all this anger in me, and I would do things that were totally unacceptable, like you know, just things—not to hurt people, but things that were not appropriate.




Like, once a neighbor was yelling at me because we were making too much noise, and I cut down part of his tree. [chuckle] You know, because I was so upset. And yet, I didn’t realize that I was doing these things that—you know, it was just the anger in me that had me doing these things. And it was a very difficult time for me, because I didn’t know how to control this. And I think more than anger, it was the hurt I was feeling, the pain.


And there was no adult you could speak with about it?


There was no adult. And that’s why I developed all these misconceptions in life, and it wasn’t until I became a young adult—I think I was like nineteen years old; I decided that I needed to do something about this. So I went to a psychologist and talked to him. And that was a turning point of my life.


I’m sure it wasn’t easy for this local boy and successful businessman to speak openly about the family secret of mental illness. It took courage. Now that it’s no longer a secret, Roy Sakuma wants to use his story to help others. He wants people to know it’s good to seek professional help. That’s what he did, to help make sense of the impact that his mother and brother’s mental illness had on him. I hope Roy Sakuma’s story – which he’s revealing here for the first time publicly – will have a positive impact on other people’s lives.


Let’s back up a little bit.




You went through school cutting out.




Getting into trouble. How did your school career end?


[chuckle] I think I was in the ninth grade, and in February, I got caught for—you know, I was tardy a lot, I was cutting out of class. And so the principal, not suspended, but ejected me from school. So I was left out of school from February. So I missed the last four months of school as a ninth grader. And when I went back the following year to repeat, he actually told me, You’re going to high school; we’re gonna promote you anyway. So despite missing four months of school in my ninth grade year, I went to high school, which was Roosevelt High School. And I’ll never forget, because while I was there, the principal told me; he says, Roy, one of us has to go, and it’s not me. And that was the end of my high school career. [chuckle] That was it.


And all of this time, your mom remained untreated and—




And getting worse?


Yes. She was, you know, she was just talking to herself, and my brother, too, was—they both were talking to themselves. So it was hard for me. If you’re at home trying to do something, and you have one person walking behind you talking, and the person sitting across from you talking, it—you know, I learned to shut my mind off. I learned to shut—you know, in other words, I went into dreamland—




–so that you know, physically I was there, but mentally you know, I was somewhere else, so I didn’t have to hear all this. And yeah, I realized it years later that, you know, these were things that I had to cope with. And going to this psychologist helped me.


Did you get yourself ready for school, and kind of self managed?


[chuckle] Well, you mean, during those—


During those long years.


Uh, yes, but you know, when you say get ready for school, I was never in school, actually. You know, I would go, but I would cut out; go, and cut out. And it was just too much of a struggle for me. And I can share this now; I mean, before, I didn’t talk too much about this, especially being this deep into the pain that I had. But it was a really big struggle, and luckily, as the years went by, through this therapy, it helped me a lot.



How did it help you?


Well, I was able to share with him the misconceptions in my life. And I’ll never forget this, Leslie, because at the end, when I had spilled my beans out to him, you know what he told me? He says, You know, Roy, of all the people that have sat down across from me, you are one of the most sanest people I’ve ever had to talk to.


That must have felt good to you.


Yeah. And I say, Well, how can you say that? And he says, You were giving me the answers to your problems. And that made me feel really good. That really helped me. I realized that you know, I had all this misconception that I was totally mentally ill or crazy, or my thoughts were not normal thoughts. And so I was able to put my life together.


Well, how were you feeling when the Roosevelt High School principal said, That’s it, buddy, you know, one of us has gotta go, and it’s you?


[chuckle] Actually, inside, I was happy. [chuckle] Only because uh, I had such a diff—and see, now I realize the reason I had such problems in school is, I didn’t how to relate to people my own age; you know, ‘cause I felt so insecure about myself. So when I left school, it forced me to look for a job. And when I had to work, I felt that I could relate to adults, and I could pour my heart into whatever I’m doing. And that was a way of dealing with my pain.


Do you worry that you might get schizophrenia, that you might become mentally ill?


At that young age, yes. And I realized years later when I was talking to my sister, she felt the same thing; that sooner or later, we were both gonna fall into this mentally ill. But you know, fortunately, we didn’t; both of us were fine. But it was that fear that actually brought a lot of more pain and this so-called misconceptions, ‘cause you’re worrying about things that you shouldn’t be thinking like that, but there’s on one to tell you, Hey, it’s okay. You know, don’t worry, you’ll be fine. And so I didn’t get that reassurance that I needed.


And how’s your brother who had mental illness too?


Uh, he committed suicide. He jumped off a building. And so again, you know, you think, Okay, I’m next. You know, you worry about that. It becomes such a big part of your daily life, thinking about it, so you’re not very functional. Though on the outside, people think you’re okay. But it’s what on the inside, is that what I had to deal with a lot of these issues.


Did you feel you were putting on an act; I’m okay, for—


Oh, yeah.





Oh, yeah; definitely, definitely. I was good at that; I was good at that.


But I just wonder if people who are listening to this program, who have issues with mental illness. I wonder what you have to say to them?


I would say that if in your darkest moments that you can see something positive, which I know is hard; but if you just look around, if you look at the whole world, the devastations that’s happening, and you look at where you are; there’s hope. And as long as you have hope, then you have the first step of helping yourself get better. And I think too many times when we’re—see, when we have a happy moment, we take it for granted. You know, we’re happy; we’re happy. But when we have something that goes against us, that makes us a little sad or hurtful, we tend to dwell on it. And that’s what I try to teach people not to do. And that’s why it’s so important to have hope. Once you have hope you have the building block to help yourself in your life.


And your brother ran out of hope.


Yes; he ran out of hope. You know, I was much younger than him, and he was so smart. But you know, he didn’t know how to deal with his life and the pain that he was going through, and so you know, he did what he felt, which, had I known that, had I been older, I would have been able to help him. But I was too young when all this happened.


It’s estimated that mental illness touches as many as one person out of every four, which means it could affect nearly every family in Hawai‘i. But, for cultural reasons, financial reasons and other sensitivities, some families choose to keep their mental illness a secret. And for all these years, Roy Sakuma did just that. But now, he’s chosen to share his very real emotions, and offer his message of hope.


What are your thoughts, looking back at the mental illness that governed your life, on the part of your mom and your brother? You know, I keep thinking how treatable schizophrenia is, if the person has access to and is willing to take medication. What are your thoughts now?


Well, I realize that it is treatable. Because what happened is, I had to make a choice in my life once, and I wanted my father’s life to be better. And so I took it upon myself to committing my mother to the Kane‘ohe Mental Hospital.



Once you became an adult?


Yes. And it was very difficult, because you know, no one wanted to get involved with this, and rightfully so, because it was a very difficult thing to do. We had to actually have them come over and strap her down. Because I knew she wouldn’t go willingly. And I’ll never forget; as they wheeled her out of the house, she told me, I hate you, I disown you, and I will never talk to you again. And then they took her away. And I was devastated. But I knew this was something that I had to do. So, what happened is, through the medication that she took, eventually it came to the point where we could have conversations between each other, and with my sister, and she really changed a lot. I mean, the change was significant, where we actually had a mom that we could talk to. She wasn’t totally there, but she came a long way, where we could actually have simple conversations. So I’m very grateful for that. I’m very grateful that despite—you know, it was painful then, but the reward was twenty times greater, ‘cause now I could talk to my mother on a—yeah.


Were you able to share with her what you’ve been able to do with your life?


Yes; and you know, to some degree, she understood some things. But I had to keep it simple. But I think for me, the greatest joy was to see how much love she had for us as her children, and how much she, you know, respected our new family life. Like my sister was married, I was married to Kathy, and how she could enjoy that. She could enjoy not just us as her children, but the people that we committed our lives to. And I think that was really wonderful for both my sister and I.


It sounds like your mom probably said some really hurtful things to you, right?


Yeah; she said hurtful things to me. And um, she babbled constantly of things that weren’t relevant to life. And it was things that, you know, a person that’s not sane would say, like you know, and I don’t know if I should even say some of these things. But you know, our icebox, for instance, was empty. So all we had was a hotdog and eggs; that’s all we had to eat, every day. And she would cook the same thing for me every night. I mean, it was so difficult. I mean, she would wake me up two o’clock every morning to have breakfast. And so at eight o’clock, I gotta go to school. But you know, by then, my stomach’s churning, so I’d be embarrassed, and I’d cut out. Because I didn’t know how—a simple thing like my stomach churning embarrassed me, because no one told me it was okay. So I’d be cutting out of school in the first grade. But you know, it’s those types of weird things, where your whole life is out of balance, because she went by according to what she felt, which was totally—she wasn’t capable.



And did you hear hurtful things about yourself from her?


I did. You know, I’m gonna share something with you that I’ve not told anybody. In fact, only my dearest family knows about this. And you know, when she was trying to—well, maybe I should share it later. [chuckle] Okay; that’s okay, that’s okay.


No, no; I—




understand. You gotta make choices as you go.




You know, all this time, you’ve been very positive, and you’ve spoken of how you’ve made something positive out of something that could have sunk other people. You’ve turned it around. Do you have any regrets?


No; I have no regrets. You know, I look back on my life many times, Leslie, and I look at all the pain I went through, I look at all the sorrow, I look at all the hurt. I look at all the, you know, just things that were so painful to me. And I wouldn’t trade it; because through all that pain, today it’s given me an insight to people and children that I can help. And I have this strong yearning to help people, to want to always help. And I hope that I never lose— that’s something that I see in my wife too, and we have that. And I hope that we will never lose that love of wanting to help others.


So when you tell people, Oh, yeah, I was a kolohe boy—




You really weren’t kolohe; you were just in terrible pain.


Yes; yes, yeah. You’re right. Uh, through that pain, sometimes I did things that were naughty. But the important thing is that I never hurt people. And I think I learned that from my father. I mean, as much as my father wasn’t around—



–he was a great man; because everybody in the neighborhood respected him. See, we had a big porch; so all the kid—neighborhood kids would be on our porch all the time. And when he came home for a little while, they would all say, Hi, Mr. Sakuma. And he was always nice to everybody. He would bring home abalone and cut pieces for everybody. And so I just knew my father as this really nice man to my friends. Little did I realize that when he passed away, is when I find out all these things, where people that came to pay their respects says, Oh, your father was you know, this great man; he always treated people with respect. You know, Never did I hear your father say a mean thing.


And he lived with a lot of sadness too.


Yeah. And he taught me something at a young life. Number one, he told me two things.


He says, Number one, you know, don’t listen to your mother, because she’s mentally ill; she doesn’t know what she’s saying. So that helped me to some degree, but still, it was still difficult. And number two, he told me, Whenever you’re in a situation where someone is to get hurt, as much as possible, you take the pain; but you never give out the pain to

someone else. And I’ve lived by that. And when he passed away, one of the elderly gentlemen who came up to me says, Do you know your father’s in the book, The Battle of Iwo Jima? And I didn’t know that. He says, Yeah. So I bought the book, and I went to his passage, and it was so inspiring to me. Because as much as the Iwo Jima was such a hurtful battle, many people died, and all these comments about the bitterness of war. I read his comment, and he says—he talked about—can you believe this, the beauty of Iwo Jima. He says, Look how beautiful this paradise, look how beautiful. He saw past all the war, now; he saw past all the pain. He was talking about this beautiful place on Earth. And I realized, you know, that even in the dark times, or even for himself, he could see things that, you know, normally, we wouldn’t even comprehend. And you know, I was just so in awe that he could see these things in the midst of war.


Roy Sakuma is still learning to cope with the mental illness that shaped his life. Through the Roy Sakuma Ukulele Studios, Roy has taught thousands of students, young and old, to share the joy of music and camaraderie. The Ukulele Festival, which he started in 1971, has grown into one of the largest events at the Kapi‘olani Park Bandstand, with hundreds of participants from Hawai‘i, the mainland and around the globe. As the story goes, Roy dreamed up the international festival while cleaning bathrooms at the Bandstand as a City groundskeeper. I asked him to tell us the story behind that story.


My first job, I was a stock boy for Wilder Food Center. And I was a hard worker, and I put the groceries up, I mopped and swept the floors; and you know, I was totally happy. I was so happy doing that type of work. I thought I could do that my whole life. You know, little did I realize that later on, I would find the ukulele. But I went from stock boy, I went to—I can remember once I went to Kaimuki Typewriter, and I wanted to be an apprentice. So the guy says, Well, you know, you know anything about typewriters? I say, No. He gives me a thick manual and he tells me, Well, take it home and study it, and then we’re gonna test you the next day. So I go home; there’s no way I can read that. So I look at my old Remington—I think it was Remington typewriter, and I took it apart, figuring out how to take it apart; and then I put it back. So the next day, I go, and he says, Well, did you read the book? I said, Yup.




He says, All right; pick one of these typewriters and let me see if you can take it apart. So I went to the Remington [chuckle]; I took it apart, put it back together. I got the job. So that’s how I became a Kaimuki Typewriter apprentice. But you know, I somehow thought of that. You know. I’m not gonna read, but I’m gonna practice taking apart a—


And as it turns out, typewriters couldn’t be a lasting career.


Yeah; that’s right. That’s right. [chuckle] You know. But you know, it’s just going through these stages, it helped me. Helped me to mature, because eventually it led me to working in the City and County of Honolulu. I was twenty-one years old, and I went to apply for the City and County. Not having an education, the only job that I could get was a parks keeper. And I applied, and fortunately I barely passed the test. I became a groundskeeper for the City and County of Honolulu, and I was so happy.


Did you work in Kapi‘olani Park, where you would later have all of these decades of ukulele festivals?


That’s how it started. As a groundskeeper, every day we would have lunch at Kapi‘olani Park Bandstand, and you know, we’d be looking at the bandstand, having lunch. And one day, out loud I say, You know, I’d like to put on an ukulele festival. And the person next to me was a white collar worker at City Hall, and he told me, Dreams come true. And that inspired me; those words inspired me to go after work, go down to City Hall and inquire, How do you put on an ukulele festival? That led me to Mr. Moroni Medeiros. And Moroni would help me for the next fourteen years. He became my mentor in my life. He was, ‘til this day, the greatest man that I’ve ever met.


Finding inspiration and a mentor are two of life’s lessons Roy Sakuma has learned. And he’s gone on to teach many life lessons as a gifted ukulele player, instructor and business owner. I’d like to thank Roy for sharing stories with us – especially the ones he hadn’t told before, about growing up surrounded by serious mental illness.


If you’d like information on mental health resources in our community, simply dial 2-11 or log on to pbs-hawaii-dot-org and download the transcript from this program. We’ll include some information there for you.


And please join me next week as we continue Roy Sakuma’s Long Story Short. I’m Leslie Wilcox of PBS Hawaii. A hui hou kakou.


When I go to schools nowadays and I talk to children, and I talk to intermediate school kids, I can kinda sense if some of them are having similar issues that I have, and you know, I can kinda talk to them in a way in which I can bring up some of these things so that they can relate to it, you know, bring it out where I’m not coming out too strong, and yet it gets them thinking, Hey, you know, there’s an option to how I feel. You know. And I try to do this in schools now when I talk to children.


Part 2



Aloha no, I’m Leslie Wilcox of PBS Hawaii. “A terrible student.” That’s how ukulele master Roy Sakuma described himself on Long Story Short last week as he recalled his childhood attending public schools in Honolulu. He started cutting out of school in kindergarten. He was smoking at the age of six and drinking by the sixth grade.


He spent time in Juvenile Detention and he dropped out of high school. Today, the internationally acclaimed ukulele teacher and business owner Roy Sakuma visits schools to share his love of music and his message of hope.


For the first time, on last week’s Long Story Short, ukulele impresario Roy Sakuma revealed why he didn’t bother much with school as a kid. He explained that his late mother and brother suffered from serious, untreated mental illness. Roy, his father and sister lived with the family’s secret. Before we continue Roy Sakuma’s Long Story Short, let’s revisit his childhood in Makiki.


What were your growing up years like?


It was difficult. You know, I went through a lot of pain, and I didn’t realize it ‘til years later, but you know, when I was born, my mother was diagnosed as—you know, she had paranoia, schizophrenia. And she had it severe. So I didn’t have a normal childhood. And as the years went by, it only got worse, because my brother at nine years old also had a mental breakdown. So you know, our home was filled with a lot of difficulty.


Was your dad in the home?


My dad was home, but because my mother and brother were both mentally ill, it was hard for him. You know, there was never any logical communication, so my father would go out every night and, naturally he enjoyed drinking, so he’d be drinking seven nights a week.


Paranoid schizophrenia today is a very treatable disease. Was there medication available for your mother?


You know, at that time, way back, from what I understand, my father told me that they didn’t have or—what’s the word I’m trying to say is that he couldn’t take my mother to get any help, because at that time it was shameful. He did tell me years later, though, that he tried to commit her. But what happened is that no one would help him in the family, because my mother’s mother would not allow it.


I see.


She felt that was taboo.


That means your brother was also untreated when he had his problem?


No. My father sent him to the Kane‘ohe mental institution, where he received treatment. And he would get these medications where they would release him. But the problem is that every time they released him, he had to go back in, because he would get another breakdown. And so it was a struggle, because—I remember when he was young—when I was young, he tried to kill me one time with a knife. And so ever since then—I was only like eleven years old—every time he came home, I would be—I couldn’t sleep in bed. You know, I’d be shivering, because I’d be afraid that, you know, in my sleep, he was going to do something to me and harm me. So it was a struggle, those years; it was very painful.


And there was no adult you could speak with about it?


There was no adult. And that’s why I developed all these misconceptions in life, and it wasn’t until I became a young adult—I think I was like nineteen years old; I decided that I needed to do something about this. So I went to a psychologist and talked to him. And that was a turning point of my life. And I can share this now; I mean, before, I didn’t talk too much about this, especially being this deep into the pain that I had. But it was a really big struggle, and luckily, as the years went by, through this therapy, it helped me a lot.


And how’s your brother who had mental illness too?


Uh, he committed suicide.


You know, I keep thinking how treatable schizophrenia is, if the person has access to and is willing to take medication. What are your thoughts now?


Well, I realize that it is treatable. Because what happened is, I had to make a choice in my life once, and I wanted my father’s life to be better. And so I took it upon myself to committing my mother to the Kane‘ohe Mental Hospital.


Once you became an adult?


Yes. And it was very difficult, because you know, no one wanted to get involved with this, and rightfully so, because it was a very difficult thing to do. We had to actually have them come over and strap her down. Because I knew she wouldn’t go willingly. And I’ll never forget; as they wheeled her out of the house, she told me, I hate you, I disown you, and I will never talk to you again. And then they took her away. And I was devastated. But I knew this was something that I had to do. So, what happened is, through the medication that she took, eventually it came to the point where we could have conversations between each other, and with my sister, and she really changed a lot. I mean, the change was significant, where we actually had a mom that we could talk to. She wasn’t totally there, but she came a long way, where we could actually have simple conversations. So I’m very grateful for that. I’m very grateful that despite—you know, it was painful then, but the reward was twenty times greater, ‘cause now I could talk to my mother.


So often, people who’ve found success have had to overcome adversity and have pressed tirelessly to achieve their goals. That certainly is the case for Roy Sakuma. He worked very hard to overcome the confusion and self-doubt resulting from mental illness in his family and his disrupted and limited formal education. And when he decided to play the ukulele, he practiced and practiced until he mastered his craft.


You know, I know in the hands of a master, what an ukulele sounds like. But I have to say that I can’t play any instrument, even a kazoo.




But I can play the ukulele. It seems like it’ll adapt to whatever level you bring to it.


Yes. I agree with you; the ukulele, to me, is one of the easiest instruments to learn in the world; it’s perfect for anyone. And you know, like I’ve seen so many people that say—tell me, I cannot play, I am tone deaf.




And you know, I can prove them wrong. There is not a person in the world that I don’t think I cannot teach. And that comes from my upbringing. You know, because I struggled so much, because I had no musical sense, and I had to learn everything from phase one, all the way up. So you can come to me with ten problems, or you know. And as soon as I see you touch the ukulele, I can make the adjustments, just like; because I know already.


Because I think that was the foundation for me; being so junk on the ukulele. So when I see students that struggle, you relate to it; so you can work them through it. Had I been a gifted student, then I don’t think I would have been a really good teacher. Because I think a lot of—I wouldn’t be able to comprehend why are you having so much trouble.




So it turned out good for me that I was a lousy–[chuckle]–I think I was the worst student, ever.


[chuckle] You turned out very good.


[chuckle] Thank you. [chuckle] You know, a lot of people thought I was such an outgoing, friendly guy. But uh, they didn’t know that inside, I was really hurting. And I think this was right after when I got kicked out of school, um you know, I heard a song; I heard a song on the radio. And it was a song recorded by Ohta-san. And that song was the turning point in my life. Because what happened is that I went to see him to learn a little about the ukulele, and that took away a lot of my pain. ‘Cause now, I was focusing on something that made me happy.


Why did you go to see him based on a song? What was the song?


The song was called Sushi. I don’t know if you recall this; it was recorded in 1963. It became the number one hit in Hawaii; was for the Tom Moffat Show.


How did it go? I vaguely remember.


Oh, are you gonna ask me to sing? [chuckle] Oh, no. [chuckle] [HUMS]


That’s right.


And it was an instrumental. And I went to see him; I was sixteen years old at this time. And the wonderful thing is that—I want to share this with everyone; is you know how they say never give up your dreams? Well, at ten years old, I tried learning the ukulele, Leslie; I couldn’t. At twelve, I tried again; I couldn’t. At fourteen, my sister tried to teach me to hold G; I couldn’t hold the chord, I couldn’t strum. I had no sense of rhythm; because as I mentioned earlier to you, I never listened to the radio. So I couldn’t do it. So she told me, Give up. But when I heard that song, I was sixteen; I decided to seek out Ohta-san. I asked him to teach me; he started teaching me. And so I think I wouldn’t be teaching the ukulele today, had it not been for that song, Sushi.


Well, that took guts; a sixteen-year-old kid who’d been kicked out of school going to this ukulele virtuoso.


Uh-huh. One thing that I had, I was never afraid, though, to approach people, as much as I was insecure inside. ‘Cause that’s how I survived.




By not being afraid to talk to people, reach out and ask people questions. And yet, inside, I was just so nervous, you know. But I learned to deal with that and it’s been a blessing for me today, ‘cause I can help children.


I was gonna ask you; are you good at sensing when somebody is undergoing pain?


Yes; yes. I sense it. I sense it all the time with children, and even sometimes with adults. I don’t know why, but I feel it. And I can tell you stories where children were abused, and I would ask the children, you know, How’s your life? And they would say, It’s fine. But inside, something was telling me that they were hurting. And I would you know, kind of push the issue and talk to the school teacher or the counselor, the principal, and sooner or later, these children would come out and say, yes, you know, there were problems. And it’s just something—I think now I understand that because I went through so much pain, you can actually somehow sense pain in other people; you know, especially in children. Yeah.


When you started playing ukulele, I understand you practiced so much, you wore out the frets?


I wore out the frets. I practiced. This is like when I was sixteen, seventeen, eighteen years old; I practiced eight hours a day, sometimes ten hours a day. Now, people think, Now, how can you do that? I could do that; I would practice and practice, and practice. And my goal was to beat Ohta-san; I was gonna become the best player in the world. But the funny thing is; the better I got, the more I realized how great the master was.




And I thought, Well, you know, he really is something special. And he told me one day; he says, Roy, do you want to come to the studio and just help me? I’m gonna teach this adult class. I said, What do I have to do? He said, Oh, just tune the ukuleles. And he comes in, teaches the adults lesson number one. And then he tells me, Oh, by the way, I’m going to Japan next week; you’re teaching. And I was petrified. I said, I don’t know how to teach. He says, No, just da-da-da-da-da, da-da-da-da-da. Leslie, I went home and I applied the same technique that I used to learn the ukulele, and practiced for hours and hours every day. I would talk to the walls, I would talk to the kitchen, I would talk to the carpet, I would talk to the mirror, as if I’m talking to those adults. And you know, by the time I went in front of them, I was totally comfortable; and I taught them. And the interesting thing is when Ohta-san returned, Ohta-san asked me, Would you like to continue teaching those students? And I was so happy. And the students were happy, because they were comfortable with me too; so it was a win-win situation. That’s how I got into teaching. So my second mentor in life was Ohta-san.


And was it different teaching children, when you decided to expand and teach children as well?


It was a natural for me. Because I realized that I had such a deep love for children that once I was teaching children, there was an instant—like an automatic connection; I can’t explain it. But when I’m around children, it’s so easy to bring them up. You know, I can just walk in a room, I can walk into my room of instructors with students, or I can go to a school, and automatically I can feel the energy rise. And so I’m happy for that, that I can, you know, have this relationship with kids. But you know, adults; we have a lot of adults now. I find that there’s a great connection with adults, because they need this outlet where they have fun and just sing, and play and laugh. And so you know, it’s working both ways for us now.


Roy Sakuma and his wife Kathy have partnered in a number of successful enterprises: Roy Sakuma Ukulele Studios, Roy Sakuma Productions, the annual Ukulele Festival, summer zoo concerts, CD, DVD and book sales, and school visits. It all began when Roy was an ukulele student himself.


All this time, you were taking ukulele lessons—


I was taking—


–from Ohta-san?


I was taking ukulele lessons after school. And in fact, I started teaching by then. I was teaching two or three times a week; I had about eight or nine students. And the love for teaching was getting stronger, and stronger in me; and that’s why I wanted to put on this event called The Ukulele Festival. Because people don’t realize, back in the 1960s, you know, if you asked people about the ukulele, they would say, Oh, that’s a toy. I mean—


Yeah; it didn’t get much respect, did it?


No. Ninety percent of the people thought it was a toy. And that hurt me, because Ohta-san was such a master.




And so the only thing I could do, and I thought was the best thing to do, was to put on an ukulele festival where we showcased the instrument. Little did I realize that now, the ukulele festival today is a big event; it’s an annual event and it’s been going on for years, and years and years.


It started in ’71. And how many performers did you have then?


I had about fifty.


Mm. And how many today?


Last year we had over nine hundred performers.




And a lot of students, lot of people from all over the world that come and perform in the event. And you know the beautiful thing; it’s free. So it doesn’t cost a cent to come down to Kapi‘olani Park and see the festival. And that, again, was a dream that eventually, when my wife started helping me in 1974, the dream was to keep the festival free. And ‘til today, it is a free event; and that is something that we are both so very, very happy.


I want to ask you something about your wife.




Here you are, doing well in the work world, but you’re damaged inside, you’re hurting still. I mean, you can’t make that go away. So the essence of marriage is intimacy.




How did that work?


Wow, wow. You know, the word love is so important to me. Though I was growing up in so much pain, that word was so special to me. And I had like two or three girlfriends over a period of my young life; I never told anyone, I love you. ‘Cause I felt love was such a special word. When I met my wife, she was nineteen years old, she was going to University of Hawai‘i. And I knew this girl was special.


How? Where did you meet her?


I met her through a blind date [chuckle]. Somebody fixed us up where she came along with my wife, and then I met my future wife and my friend; and that was the first encounter.


What did they tell you about her before they set you up?


They just said that she was a nice girl. And that’s all they told me.


And you didn’t say, Oh, what does she look like?


No; I didn’t say that. I mean, you know, I wasn’t interested in that. And but she was really attractive, you know. [chuckle]


And did you, or she know anything about what was to happen when you met?


No. In fact, we just met. And then you know, she went back with her girlfriend to work, and two weeks later I called her up. And this is interesting, because the Harlem Globetrotters were town, and it was a Friday. And I called her up and I said, Oh, would you like to go out and see the Harlem Globetrotters? They’re playing Friday night. And she tells me, Oh, I’m sorry, I have a date. So I says, Well, how about Saturday night? And she hesitates—


That didn’t phase you?


No. She says, Oh, I have another date. Okay. So Globetrotters play Friday, Saturday, Sunday. So I said, Okay; how about Sunday night? And she thinks, and she tells me, Okay. I mean, you know, what—because my life was filled—and I thought about this at times—was filled with so much rejection and stuff like that, when she said she’s busy Friday and she’s busy Saturday, it still didn’t hurt me. ‘Cause that’s not pain to me; that’s just like, hey, what if she’s honest, she’s busy. So I asked for Sunday, and she said okay. And so that was our first date.


And did you ever find out what your friend and her friend had told her about you before the blind date?


No, I never asked; I never asked.


Hm. Gotta ask.


[chuckle] But I know that she was special. And the reason I know this is because I think we dated after that, eight dates. And I didn’t—yes, I didn’t even hold her hand. Because I had so much respect for her; I didn’t want to do anything that would damage this beautiful relationship that was coming together. And so what happened is that as we were getting closer, now I knew this was the girl I wanted to marry. This was the girl that I wanted to marry, and I felt, okay, but you mentioned this–what about all the issues inside of me.




So I decided to tell her everything about my past; all the misconceptions, all the insecurities that are in me. I wanted her to know this; I want her to know who she was really marrying, at the risk of losing her. So over the next two or three dates, I revealed everything to her. I revealed my heart and soul to her; from the top of my head to the bottom of my foot, I revealed every insecurity, everything in my life to her. Do you know what she told me?




When all was said and done, she says, I never saw it as your weaknesses, I see it as your strengths. And it wasn’t until last year, when I was talking to a friend and I mentioned this, what my wife said, did I realize that she probably saved me that day. ‘Cause had she said, you know, we’re not meant for one another, you have too many issues, you’ve got to get your issues straightened out; had she said that to me, you know, it could have gotten me spiraling the wrong way.


But you were doing very well on your own.


I was doing very well. But that was like the icing on the cake. I mean, when she accepted me for all the faults that was in me, I um, I was able to get through it. And do you know what is interesting now? Those inner weaknesses have become my greatest strengths.


She was right about that.


Yeah. It’s helping people, it’s doing things to help others. You cannot take away what you went through. But you can now switch it around; and rather than dwell on the hurt that you went through, use it for the good of children and other people. And it’s something I think everybody that goes through this, when they turn it around, it becomes a really inner strength to help people. My wife and I always talk about this. If we have—and you hear this all the time—if you have nothing nice to say about someone else, don’t say it. Because treat the other person how you want to be treated. And that’s, that’s our philosophy in life, you know. You know, ‘cause I want people to treat me with respect; so therefore, I should treat people with respect.


Basic Golden Rule, right?


That’s right.


So hard to do, but so simple and true.


It’s so simple and true.


You know, you’re somebody who didn’t have a solid formal education because of the problems in your life.




But you’ve been able to become a teacher, an expert on a musical instrument, a business owner, and you’re even a music producer.


M-hm; yes, yes. It just happened, one thing after another. I think my wife deserves a tremendous amount of credit, that she was the one in 1986 said, Hey, Roy, let’s record Ohta-san. So that was our first record; and it won the Hoku for instrumental of the year. And she told me, Hey, we should open a studio in Kane‘ohe, which we did; and we should open a studio in Mililani, which we did. And so she had a lot of influence on where the studio was headed, both in the recording, both in the building of the studio where we could meet—we could reach now, more children. And so it just helped. In fact, we wrote a book on the ukulele. And I actually started it, you know, on my own, thinking I can do it. And it took me five years, and I couldn’t finish it. And she says, Where’s the book? And I said, Well, I’m still working on it. She said, Okay, give it to me; let me help you.




Leslie, we finished the book in four months. You see?




And that’s—you know, my name is out there, because it’s Roy Sakuma Productions, right? But you know, I can tell every person out there, honestly, that the success or whatever we do, it’s the woman behind; Kathy. And she doesn’t want to be in the forefront; she likes to stay in the background. But she is the, like the heart and soul of our company.


Did she have an ukulele connection before you?


No; not at all. But when I was dating her—and this is how small Hawaii is—she didn’t tell me ‘til months and months later that Ohta-san and her were first cousins.




I didn’t know. You know, so it was meant to be; it was meant to be. And so it’s just so, you know, it’s interesting.


You’re embarking on something new, and it involves something old. Can you tell us about that?


In 1970, as I was mentioning earlier, when I was hurting a lot, I was struggling, and I picked up my ukulele. And I started—this song came out of me, and it was you know, I’m not a singer, but it was something like—wait, now. [SINGS] I am what I am; I’ll be what I’ll be; look, can’t you see that it’s me, all of me. And it just poured out of me. And so I didn’t have to sit there and write the notes, write the words; it just poured out of me. That was 1970. And that song became a song that every single child in the ‘70s sang as an elementary school child. So you know, that was I Am What I Am. Little did I realize, this year as I go to elementary schools and teach that song, that the song has been a powerful tool for me to help children. ‘Cause it’s been my whole life to help kids; to help kids through their struggles. But it’s more powerful this year than ever, because as I go to these schools and I ask these children, What does, I am what I am, I’ll be what I’ll be, mean to you? This is what I get from children. One child will say, It means it’s okay who I am. Another will say, I’m special. But a lot of children will tell me this; It means that it’s okay to be who I am, and I don’t have to be who I’m not. And that is so powerful. And I realized that this song was meant for all—to share with everybody. You know, it’s okay to be who you are, and you don’t have to try and be who you’re not. And I think that’s a wonderful passage for everyone to kind of gravitate to. You know, so I’m very happy that I’m able to share this song with all the children today. So we got a concert coming up this summer where we do the Wildest Show in Town; it’s every single summer. And the concept is laughter, love, and hope; and at the end of each concert we’re gonna have the children and everybody, the audience, sing I Am What I Am. So I’m really excited about that.


And obviously, you’ve accepted yourself for who you are.




As you recall, Roy Sakuma says he was a terrible student growing up. Now, after learning so many important lessons in life, he’s a teacher in more ways than one.


Roy had not spoken publicly about the mental illness that shaped his childhood until he sat down with us for Long Story Short. I’d like to applaud him for his openness and for encouraging people affected by mental illness to seek professional help.



Monty Richards



Original air date: Tues., July 6, 2010


Pioneering Rancher & Farmer and Community Volunteer


Leslie Wilcox talks story with Monty Richards, fifth-generation family member of a ranching dynasty and former President/General Manager of Kahua Ranch on Hawaii island. Known for his pioneering efforts in high intensity rapid rotational grazing techniques and diversified operations like hydroponic farming, Richards is also recognized as a lifetime community volunteer.


Monty Richards Audio


Download the Transcript




When you see other families suffering … I don’t get comfort out of that. I just try to work harder and figure there’s gotta be a better way, there’s gotta be a better way. Somebody upstairs knows better than me. Come on, give me a hint, and let’s go try.


Big Island ranching pioneer and lifetime community volunteer, Herbert Montague Richards Jr. shares his love of the land … next on LONG STORY SHORT.


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Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox is Hawaii’s first weekly television program produced and broadcast in High Definition.


Aloha Mai Kakou, I’m Leslie Wilcox. High in the Kohala Mountains on the northern tip of the Big Island is Kahua Ranch, Kahua meaning the beginning, the source, the foundation. Herbert Montague Richards, Jr.—better known as Monty Richards—is a third-generation member of the Kahua Ranch family business and a fifth-generation kamaaina descended from Protestant missionaries. As the former President and General Manager of Kahua Ranch, Monty Richards spent over half-century with his late wife Phyllis on the homestead while raising a family of four and their grandchildren. His dream of a career in ranching came to him while spending childhood vacations at Kahua. In 1953, with an agriculture degree in hand Monty began work for the company. His initiation was learning the ropes at the company slaughterhouse in Honolulu.


I did most of the jobs they had there, including rolling hides, which is … whew, if you’ve never rolled hides, you have no idea.


What is rolling hide?


Rolling hides is—these are hides that are taken off the animal. And they go in a salt pack. You actually salt them down. Lay ‘em out on the ground, and shovelfuls of salt put. And then when they’re cured, you have to fold them up and in those days, we used to have to tie ‘em up, and then they’re loaded on a flat trailer. And I think we were shipping some to the mainland, some to Korea in those days.


What for? What do they use the hides for?


Well, shoes, belts, handbags; all the rest of those good things. The smell was out of sight. And the hides are heavy; they’re sixty pounds and that sort. And I have Haole hands, and we use hide rope, which is a sisal type rope, which can cut. Because you’re in salt; boy, it used to burn.


So you graduated with this degree, and then came back and did this kind of a junk job.


You have to learn. You have to learn. Maybe you were told how to do the job, but until you get out and do it, you don’t realize how hard the work is. And when you are gonna give orders to get people to do it, they know that you have done it; and that makes all the difference in the world. In terms of labor, that’s probably one of the toughest jobs. You used to do that on Saturdays, which is, you don’t work five days and then you get two days off. But there are all kinds of jobs. I delivered meat. And in those days you used a pickup truck.


You didn’t have these nice, big vans with all the chill and all. You just—pickup truck, you cover ‘em with a canvas, and you drive down and Chinatown and all, you double park, and you load quarters of beef on your shoulder, and you take ‘em into the market. But those quarters weigh about a hundred and a quarter, 150 pounds, and you’re walking through a narrow aisle with people buying all around. You gotta be careful you don’t knock anybody down as you swing, because it’s sticking out about three feet in front.


Were they deliberately giving you the roughest jobs, because they needed to see whether—


I think so.


They were testing you.


I think so.




And it should be done that way.


So they didn’t give you any chance?




Any break.


No. And if you were wrong, you were politely told where you were wrong. So you just do it. Then later on, they transferred me to the Big Island.


So you were one of the hands.


That’s right. And you rode your horse, you saddled, you caught horse at six-thirty in the morning, and off you went.


Did you like it? Were you saying about then, were you saying, Why did I want to get into this business?


Depends on the weather. If the weather is fine, no. If it’s raining, yes. And the wind is howling at about twenty to thirty miles and hour, and you’re hunched over and your horse is hunched over, and you hope he doesn’t buck you off, and your slicker is hitting the horse and all, you wonder, What am I doing here? You just keep remembering that many of the people that you went to school with are junior accountants in a bank in New York City, and think of the life that those folks lead. The Wall Street folks would just wait ‘til Friday afternoon, and they’d jump in their car and they’d go to The Farm. They’d have about an hour and a half drive, and then they would spend a day and a half on The Farm. Listen, clown, you’re living it all life, you’re living it every day, so don’t grumble, you got it made.


Monty Richards is recognized for his pioneering efforts in high-intensity rapid- rotational-grazing techniques, and also for diversifying the business. This includes experiments with hydroponic farming and eco-friendly energy sources such as wind and solar power. Tourists are also invited to visit and explore Kahua’s breathtaking scenery.


I’ve been looked upon … kind of a maverick that does things differently. For instance, I started with motorcycles here. I got started on that. And people thought it was terrible, and it probably was. So to try to make it work a little better, I referred to them as Japanese quarter horses. So to have a little bit of the pizzazz still left in it. We use ATVs now, and all—most ranches do. They make the ranch must smaller, because you’re able to move around, and you’re able to get things done. So you never know; some things work well, others don’t work well.


And of course, cattle aren’t the only things you grow.


No, we grow sheep. We’re the largest sheep ranch here in the State. Which doesn’t say much; we have about eight hundred ewes.


How many cattle?


Well, mother cows, Kahua has about four thousands.


And you’re doing these hybrid.


Yeah; yeah. We’re crossing in—within the four thousand … we work with Wagyu cattle, Kobe beef. That’s what we raise. And the unfortunate thing is, so much of our cattle go to the mainland to be raised and fed. Getting the Wagyu in is working well with grass fed. We are able to kill a bunch of cattle here and we run a little store at the ranch, and we sell sheep and cattle, and Wagyu. In the case of cattle, the gestation period is nine months. So if you breed a cow, nine months later, hopefully, you get a calf. She stays with mama about eight months, so here we are; now we’re up seventeen months. Now you raise it on on grass another three months. Then you’re about four months in feeding the animal, before it is harvested. It’s a long time.


It’s expensive.


Oh, yes. But it’s experimental, and you’ve got to figure which ones are gonna do the best job for you. And when you’re experimenting, you’ve got a long wait. They’re not like chickens that turn over generations extremely quickly.


So how is your experiment working? You’ve done this for generations of—




—of cows.


Well, the Wagyu, for instance, you can’t get any matter out of Japan. In other words, they won’t ship any more semen to you for AI, or anything like that. So you’ve got to use what you have in the United States, and breed up with them, and try to get to the highest percentage that you can. We started at Kahua breeding artificially; the first calves hit the ground in 1966. And we were using Hereford and Angus at that time. And we’ve since moved on and we’re continuing to breed Angus and Hereford; but it takes a long time.


So how have your customers changed? Who do you sell to now, versus who you sold to before?


Well … there’s been quite a change from the before. We ended up shipping to the mainland in about, I don’t know, I’m guess about ten years ago, I’ve forgotten, when we closed down all the meat facilities here. I was president of Kahua Beef Sales and Kahua Meat Company here on Oahu. Parker Ranch closed the Hawaii Meat Company and all the rest. So that was quite a break. In those days prior to that, we used to sell to the Foodlands and the Times, and the Stars, and all the rest. And that’s the majority of the meat that was raised here, was sold here. Now that we’ve gone to the mainland by far, most all the meat is sold on the mainland.


Why is that?


Well, we’re not bringing it back, because it’s too hard to ship it, both ways and you have to keep the—a good point is, this the original meat that came here, and all the rest. I laughingly say that people say you are what you eat, so you all ought—always ought to eat Hawaiian beef. Reason is, because our Hawaiian beef on the mainland has had an ocean voyage. Now, how many steaks have had an ocean voyage?




And then when you come to the mainland, when you come to either Canada or California, gotta have a nice, long truck ride. So it’s had the ability to see the country.




So your cattle are well acclimated to having traveled. So if you eat that beef, you’re getting some of that in you, and that’s gotta be extremely healthy.


[CHUCKLE] Why do you ship them away? Why can’t they just live their entire lives here, and be consumed here?


We are trying to do that. We need new slaughterhouse; we need that. We do not have the facilities. We’ve got to get the infrastructure back that we lost at the time they were sold.




At the time it was closed, people in Honolulu wanted US Choice meat.




Didn’t want any of this grass fed stuff anymore. Nope; didn’t want it. Now, the whole thing has changed. Now, people, because of the health thing, want grass fed. Okay, now you got—


Because it’s leaner steak?


Leaner, tastes better, it’s better for you, et cetera, et cetera. But now, we’ve gotta build back the infrastructure that was lost, and that’s extremely expensive. And the expense is caused by, number one, that time has—that we live in, and number two, is the amount of Federal regulation—




—that is involved. So you pretty much have to start with a clean sheet of paper.


Cattle ranching in 2010 presents a challenge to ranch owners who are struggling economically. Kahua Ranch is no exception.


My feeling is that if you have a piece of land, the land must work for you. You work with it, but it must work for you. Now, you can have cattle on it, and that’s fine. But your land isn’t really working. The amount of money you can harvest from one animal, the amount—not enough. You’ve gotta make the land do something else. That’s why we have the visitor industry on it. ATV riding, taking people, letting them see things, see a ranch going; there, you begin to make the land work. You are, number one, you are educating people that come on the place as to what you’re doing, and you’re showing people why they’re coming to Hawaii, because they’ll agriculture in operation. We’ve hit this tough times now. That’s slowed way down. I think we’ll be able to pick it up, but you always have to realize that the end game in land is houses. Once you get in houses, the game’s up.




Do you really want to do that?


Have people approached you with some nice, big offers for your land?


Well, I fend them off. I don’t get down serious. We could sell it; be no problem. It’s some of the most beautiful land in the State. But there’s more to being a landowner than only looking for the so-called highest and best use. And the highest and best use of any land is subdivision. You ought to be smarter and make the land work for you, and help you, which in turn helps your fellow man.


But on the other hand, you’ve tried all kinds of things, and the economy hasn’t helped, and the weather often hasn’t helped. How are you doing at this point in 2010 with the family business?


Not very well. But you don’t give up. You don’t give up.


How much does it wear on you? I mean, you employ people, your family’s living on the property.


When you see other families suffering … I don’t get comfort out of that. I just try to work harder and figure there’s gotta be a better way, there’s gotta be a better way. Somebody upstairs knows better than me. Come on, give me a hint, and let’s go try. And that’s … I mean, you’re getting into my philosophy of life. But that’s the way I looked at it.


Never give up.




Keep trying.


That’s right.


And what about—at what point do you consider taking an extreme right or left turn, as opposed to persevering and moving in that same direction?


I haven’t gotten there yet; I don’t know.


How was it when you turned over the reins of the business to your son, Tim, a few years ago—




—after being the boss for a long time, decades?


[CHUCKLE] It’s interesting. When you decide to do that. You … that’s a switch. You’re either full-on, or you’re full-off. You better go full-on, if that’s what you want, and you turn it over. My tongue is two inches shorter.




The protein that I’ve eaten has been my tongue.




But I’ve tried to stay positive.


And support him as he—




—runs the business.


That’s correct.


But you do things …


I do—


Some things differently.


—some things differently; yup. Yup.


At what point do you step back and say, Hey, gotta listen to me on this one?


You wait for him to come and ask you. And that’s a difficult point.




And sometimes, oftentimes—don’t use the word often; oftentimes, his ideas are better than yours.


Maybe—perhaps in ranching, it’s different, but it just seems that it’s very hard to keep a family business or dynasty going.


Extremely difficult; extremely difficult. And it has to do with family dynamics. What you’re really looking at, do you want the family farm, because you’re rapidly running out of family farms from the tax standpoint. Do you want all big corporate farms? Do you want a meeting held weekly in X County … Ohio, where about ten people decide what the price of corn will be, or the price of soybeans?




A different ten people. Do you want that? Is that gonna be in the best interest of the United States? I think not. But how many people think that through? How many face that question?


How many people can withstand tough times?


That’s right. How many people have got the guts to stand up fulltime? Listen; if you want to wear a sword, you better be prepared to draw the sword and get into the fight.


I think of your living in a place where King Kamehameha the Great is said to have trained for battle. It’s just steeped in antiquity at the same time—




—it serves you today. Any thoughts about that?


The area that he was suppo—his guard were trained and all, is Kahua land. I would certainly like to be able to keep it the way it is now, or improve it from an agricultural standpoint. But not split it up to house sites. We did sell a bunch. Kohala Ranch was part of Kahua at one time. And that was it. But we stopped at a line below the cinder cones, because this other shows where Kamehameha was.


And do you foresee a time when there might be family dissention about whether to sell off land?




For housing.




For real estate purposes.


Yup. Oh, yeah; oh, yeah. Because if a person owns a ranch and you’re not making money, it’s costing you money; what are you gonna do? And we’ve gotta be smart enough to make sure that they’re profitable.


Do you know what … whatever you’re hoping for, what do you think might be the next best thing for the ranch?


Well you make the land do something. Visitors, that sort, which keep it in agriculture, but nevertheless, let more and more people enjoy it. And when—if you do a job, you can charge for it, and everybody is happy.


So it sounds like you don’t look for … easy work.


No, I just look for work. [CHUCKLE]


[CHUCKLE] And do you like it when it has a physical element to it?


Yeah. That’s fine. I mean, when you talk about physical, and I won’t ride a horse anymore, I won’t even get on a horse. If you fall down off a horse, when you get to be about my age, and something busts … it may heal, but it’ll be a long time. And it may never heal. So don’t put yourself in that position.


A neighbor islander, and especially a Hawaii Islander, has a different sensibility about life in Hawaii.


Probably do. M-hm.


And what should people in Honolulu know about Hawaii, as seen through your eyes?


Well … you mean, what do they look at the Big Island, and they don’t see?




I’ll tell you one thing; East Hawaii versus West Hawaii. To me, that is terrible. That is one island; you better damn well realize that it’s an island. Hawaii Island Economic Development Board is about twenty-some years old. I was the first president of that. I fought to make sure that people would realize that the Island of Hawaii is the Island of Hawaii; there’s not East Hawaii, and West Hawaii. And that has dogged that island for now—well, as far as I know, and including now. Because you will find that the East Hawaii seems to have better roads, they seem to—all of that stuff. Why? Because where is the head hall, so to speak, is in Hilo. What’s gonna come about is, West Hawaii, with all the housing and all that’s going on, all the millionaire homes, that’s gonna be where your tax money is gonna come from. And they’re not gonna sit still to have East Hawaii get everything, and here, here’s a little pinch for West Hawaii. You have to have the Island of Hawaii. And I said, You wait ‘til you get a mayor from West Hawaii—




—and you see what’s gonna happen. You think you guys know what’s coming? You ain’t seen nothing yet. Because they’re gonna take you apart. You’ve got to realize you’re a whole island; you’re one island, and they’ve even gone so far as to have, Well, maybe we should have two separate mayors and two separate police force. Ridiculous. Ridicuous.


With no desire to run for public office like his father before him, Monty Richards, a lifelong Republican, has instead served as a volunteer for countless civic organizations and on government boards. For 16 years he was a member of the University of Hawaii’s Board of Regents and a Board Director for Bank of Hawaii. Taking a leadership role with another organization helped him work through a lifelong problem with stuttering.


When I was in grade school, I could hardly get a word out.




It would get a little better, a little worse, little better, little worse. When I went to the ranch, I would stammer a lot more than I do now. But I became a— became the president of a rotary club.




And boy, that’s a bear. ‘Cause every week, you’ve got to run the meeting, and you better be prepared. So my first meeting, I remember, I stood up, looked at everybody; I said, Okay … I’ll be doing this every week. You boys are gonna want to sit in the front row, it’s up to you, but I suggest you bring umbrellas and raincoats, because—




—[CHUCKLE] because you might get wet before this thing’s over. Well, by my going over and doing that, I find it actually helped the stammer. Look at many of the people with real handicaps, the people with one leg, the people who have … well, I’ve got a very good friend. I call him a very good friend. Name is Senator Inouye. Look how he has done with one arm. And he’s carrying  shrapnel inside, and he’s eighty-four years old, or something like that. There’s a man that has done something. There’s a man that is really doing something. You gotta take your hat off to him. Those are the people that you got to admire … when you see what they’ve done.


How do you … how different do you feel than twenty years ago? You still feel the same inside?


About the same. Except, I huff and puff a little more. But other than that, you get up in the morning, and you listen. If you don’t hear nice music—




—you figure, hey, it’s all right. Then you get up, and you look around. If you don’t see the Grim Reaper with a scythe, you’re okay. If you do see him, run faster. That’s about the only way to do it.


With the latest smartphone in hand Monty Richards continues to utilize and promote innovative technology. In addition to his role as chair and trustee of Kahua ranch, he is spending his retirement continuing to serve and advocate for Hawaii’s agricultural community. Mahalo, Monty Richards in North Kohala, for sharing your “Long Story Short,” and thank YOU for watching and supporting PBS Hawaii. I’m Leslie Wilcox. A Hui Hou Kakou.



For audio and written transcripts of this program, and all episodes of Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox, visit


Do you think missionaries have gotten a bad rap in today’s history of Hawaii?


Yup. And it’s unfortunate.


How do you look back on it?


I look back on it, I think it’s bound to be. Any time you have any envy, you always try to chop down something else. And that’s part of life. But you’re—if you’re the chopper or the choppee [CHUCKLE], it makes a difference. If you’re the chopper, why, ain’t bad; if you’re the choppee, it actually hurts a little.




But you have to push on. You have to push on. And when asked, don’t be afraid to say, No, because this, that, and the other. But you don’t go looking for a fight. But if they want to fight, you give it to them.



William S. Richardson




Original air date: Tues., Jan. 6, 2009


Former Hawaii Chief Justice


William S. Richardson recalls growing up in a house his dad built along a dirt lane in Kaimuki. When the family moved there from Palama, they had so few possessions they simply took what they had on a streetcar. Those were simpler times for the man who would go on to be Lt. Governor (under John A. Burns), Chief Justice of the Hawaii State Supreme Court and Bishop Estate Trustee.


Popularly known as CJ, for Chief Justice, William Richardson is also the man for whom the law school at the University of Hawaii at Manoa is named. CJ Richardson joins Leslie Wilcox for an engaging conversation on Long Story Short.


William S. Richardson Audio


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Throughout the Hawaiian islands, we can all enjoy the beautiful beaches because they belong to the State, not private landowners.   No one can “own” our shorelines. Same goes for new lands created by volcanic activity. They belong to the state, to us all, not nearby property owners. These are concepts we might take for granted today; but it wasn’t always the case. They are two of the important rulings–laws of the land–that were handed down by the Hawaii State Supreme Court … led by a public school grad from Kaimuki. A conversation with Chief Justice, Retired, William S. Richardson, next.




Aloha no, I’m Leslie Wilcox of PBS Hawaii. Mahalo for joining me for another Long Story Short. Today we get to chat with William S. Richardson, who served as Hawaii State Supreme Court Chief Justice from 1966 to 1982. He also served as Lieutenant Governor, under John A. Burns, a trustee of the old Bishop Estate, and he was chairman of the Hawaii Democratic Party when Democrats surged to legislative power in 1954. And he’s the namesake of the state’s only law school. Popularly known as “CJ”, for Chief Justice, William Richardson was raised in a working-class family in Kaimuki.


When you say you grew up in Kaimuki, it’s not the Kaimuki that people here think of, is it?


No; it was a Kaimuki that for me, I had to walk through the lanes from Waialae Avenue, about three blocks, going toward Waikiki, through a lane to my house. My father built the house himself.


No streetlights and—


No streetlights.




Only a lane; we could only walk in a lane.


A dirt lane?


A dirt lane. We had no car yet.


And you moved to Kaimuki, which was country, after living in the city, Palama.


Yes. I don’t know whether we had very much. But we went by streetcar, and much of the time, we just caught the streetcar and carried whatever you owned on your back. And how far did the streetcar go? Well, at one time, to 6th Avenue, another time to 12th Avenue, and then next time, all the way down to Waialae Country Club, Kealaolu.


That was electric trolley, right?


Yes; yes. With the hook up above.


So it was the mass transit of yesteryear.


Well, you could call it that; yes, you could.


[chuckle] And one of your classmates was someone who also became very well known in Hawaii, an accomplished Isabella Aiona Abbott.


Oh, yes. She lived about three blocks away from me. She was one of the brains of the school.


[chuckle] She was the first native Hawaiian woman to get a PhD in science.


Yeah; and from Stanford, was it? Oh, yes; she’s a bright girl.


Well, talking about brains of the school; were you one of them?


Oh, no.


You sure?


Oh, yes, I’m sure of that. I mean, I got along; that was it.


When you finished high school, you went on to college. Was that a big thing in your family?


Yes, it was. Not many boys went on to college. And I think some people felt it was time for one to start working at sixteen or seventeen, and college was just out of the ordinary.


Why did you go? What was the impetus?


I think my father felt that I better get up there. And I think he had visions of my going to the University, but I didn’t have that vision yet. [chuckle]


Were you ambitious?


Not that I know of.


But you went ahead and went through four years at UH.


I went four years at UH, and enjoyed it all the way through.


Met a lot of people who would later be your allies in politics and—




—good friends in—


Good friends—


—a long life.


They helped me in everything I’ve done.


So you went to UH. And—




—you had more than most people of your time had; a college degree. But that wasn’t gonna be the end of your higher education.


Well, I thought it was, but I had a job with the oil company. And I thought, well, this would be great; I like this kind of work. I think I’ll do this the rest of my life. And then one of the professors up at school went to see my father, and she said, Now, this boy better go on to law school. And I said, Well, how can you do that, Dad; you can’t afford it. Well he said, You know, if you really gotta go, I’ll rent your room out, and you go on to college. Which he did. In those days, it was five days by steamship, and another four days by train to get to the East Coast.


When you were at the University of Cincinnati Law School, that was a different time racially. You’re Hawaiian, Chinese, Caucasian; what did people make of you? Where did you fit in?


Well, I suppose I fit in all right, but when the war came on, there was some stigma. Anybody different from the haole kids that were around, he was different.


Did people think you were Japanese at the—


I think many—


—at wartime?


I think many did after the war started, because they just didn’t know.


Do you remember getting exposed to overt racism?


Yes, but it was never so bad that I’d feel afraid to be around. And most of them knew that I was of draft age anyway, and that I wouldn’t be around very long, and draft would get me, and that would be the end of that.


And indeed, you went on to infantry training?


Yes; I went—those days, it was all Army, and I started with the Army air corps, and then I went to Fort Benning, Georgia in the infantry school for the Army. And from there on, I went on to the West Coast, and then to New Guinea, and then to the Philippines. I spent most of my time, Army time there in the Philippines.


Did that experience change your life in any way, being in the war?


I wouldn’t say that it did. I just took everything as it went along. I was draftable. Either go in as a foot soldier, or an officer, and that was it.


Is it true that when you went back to normal life, that you didn’t have to take the bar exam right after the war?


Well, that’s true, because they when I came back, it was an LLB, which was a little different from the JD today. And they said, Well, we’ll just send you your JD degree; and that’s it.


And so no hours and days, and weeks, and months of studying for the bar?


No; no. No; didn’t have to do that at all. I went into the Reserves, and they stuck me into the Judge Advocate General’s department, and there, I stayed until I retired from the Army. Which wasn’t very long. [chuckle]


Following the war, William Richardson began working as a lawyer and married his childhood sweetheart, Amy Ching. The two raised three children. In the mid-1950s, Richardson emerged as a leader on the islands’ political scene, working closely with those friends he got to know while attending the University of Hawaii at Manoa.


You were one of the people that was excited about statehood, that helped to make it happen, that—re-crafted government in the wake of statehood. And now, we’re coming up on the fiftieth anniversary of statehood, 2009. Many Hawaiians don’t see that as cause for celebration.


Well to me, it’s great cause for celebration. We’re part of a great country. Like every other state in the union, they had to come up and live and have their new laws gibe with the old. Even if you go back to England, where the common law came over, and if you looked at the way the law went across the country right through the Louisiana Purchase, where the French came in, and we had—the country had to adjust to that. And now we must still look at how it affects the Far East and all the other countries and states, and islands throughout the Pacific Ocean.


Part of what is now, is based on the Great Mahele, King Kamehameha III. And that was considered a distribution—it was a distribution of land. Do you think that was …



Well, I—




I think it’s pono. I think our leaders of the past were as good as any that ever existed. That our Hawaiian ways were just ways of living. And Hawaii should revive what we could of the good parts. And I have to say almost all of it were good parts.


Is there a part of you that identifies with, say, the sovereignty activists or the people who say we let people take our land, or they took it from us, we need it back, we need to—we need better restitution?


Well, we have to use the American system, and the Hawaiian system, and we must find a solution to make it so that we’re not just coming up against each other without trying to resolve them in what we would consider a modern way of doing it. I don’t mean to say that we should reject any of the old ways, nor reject the new ways; but that’s for this court now, and their wise people that are—


M-m. Is one of the solutions a separate Hawaiian nation?


Oh, I don’t think we could go back to being a separate Hawaiian nation. I want to take the good parts of it; but no, I can’t go back to the old way. We’re a different nation today, and we’re living under a flag that we all love today.


Part-Hawaiian, Chinese and Caucasian, William Richardson has been credited with looking back to old Hawaii for new wisdom. Under his leadership, the Supreme Court gave the public access to Hawaii’s shorelines, and ruled that precious water and new lands created by lava flows belong to the State—decisions reflecting Richardson’s desire to incorporate Hawaiian customs as guiding principles within our legal system.


Your court was known as an activist court. You helped expand native Hawaiian rights. What are some of the things you are most proud of?


Well, I think I had a chance to—well, let me start this way. The previous Chief Justice was the first, and he had been ill for a long time. And so some of the big decisions that did not depend on rulings of the U.S. Supreme Court were held back. So some of the cases may be ten years old, and just weren’t taken up, because of his illness, and maybe because of the newness of the State, that some of the cases that were the real important ones were being set aside. Perhaps because the U.S. Supreme Court had coming out—had been coming out with a lot of the criminal cases. So in those cases, Hawaii merely followed suit. If the U.S. Supreme Court ruled a certain way, then we had to go along, of course. But then there were other cases peculiar of Hawaii; water, beaches, plantation differences, general growth of Hawaii that might be unique of Hawaii.


You could have used the English law as a precedent, but often you would look back at—to see what ali‘i from the monarchy days did.


Well, whenever I could, whatever the history books would come up with on old Hawaii, and what few things that I had picked up over the years, I felt that I should try to apply those to the extent that we could.


For example, when the question came, who owns the new land being created by lava from the volcano, what was the answer of your court?


Well, that seemed easy enough for me, but I know the beaches were needed in Hawaii. Without our beaches, there was no Hawaii to speak of, the Hawaii that we loved.


Now, in many parts of the continent, the beaches are private property, right?


Yes. And it seemed perfectly logical to me that people should be able to use the beaches, and that the property lines could not follow all of the methods of old England, say, and that I should try to bring those cases up in line to the way the Hawaiians did it.


It’s a monumental decision that affects us every day.


It does, and I go swimming too. And I know I can go up to a certain spot, and this is public property. And my friends and I can use it.


And that wasn’t the only big one you did. There were the rights of citizens to challenge land court decisions, native Hawaiian rights, and use of private property.






Again, I wasn’t that much of an expert on Hawaiian law. But I had a good court, and they were willing and able to go and look at all of the problems, and see what was going on. And I had traveled around the islands a lot, and you’re speaking now perhaps of water rights, which was so important, because we were a plantation community. And you get to a case like when two plantations began to argue over how much water they could have—they both needed water. But when a third one began to take too much water, to the detriment of some of the others, then you had to decide whose water should it be. The Robinson case in the end was clear to me, but it seemed revolutionary, I suppose. But the people who really needed the water were those in the bottom of the streams, the taro patch and rice patch owners. They’re the ones that needed the water. And so it seemed simple to me to just say, Well, neither of you is entitled to all of that water, it’s the people down below, the taro patch owners and the rice patch owners.


It’s elegantly simple. And the dean of the law school, which is named after you. Avi Soifer said, Imagine very complicated filings going on for years, big battle; and you said, Well, let’s take a look at what’s happening at the end of the line.


M-m. Well we were a new state, not used to following, just being a follower. We needed to decide for ourselves what was best for our people. And that’s how that one came out.


You took some heat over that, but—


I did.


—it became, a symbol of enlightenment, that people said, Here’s a far-thinking guy using the past to build on the future.


Well, of course, I’m glad to hear you say that. [chuckle] And I thought it was right. There was never any question in my own mind.


William S. Richardson says that, as Lieutenant Governor, he never asked or lobbied for the Chief Justice job with his boss, Governor Burns. But his wife Amy had something to say when the Governor picked up the phone and asked her about the prospect.


When he said, What’s this I hear about your husband being the Chief Justice? And he was silent after that; she gave him the works on that. She didn’t want me in politics anymore, and I’m sure she said to him, That would be great, he’d be out of politics if he got in as Chief Justice.


Not so fast. Richardson moved directly from the Lieutenant Governor’s office into leadership of the state’s highest court. Critics would say that, as head of the Judiciary, Richardson never did shake off his political ties, remaining close to the Governor and other politicians and power brokers in town. His term as Chief Justice would end with his own court selecting him for a political plum-trustee of the powerful and wealthy old Bishop Estate.


You know, I gotta mention one decision that your Supreme Court made, that was criticized, and that you were a part of. You were this very popular Chief Justice, who was retiring, and your court appointed you a Bishop Estate trustee. In fact, you took office a couple days after you left the CJ position. And we saw what happened with the Bishop Estate; there was this very close relationship with the Judiciary, with this private nonprofit. As you look back on those days, what do you think?


You mean, of the relationship between the Bishop Estate …


And the—


—and the court?


—Supreme Court.




I mean, do you think the Supreme Court had any business, really, picking Bishop Estate trustees?


Well, I think they should, because the Supreme Court seemed to be the best arbiter.


M-hm. And they gave you a term that was longer than the previously mandated term; you got to serve past seventy, which was the retirement age then.


Well, yeah; the State retirement is seventy. But that doesn’t mean that you had to follow that. I mean, seventy is an arbitrary figure, in a way.


You got very involved in the Democratic Revolution of 1954, played a key role and became Hawaii Democratic Party Chair. But I’ve heard you refer to yourself as the token Hawaiian among that core group.




Was that a joke, or were you serious?


I don’t know whether or not—perhaps I was token Hawaiian. But that’s not altogether true. There were other Hawaiians that were in leadership roles. I can’t remember all the names now. But it was a great group that was led by Governor Burns, who was firstly, a nobody to speak of, but he had been a police captain, and wanted to organize the party. And we met every Friday for lunch. And when the boys that went off to law school after the war came back, well, Governor Burns and I went and picked them up, and got them interested in the Democratic Party. And before we knew it, we had enough to take over the Democratic Party, and in the end I suppose the governorship and …


And you became Lieutenant Governor.


Yes; and from that, I guess he catapulted me into the chief justiceship, which I thoroughly enjoyed.


I notice you’re always ending up in these leadership or achievement positions, and you always say, I don’t know how that happened, I just kinda went along.


Well, that’s what happened; I went along. [chuckle] I mean, I enjoyed the work, and I didn’t mind being in the minority party at that time. I thought I was doing some good, and I thought I was doing something that would have a lasting effect.


I thought I was doing something that might improve the well being of all of the people of my age in Hawaii. And I think it turned out that way—that I thought I could help.


You’ve told me that your favorite job in the world has been CJ. What do you see as your legacy in that position? Clearly, your court made a number of benchmark rulings, but what do you think is the most important?


Well, I think I did the best I could to get the old Hawaiian way into—merged in with the American and the common law system of the past. The beaches, of course, I’m proud of that. And handling cases that involved volcanic action, that no place else in our country we’ve had.


Now there’s a law school named for you; the only law school in Hawaii is named after you.


Well, I must say I’m proud of it, and I’m proud of it because it means that some people that wouldn’t have had a chance to go to law school now have that opportunity.


At age 89 as I speak, the CJ is a regular at the William S. Richardson School of Law where he has an office and enjoys talking with the students. He says they don’t argue with him, but he respects different ideas—and anyway, it’s their future to shape now.


Mahalo to CJ Richardson for sharing stories with us on Long Story Short. I’m Leslie Wilcox of PBS Hawaii. A hui hou kakou.


My wife lived on the same street, as a matter of fact. [chuckle]


I heard a story she used to tell about meeting you. I recall her saying that she met you when she was watering the yard, and you were walking by from the—


Yes; she’d either be watering the yard or playing the piano. And she told people, Go water your yard, you never know what might happen. [chuckle] She did say that, jokingly.


So childhood sweethearts.


I suppose you could put it that way. She was a neighbor, two blocks away. But she went to that other school. She went to Punahou, and I went to Roosevelt.



Ty Sanga



Original air date: Tues., Jun. 14, 2011


Up and Coming Hawaii Filmmaker


On this episode of Long Story Short, Leslie Wilcox talks with Ty Sanga, an up and coming filmmaker. After leaving a career in the visitor industry, Sanga struggled to find the right calling to share and convey Hawaii’s unique culture. The University of Hawaii ethnic studies program introduced him to the power of film documentaries to communicate a personal vision.


Sanga is a graduate of the UH Academy for Creative Media and received his MFA from Chapman University. His Hawaiian language film Stones was recently honored by the prestigious Sundance Film Festival in 2011. His graceful depiction of a Hawaiian legend illustrates his authentic voice and visual style.


Ty Sanga Audio


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That’s the reason why I became a filmmaker. Because we saw other people telling our stories, and not right. They just mess it up, or tear it apart, and they put their own twists into what they think is local or Hawaiian, and just kinda butcher everything. So with the medium and how much it’s changed, and made it more accessible for us, it’s given us the ability to give us the voice, and put the power within our hands. And that’s been what I’ve been kinda stressing through all my films.


The vision of young Hawaii filmmaker, Ty Sanga, next on Long Story Short.


Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox is Hawaii’s first weekly television program produced and broadcast in high definition.


Aloha mai kakou. I’m Leslie Wilcox. The Sundance Film Festival, the nation’s preeminent showcase for independent filmmakers, recognized Hawaii filmmaker, Ty Sanga, in January of 2011. His short film, Stones, became the first all Hawaiian language film to be screened at the festival. Ty, along with his brother, was raised in Hawaii by a family whose heritage reflects our community’s ethnic diversity. His mother, Trinidad, is a first generation immigrant of Filipino ancestry. His later father, Gilbert, was of Hawaiian-Chinese descent. Lauded for his use of the camera, and his ability to convey the Hawaiian experience through the medium of film, Ty Sanga’s quest to find his calling started by knocking on doors to make hotel room service deliveries.


We lived in Houghtailing, Kalihi area. And my mom and dad constantly worked quite a bit. I mean, a lot, a lot. They were both working in hotels, especially my aunt. So many times, me and my brother, whenever they would work, and it would be holidays, we would be sent up to the mainland where my mom’s family is. So we kinda lived this, dual life of Hawaii and LA, and just the experience of what California was like. Well, it rose my awareness to what local is. ‘Cause my cousins, a lot of times, they would tell me I speak way too much Pidgin. And I never really understood what Pidgin was, until they exposed to me that we’re not really speaking English. To be honest, I never knew I was even speaking, quote, a different dialect, or a different language. I thought I was just speaking English. On my mom’s side, everyone’s second generation Filipino. So when they moved up to LA, they pretty much more assimilated into American culture. They actually gravitated more towards Mexican culture, because there was no other Asians that looked like them. And many times, my cousins, and they’re very strong-willed too, and they’re very, like, This is how we should act as Americans. And only until I got into college or past that, especially when I got exposed to ethnic studies, I started realizing the differences within our cultures, and then how much I represented more of a, quote, unquote, local culture than a mainland culture. Most of that actually happened, that prejudism happened when I was in college, when I went for my master’s program in Chapman University.


What happened?


Pretty much every year, on the dot, like I would get pulled over by a cop. And they would always confuse me as some Latino guy. Well, I don’t know what he wants. I guess ‘cause back in the days, my head was shaved bald too. And so that didn’t really help. But, I got pulled over quite a bit. I’d be walking to school, and my school was in Chapman University, so it’s a very conservative white community, which is in Orange County. And that first year, I’d walk to school quite a bit, ‘cause I didn’t have a car yet. And the cop car would go around the block, come back again, and stop up right next to me, and he’d be like, What are you doing? And I would tell him, I’m going to college. I mean, I’m walking to my school. And he’s like, Let me see your ID. And he just gave me the runaround. And then he’d just drive off, and that would be it. Every year, it’d be the same thing too. ‘Cause sometimes, the next year, I’d work, like, when working on a film, you’re working on it like for long hours. And sometimes I would come home at three in the morning. So I would leave school at three in the morning, and I would get pulled over, and then he would run my license plate and everything, and it would be the same questions as well. It’s like, What are you doing out, why are you driving around, what do you do? And it’s just like, what’s going on? Stuff like that never happened to me here in Hawaii. But now that when I moved to the mainland, I realized that there’s this divide of, like, I’d never been exposed to something like that. I’ve always read about it when I was studying ethnic studies, but I’ve never been actually exposed to that type of prejudism.


Filmmaker Ty Sanga’s parents shared their values of hard work and education by demonstrating their strong work ethic, and by using their hard earned wages for their son’s private schooling. His father impressed upon Ty the importance of his Hawaiian heritage. When Ty was an eighth-grader, his father died of an illness. His mother continued to provide for her children’s educational opportunities.


And that’s the reason why she always pushed about us just education in itself, and how it helped propel you within the society and within life. Especially ‘cause then, I think her highest was high school, and that was it. And then she went straight into a service-oriented job, working in hotels. But from there, she worked her way all the way to the top. But then, she didn’t want us to go through that type of struggles as well, so me and my brother went to—


Was it a real scrimping, saving thing to put you and your brother through private school?


Yes, it was. I mean, it was the beautiful thing and I think that’s the thing about the first generations too. Like those type of parents, that they don’t want to let their children know how much they have to sacrifice for it. ‘Cause they want… the reason why they come to American is ‘cause they want a better life for their children. So when that happens, which is almost like a negative effect to it to an extent, is that they never expose them to all the hard work, and what they have to go through, sometimes. And that’s the reason why some of the children of them feel so privileged that they demand these type of things, and why isn’t my mom giving me all this type of stuff, when we’ve been always having that since we were children. So it’s interesting that my mom tried to, quote, unquote, spoil us. But like, I think my dad and my auntie them guys kinda kept us really grounded in that sense of like, who we were, and then what we needed to do. And then, like, that you also … I think that’s what I loved my dad about. ‘Cause then like, he never, like … he instilled that really hard work too, on top of that.


And he was also in the hotel business, right?


Yeah, he was. It’s funny, ‘cause then he was actually the manager of my mom. I think that’s how they first met. And then he ended up going into engineering, ‘cause then he switched positions afterwards. And then my mom ended up rising up into manager. But, I always saw it all the time, that they constantly, constantly worked a lot. And I appreciated that quite a bit. ‘Cause, I mean, it’s not like we were latchkey children, but then I understood what they were doing. I don’t know, it’s just kind of a weird thing to say. I understood the sacrifices they were really making for us.


You went through three Catholic private schools.




Before getting to UH. And when you were in UH, did you have a sense of where you were going? I mean, usually, the first two years are deciding on a major. How’d you do there as far as deciding?


I didn’t really know what I wanted to do, and I definitely knew I didn’t want to start working right away. So I mean, school was the easy transition. And when I went to school, it was I think I first started out in ICS.


ICS is …


Computer science. I loved computers a lot back then. And then I realized, like, Ww, I don’t really don’t like doing math. But then, which is funny, ‘cause my next transition from there was business, which is like another version of that. And then that, I just lost interest in. I mean, but it just felt like every one of my friends was going into business too, and it just seemed like that’s what you needed to do, ‘cause then everyone wanted to be successful. And then that didn’t go so well, and then I went to hotel management, and that’s kinda where I ended up sitting for a bit, actually. ‘Cause then while I was going into TIM, I started working at Ihilani, and then that’s … so it’s almost like a circle with my mom and my dad, and my aunts them all worked in hotels, then I started working in hotels at the same time as well. Just felt like a natural progression, actually, for me. I realized if I was gonna work so much at something, for so long, I would rather have it something a little bit more meaningful for me. I mean, I loved the hotel industry, and especially since, for me, I saw it as a way to become an ambassador to cultures that have never been exposed to Hawaii. Especially when I was in room service, like a lot of the times, we had easy access with the guests, and we talked to them frequently while we were serving them, or while we were doing certain things. And then they would ask us all these different questions of like, Where do I go from here?, and like, How do I say this Kalanianaole? You know, all of these different things. And it felt nice. But it didn’t feel worthwhile. And then, so, I just started going back to school. ‘Cause I didn’t really know what I wanted to do still back then, so I just started focusing more of my—like I was still taking TIM courses, but I was signing up mostly for ethnic study courses. So I think at the same time with ethnic studies, I was doing literature as well.


So you were just following what you were interested in.




You didn’t have a grand plan?


No. I mean, ‘cause then by that point, I was already in college for like fours years, I think. And the reason why I started taking a lot of ethnic studies is ‘cause they focused more on social services. ‘Cause then, when I was a high school student, I used to volunteer quite a bit, actually, with American Red Cross, with all these youth environmental programs. So then it kind of fit more along the lines of what I wanted to do, actually.


You were looking at some of the more marginalized people in society too, right?


Yeah. I mean, well, that’s ‘cause it finally opened my eyes in regards to who we were as a culture, and as a society. I mean, I always felt strongly about being proud to be from Hawaii. They justified it through ethnic studies. And even through my literature classes. ‘Cause when I took this course by … it was a short stories course, by Mike Kuleloa, and he introduced us to a lot of like local short stories. And oh, that just … and that’s where I found this, like, Chris McKinney, and Lois Ann Yamanaka, and like Lee Tanouchi. And then like, everything that my mom them was saying, and everything that my cousins them were saying on the mainland, that oh, you should get rid of that local culture, ‘cause you need to be more American and stop speaking Pidgin, and then these writers and these ethnic studies courses made is proud to be who we were, and be respected for it too. Especially like Chris McKinney and Lee Tanouchi, they demanded to be respected for being local and demanded to be respected for speaking Pidgin. So it just blew my mind, and then I just started diving more into those type of things. And then through ethnic studies, I got introduced to documentaries. A lot of it was like the Maka O Ka Aina stuff, which it dealt with a lot of like the land issues, and then people getting displaced. Like Hawaiians being displaced from their lands. Powerful, powerful images of Hawaiians getting arrested, and crying, and getting locked into cars. And then just like they’re destroying their buildings. And it’s so funny, ‘cause then, I can’t even pinpoint what the docs were called, but it just hit me so strongly. And then, next week, we’d watch another documentary in another course, where John Okamura would show us like, Asian Americans fighting alongside of African Americans during like the Black Power movement, and how like our cultures were moving on the same trajectory as them, we just wanted to get acceptance. And it blew my mind knowing that, ‘cause we grew up knowing how powerful the African American movement was, but then realizing that Asians were a part of that movement as well, and how much that they tried to accomplish just in regards to acceptance. I was never exposed to that growing up. I mean, we were never exposed to that at all, actually in Hawaii, nonetheless, where we’re considered the majority. It was a huge effect into who I was as a filmmaker. ‘Cause then, they started giving me the realization that we have a stronger voice that no one else has ever heard.


The University of Hawaii’s Academy for Creative Media provided Ty Sanga with hands-on experience in filmmaking. He produced several award-winning short narrative films that reveal a social awareness nurtured through his ethnic studies experience, and a keen eye for the nuances of local culture.


I got into film because of documentaries, but then I’ve never made a doc since then, I think. I think the first assignment I did was this piece called Passive Voice, and it dealt with the connection between this older generation and the younger generations, and the responsibilities that we need to give for the older generations.


I love the title, Passive Voice.


Yeah. And especially ‘cause in the our Asian culture, we’re very like, yeah, it’s very passive aggressive sometimes. You never say anything, but that something’s brewing within it. That generation, they’ve sacrificed so much for us to exist. And it’s sad sometimes, when people like kinda toss them off to the side, and they’ve … the reason why we’re here is because of them. So that story, Passive Voice, was kinda like my nice little homage to them. There’s two characters, a granddaughter, and then a grandmother. But the granddaughter was like, she’s in college, so the whole entire story is about her, her responsibility to go home, go over Grandma’s house and take care of her. And then, the whole story is just about realizing how important that was in regards to connecting with your elderlies. I don’t know, I just was dealing with these different types of themes back then. I was trying to do interesting things because I was inspired by different filmmakers in that, like, [INDISTINCT] technique. And I didn’t really know what I was doing about it, but I was just like, all right, I want to just explore and test things out. And, thankfully, I think it won, actually, at the Olelo Youth Exchange. Where everyone else was doing all these flashy, like one thug beating up another thug, and stealing goods, and it was like very—



Yeah, Tarantino-esque, and I guess I was dealing with drama stuff and emotional local stuff.


How flexible were you if things didn’t go your way?


You know what you want, but then sometimes certain limitations show you that you can’t achieve it. So you still ultimately try to achieve your goal, and you try to work around it, or work within the problem. Because like usually, any limitation is just an opportunity for more creativity.


What was your next film?


We all had to pitch stories, and then that was the story that I knew, ‘cause I worked in the hotel industry. But I associated it with like, a hula girl coming from the Big Island, moving to Hawaii. Just that thin line of like, what is considered as commercialization versus what is considered like culturally acceptance. Yeah, and like, being true to your culture, and being commercialized.


A lot is left unsaid, but it’s understood.


Yeah. I think I forced things too much back then. ‘Cause I’m not gonna lie, it was definitely like, it was derivative of my ethnic studies courses, where I wanted to impact people as much as those films impacted me. So I think sometimes I tried to be … we call it metafive, in Chapman, which is like it’s bigger than a metaphor. You’re hitting the audience over the head, when it shouldn’t need to be anymore by that point. ‘Cause like you said, it is understood.


You know what it reminded me of? I have to share this with you, because Malcolm Naea Chun shared it with me. It’s a quote from Mary Kawena Pukui. And she said, Do you believe I’m wearing a kukui lei? It’s Hawaiian in looks. It’s plastic, made in Hong Kong. That’s what’s become of a lot of our beliefs.


M-hm. Yeah. The commercialization of our culture. I’m super grateful I went through that process of making this film, because then it also opened my eyes to the complexity in regards to our society of like, how much … I mean, even the older generations grew up living like hapa Haole hula, and being a part of that society too. I mean, to be honest, it’s derivative of who we are today as Hawaiians, practically. I mean, many of those things, you can’t really pull apart, because it’s almost connected. And then, like, if we say you get rid of like all of the stuff in the luau’s and everything like that, you’re practically saying that you’re losing … everyone their jobs as well as the Hawaiian. So and it’s so weird, ‘cause in so many of them, they’ve dance hula within the luau’s, but yet at the same time, they go to the halau’s on the weekends. So it’s this two worlds that they live on. And it’s interesting as a filmmaker, I didn’t really find that until I started digging deeper and exploring it. And I think that’s the beauty of me like, becoming a filmmaker now. ‘Cause then you start discovering things that I’ve never been exposed to. I wouldn’t have been on that journey unless I started it. Like, I mean, finding these things out unless I went on this journey. So, yeah.


So did you resolve after that one, I’m gonna be less … preachy?


Yes, definitely. I mean, you learn to finesse things, and you learn to like, How do you convince the audience about what your story’s gonna be about, and not be hitting them over the head and it’s like putting a little sugar into the medicine that they’re gonna taste, and how it’s gonna—‘cause once you get to that point, then how is it gonna resonate with them afterwards. Yeah. So it’s a balancing act. And I guess I’m still trying to deal with it today. Yeah. 10G. [MUSIC]


Follow the Leader deals with like, acceptance, actually. It’s more about acceptance and friendship. And also, prejudice within our cultures, and in society, really, of like local culture. When I went to St. Theresa and St. Anthony’s, we used to collect all our basketball cards growing up. And I used that as a parallel too in regards to like, in basketball and like especially back then in the 90s, like the White players weren’t the great basketball players, and Michael Jordan and all those guys were all the main. And these were the stereotypes that we knew. And then that story dealt with stereotypes as well. It’s about finding companionship between two kids that just wanted to be accepted within their little group that they’re existing in, their little microcosm of this basketball collecting world. [CHUCKLE]


You have such a good ear. Because I never collected baseball cards, never was in that mom & pop store, but I feel like I’ve been there. I feel like I’ve bought from that very same lady—


That’s so funny.


—who was at the counter.


I mean, all my movies come from my everyday life, and from what I’ve experienced. I wanted to film the actual story that we used to collect basketball cards in, and that story was gone. And it’s just like another form of like why I tell stories, ‘cause like all of our stories are gonna disappear.


After earning a bachelor’s degree in ethnic studies from the University of Hawaii at Manoa, Ty Sanga left for California to attend graduate school at Chapman University’s Film and Media Arts Program. For his graduate thesis, he chose to write and direct a story loosely based on the Hawaiian legend, Na Keiki O Na Iwi, as written by Frederick Bruce Wichman. It depicts a couple who are the last of the ancient Mu people living in isolation, and struggling with whether to accept newcomers. It was this film, titled Stones, that brought him back to the islands, accompanied by a contingent of Chapman students, to shoot the film on location.


There’s always those stories of like the people that go to the mainland, and they never come back, or they go to the mainland and they fail at it. I mean, like, a lot of my friends actually went to graduate school or even just undergrad, and they go to the mainland, and they’re like, I get homesick, I miss Hawaii so much, I want to go back. A lot of my heart was in Hawaii that when I went to the mainland, I didn’t want that to happen to me. So I kinda closed that door. So maybe I almost slammed that door. So when it was time for me to do my thesis film, like oh, god, that story just haunted me every night, actually. ‘Cause then it reminded me of like, I guess just my whole experiences, wanting to be a filmmaker.


Wanting something that you thought you might not be able to have?


Yeah. Well, even just in regards to Hawaii. ‘Cause it’s like I missed it so much. And then like, I guess it’s one of those things. So hence, I changed the legend quite a bit. I mean, like, we adapted the legend. I called up Buddy Wichman and we talked stories with him, and I adapted it more into a different version.


So this is the Mr. Wichman who lives on Kauai, and who’s written books on legends.




He’s considered just a wonderful expert.


Yeah. Yeah.


And was this a Kauai-based legend?


Yeah, it’s the legend where when you’re heading out to Kalalau, then you see the stones out there. So yeah, it’s the stone colors. And then actually, that’s when you know you’re heading into Kalalau, ‘cause when you see those. I wanted it to be kinda my story of my struggles of what I was dealing with during that time, actually. So the story is really, really different, actually. The only thing that’s the same is the sacrifice that gets made at the end of the movie. Definitely, it’s about love, and then loss of love, and then sacrifice. At the same time too, it deals with cultures colliding. And it’s all about acceptance. I mean, like just separation. ‘Cause then, like many a times, like there are the Mu that lives in the valleys, and then they shun themselves away visitors coming to the island. Actually, you know, it’s moving into the island. ‘Cause a lot of the stories that we found, I mean, it’s so interesting when I was like reading, doing my research, it’s just like many of the legends were about the Mu migrating away from Hawaii. So we got pieces and pieces from there, bits and pieces from there, and then I definitely tried to—wanted to make sure that this is my own personal story.




Our main character is the female—




Nihipali, where she living in the darkness, and then through this journey, she kinda becomes enlightened. And it’s so funny that all of the antagonists are male characters, even for the villagers’ side. The fathers, and her husband, they impose this kind of like closed-minded roles onto them, the females. On the flipside, like the light becomes like death. When the sun comes up, it’s death for them, and for her. So the whole, entire, her life would be in a dark world, yet she’s able to see everything. So we wanted the audience to be kind of—we played with different techniques. One of our biggest influences was Pan’s labyrinth and how they messed around with colors and lighting. ‘Cause it also deals with the fantasy world, and the reality. And then like, that was another way for a Western audience to understand what kind of story we’re telling. When you close yourself off from so much, for so long, you lose what really is important in your lives. And for him, he was just so very like one-sided, and narrow-minded. And then for the wife, she was willing to move on and move forward. And sometimes, if you stay stagnant, it’s almost like it’s another form of extinction. And then that’s what ends up becoming. So it’s a tragedy. I’m not gonna lie, the story is tragedy. But it hopefully has … hopeful messages within it. Yeah. I definitely think my first biggest responsibility is to make it specifically for Hawaii. But then, like, when I do that, like I mean, I already know it becomes universal for everywhere else. And it’s because of what you talked about also, because of making it very like three dimensional, and because of just digging deeper into things, and not making things so surface level, and talking about it up here, like just getting it so that everyone else understands from here, from Hawaii to like, DC, or Wisconsin, or wherever they’re from, you know, it’s gonna resonate that way. Yeah.


Told with cinematic grace, Stones was one of only eighty-one entries chosen from sixty-five hundred to be showcased at the Sundance Film Festival in 2011. In 2011, Ty Sanga teaches screenwriting at the Academy for Creative Media, and works for a production company, all the while shaping stories for inspirational and thought-provoking films about, and for Hawaii. Among his projects is a documentary in the works about Hawaiian community leader, Myron Pinky Thompson. Mahalo piha, Ty Sanga, for sharing your long story short. And, thank you for watching and supporting PBS Hawaii. I’m Leslie Wilcox. A hui hou kakou.


For audio and written transcripts of this program, and all episodes of Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox, visit


Especially when I was growing up, my mom never wanted me to … she wanted me to get rid of the Pidgin, she wanted us to, like, wear our shoes, stop running around barefoot or slippers, start wearing nice collared shirts. So then, it trained us, like, to … we know when to turn it on, and we know when to turn it off. Or actually, to just feel more comfortable in your environment, I think that’s kind of where I learned. It’s almost like survival skills, that when I get placed into an environment, I kind of adapt to that culture.


James Scott



Original air date: Tues., May 18, 2010


James Scott is a Waimanalo-born Native Hawaiian who has been president of Punahou School since 1994. Scott is the first Punahou graduate to serve as its president. While Punahou has often been stereotyped as the school for Hawaii’s privileged class, Scott came from modest beginnings with parents who scraped and sacrificed so that he could attend. He also augmented his tuition by working in the school cafeteria.


In Part One of the conversation, Scott talks with Leslie Wilcox about his memories of Punahou as a student, his vision of the school as its president, his management style, and his thoughts on the changing face of education.


James Scott, Part 1 Audio


Download: James Scott, Part 1 Transcript



Original air date: Tues., May 25, 2010


In the second part of the discussion, Dr. Scott talks about the balance he tries to maintain for Punahou between traditions from the past and innovations for the future and also talks about a Punahou initiative that helps public school students get ready for college and speculates on his future as the school’s president.


James Scott, Part 2 Audio


Download: James Scott, Part 2 Transcript




Part 1


And it’s not just managing him, or our relationship with him, but just the notoriety of the school. We’ve just had more people … I get calls all the time, people just wanting me to comment on issues, because this is Obama’s school.


The fact that the nation elected a graduate of Punahou School as its President has thrust the centuries-old Hawaii institution into the national spotlight. But the school’s president takes it all in stride. Meet Waimanalo-born Dr. James Scott—next, on Long Story Short.


Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox is Hawaii’s first weekly television program produced and broadcast in High Definition.


Aloha Mai Kakou. I’m Leslie Wilcox. Well-known achievers who’ve attended Punahou School include U.S. President Barack Obama, professional golfer Michele Wie, entrepreneur Steve Case, and eBay founder Pierre Omidyar—to name a few. But for the president of one of the nation’s largest independent schools, Punahou has never been about graduating future celebrities. For Dr. James Kapae‘alii Scott, Punahou is a family tradition. Dr. Scott grew up in Kaneohe and East Oahu, raised by parents with a deep appreciation for education—in particular, a Punahou education.


Was your family always … was everyone college educated, and aiming for the next PhD?


Well, my father had gone to Stanford on a football scholarship. He’s the class of 1943 at Punahou School, and then he felt that World War II was passing him by, so he enlisted in the Marine Corps, and fought in the war in the Pacific. And he came back in 1945 on the GI Bill, and that’s how he finished school. So he was able to finish Stanford. My mother started at the University of Hawaii. She’s a 1946 graduate of Roosevelt High School. And she was the Pineapple Bowl Queen in 1947 for the University. But she had to go back to work to support her family, her younger siblings. So my dad is a college graduate. My mom didn’t have a chance to.


And did they talk about education in the household? Was that important?


Yeah, I think when they were married, and I came along, I think my dad was unemployed, or underemployed. He was fishing in Waimanalo, I think. And so his dream was for his kids to go to Punahou.


Why Punahou?


As he did. I think he had graduated from there, and was—was there from, like, seventh grade to twelfth grade, and he decided that’s the goal in life. So I think that … just wanted to give his kids the best chance he could, and have a chance to go to the school that he did. He met the Cooke family, Charles Cooke family, who gave him an opportunity to go there. So I think he was on scholarship at Iolani, and I think he had a Cooke scholarship to go to Punahou School, and was able to stay there for five years.


And he caught the eye of the Cooke family somehow?


I think somebody introduced them to him. And that’s how. So whenever we at Punahou School last year, or the year before, we celebrated the hundredth anniversary of Cooke Hall. And as I was talking to the Cooke family, I said, You know, your relatives helped my father finish. And because he did, I had a chance to go there as well.


Did they know that?




They were aware—




—but you folks had never talked about it before?


No, we hadn’t talked about it.


Do you feel a debt that way, because of them helping your dad?


To the Cooke family?




I think he did. He was very proud of the fact that he was on a Cooke scholarship. But I think that because they made it they were able to help him get through, I think he felt this debt to help others.




Including his own sons.


So he knew when you were born that he was going to try to get you into Punahou and—




—go all the way with it.


Right. At least, that’s the story he tells. So he went to work for Hawaiian Telephone selling Yellow Page ads, and worked himself up. So he was in sales and marketing, and his last few years there when he was the executive, he was marketing director.


And he kept his word. His dream came true.


He did. Because I was able to get into kindergarten, so was my brother three years later. And my mom, they met when my mom was a teller at the old Bishop Bank. She went to work for Hawaiian Telephone. Started out as an operator, became a service representative, and then ended up in training. So I like to say that Hawaiian Telephone supported the tuitions of my brother and me as we went through school.


Did that require sacrifices? I’m sure it did.


Oh, yeah.


Were you aware of it?


Um … I was. Because there were some of my classmates whose mothers didn’t have to work. And I thought they got to go home right after school, and—


They could call in sick, and their moms would—


They could call in sick.


—pick them up immediately.


And my parents would always pick us up after school right around five o’clock, five-thirty. I remember one time when I was in middle school, I asked my mom, So how come you can’t stay home like the rest of my classmates’ mothers? And she—


What’d she say?


And she said, Well, to support your tuition at Punahou School.


But being in the Punahou crowd, with parents who were working parents struggling to support your tuition, you probably didn’t have the freedoms and abilities to spend money and do things that—




—a lot of your classmates did. Did you feel …


That’s true. We didn’t take many vacations as a family. We lived simply, we didn’t go out to dinner a lot, except for special occasions. I mean, we were comfortable, but we were frugal. I remember my brother asking my mother them, Mom, are we rich? And she’d say, No, we’re comfortable. So they had a chance to own their own home, they had a chance to send their two kids to middleclass—working parents to send their kids to Punahou. But we lived frugally. And there’s no doubt that when we got to high school my brother and I both got jobs.


Well, was that a point that you had to deal with, where you thought, Well my classmates are coming in, their parents gave them cars, they have the whole keeping up with the Joneses thing.


There was some of that. I think that because we got a little of financial aid at Punahou, that allowed us to stay there. So it supplemented my parents’ income. I never forgot that. But also, you had a chance to work part-time at Punahou for the kids at that time who were on financial aid. So my part-time job during the year was working in the cafeteria. I loved it. I mean we worked for our meals. So we’d get there, eat really quickly, and then be cleaning dishes.


You didn’t mind being the worker—






Because I had a group of schoolmates who were also on financial aid, and I thought, you know, it wasn’t an issue with the other kids.


What do you think would have happened if you went to public school, Kalani, instead of Punahou? Would your life have changed?


Well, in my senior year in 1970, I was playing baseball for Punahou, and we couldn’t beat Kalani. [CHUCKLE] We played them three different times, and lost to them in the State championships. So there’s a part of me that wishes, Ah, maybe I could have played on a championship team. But no, I think my parents, even if I hadn’t finished at a private school, I think they would have wanted me to go college. I mean, that was always in the back of their minds. It wasn’t just going to Punahou, but they wanted to give me the best leg up they could in order to have a college experience.


Did they give you speeches about it, or was it just something you knew?


It was something that my dad would talk about all the time. And actually, I think there were some teachers along the way at Punahou who also encouraged me as well. So the great thing about Punahou is that they—or almost any private school is that the curriculum is set up so that the assumption is that you’re gonna go to college. For some people, it’s not their cup of tea, and they end up not finishing or go in a different direction. So it gives you at least the option or the choice to go. So I think I had key teachers along the way, certainly good friends who just helped me along to make that assumption. But my parents both valued that college experience and wanted both my brother and I to have it.


And you didn’t just go to college; you went to Stanford.




Another big money school for your parents. Did they pay for it?


They paid for most of it. But I had some financial aid help there, and I also started at Stanford on an ROTC scholarship and had that for two years before I dropped my ROTC scholarship and stayed there. So at that point, they had to pay more money, but also had some financial aid from Stanford, but also was working part-time.



As a Punahou junior-school student, James Scott didn’t give much thought to college—let alone Stanford University. That is, until one of his mentors—the late Dave Eldredge—planted the seed.


In seventh grade, I had a science teacher named David Eldredge. And he had gone to Stanford. [CHUCKLE] And he was the class of ’49 at Punahou. And so one day, he was handing back science quizzes. And I had gotten my C or C minus, plus, or whatever it was, and he was a big, huge, bellowing—and he said, Scott … I want to see you after class. All my friends were like, Ooh, you’re in trouble now. [INDISTINCT] And he looked at me, he says, Where do you want to go to college? And I said … I was scared. I said, Stanford? [CHUCKLE] I figured he went there, my dad went there, anyone could get in. So the next day, he took me to Cooke Library, went to the college counseling section, got me a book about colleges, looked up Stanford and says, They don’t accept everybody; it’s pretty hard to get into, you have to have good test scores, you have to have good grades, you have to be well rounded. And I think starting around middle school, I’d set my goals, not necessarily on Stanford, but certainly on college. And so that’s when it became something other than my father’s idea.


And did you maintain your connection and your tie with Dave Eldredge?


Right. He was my baseball coach.


That’s the thing I’m really surprised at in looking back at your history, your personal history. I didn’t expect to find that you were a jock. And you were; you were always looking at the next sports season.


Sports was a vital part of why I loved Punahou. I mean, I liked school, and I played football, basketball, and baseball, and by my junior year was focusing on baseball.


Which is a cerebral sport.




Don’t you think?




But you played more than that.




Did you define yourself in those days, were you the jock, or did you not consider yourself such?


I considered myself a jock. My best friends were the athletes. But I also liked school. I was pretty good at school. Had to work hard in math and science, but that had become a value I wanted to do well. And also, Punahou, for the most part is filled with kids who want to do well in all those things as well. So it’s not like you become a jock, or—




—an academic or—


It’s part of rounding yourself—


—theater person. I think you end up valuing all those things.


For Punahou School President Dr. James Scott, the teacher-student relationship is a powerful dynamic. A teacher’s influence can play a major role in a student’s adult life—sometimes with global consequences.


Because you never know as a teacher what moment is gonna be memorable, for your students. And in fact, you may not see that while they’re still a student. When Barack Obama was running for office, somebody asked him—in fact, it was, CNN interviews. Or the—no, CNN debates. Someone asked him who his most inspiring teacher was, and why. And he said, Mabel Hefty, Punahou School, fifth grade. And it’s because she had those moments, even though he was an underachiever, self-admitted. And so she had those moments where she encouraged him, and he never forgot them. So yes, those are key moments with teachers. Just think you’re about to make another decision or go a different direction, that moment with an adult in your life can be critical.


Did you ever play a role like that as an educator yourself? Are you aware of any moments that changed students’ lives?


Yeah. I was a college counselor for a number of years, worked in admissions both at Stanford and Harvard, and I was able to watch students make the transition from high school to college, and then college to careers. Certainly, those students who have a rough go at Punahou, financially or academically, or discipline wise, those moments where you can give them a second chance or a bit of encouragement, you never know how much was an impact, but you felt positive and confident that something was clicking. And so often when students are older, more mature, have more perspective, they’ll come back and say thanks. [CHUCKLE]


And that’s happened to you?




They just show up at your office, or write you a letter, give you a call?


Often. Both. Just ran into a former student today. Had his two-year-old baby. He’s living in Connecticut now and is here on spring break. He’s teaching, and he said he is teaching because of the power of the teachers in his life at Punahou School. And he said, You turned to the senior class in my senior year before we graduated and said, I hope some of you will consider teaching, it’s a noble calling. Just wanted to tell you that I’m doing it.


Well, I’m sure, obviously, nobody really can aim and have any confidence that they will be the head of Punahou School, because I think there’s only been—you’re the third president since World War II, so somebody could really languish waiting. But I don’t think people were surprised that if any one of you was going to be the head of the school, it would be you, right?


I don’t know; you’d have to ask the others about that.


[CHUCKLE] You’re already a leader.


Well, I had been away on the mainland. I had done my undergraduate on the West Coast, and then had taught a school in California and did my graduate work in the East Coast. So when Rod McFee announced his retirement around 1992, 93, I was in my fifth or sixth year as the headmaster of a school in Portland, Oregon. And so there were a few of my classmates, and teachers, who contacted me, had stayed in touch with me, said, You should think about putting your hat in the ring. So that’s where it wasn’t surprising to some people that I had stayed in education, and that I was of the right age to come back. So that’s where it wasn’t surprising. But it wasn’t a job you could apply for. They came looking for you, and I think the trustees, they hired a search consultant that spent about a year scouring the world and the countryside, and I’m not sure who else was a finalist, but I felt they had done their homework on me way before I became a finalist and came back.


Now, until then, you were ensconced on the mainland, doing well.




Had you decided this is where you would make your life, you would be that kind of Big Island person, you’d be living in the West Coast?


[SIGH] Yeah, I think so. I think home was where my parents were. It wasn’t necessarily my home anymore. So before coming home here, it had been twenty-four years between 1970 and 1994. So probably by year fifteen or so, I just assumed that especially if I wanted to stay in independent schools, that there’d be more choices on the mainland, and that those schools would become available more often if I wanted to become a head. So when the Punahou job came open, as you just mentioned, it comes up about once a generation.




Although there’s a lot to do at my former school, it was an opportunity. I mean, I just owed it to myself to take a closer look. And I was glad I did. Although the decision wasn’t necessarily to come to Punahou when I was offered the job. The decision was whether or not I should stay at my former school for another ten years in order to take that school to the next level.


What was it about the job here that did the trick?


On the mainland, there are a lot of great independent schools. They tend to be a little tiny, and therefore, a little precious. [CHUCKLE] And so the school that I came from before I came to Punahou had a senior class of sixty. The school that I started at, private school, had a senior class of a hundred. Both were relatively new schools. So I think for me, the longevity of Punahou and also the scale of Punahou and its history makes it rare. And there are very few private schools in America where a school can have the potential of having an impact on a city, like Punahou’s had.


As a product of Punahou, you know the system very well, you know the people, you know the stakeholders, which is a great advantage. But at some times, do you feel it’s a disadvantage, because there are obligations that have built up, and there are people you know and have dealings with? Wouldn’t it be easier sometimes to be an outsider there?


I think by virtue of my twenty-four years on the mainland after graduating from Punahou, and then coming back, I had the advantage of being an outsider.




In that I had been at two other schools, I had a national and global perspective of how independent schools work. I had been at two other healthy schools. I felt I was coming home, but I felt I was coming back with an outside perspective. In many ways, I could be Punahou’s window to the outside in ways that I couldn’t have been if I had just grown up here, and been on the faculty, and assumed the presidency in that way.


Well, you’re in a position, I think, unlike many, I mean, more so than many. People are always trying to influence you and get things from you, and move you, and there are so many types of favors and …




I mean, how do you deal with that? People are always trying to move you, and get something. Because you do control—


If that’s happening, I don’t feel that pressure on a continuous basis. Sure, it happens occasionally.


What about somebody saying, Jim, you’ve gotta get my kid into—




—your school, you’ve got to.


And I say, There’s one way into the school, and it’s not through the president’s office. [CHUCKLE] It’s gotta be through the admissions office. So I think one of the things that I’ve had to grow into coming back is that Hawaii is about relationships.




And there have been sometimes, especially when you’re asking for money, or when people know you from small kid time, those relationships are important. At the same time, I think people, hopefully respect and honor the institution’s integrity, that it’s gonna make, in the end, a good decision. Often, it’s not the friends and schoolmates and relatives who are trying to get in. It’s once they’re there, they’re trying to change the school [CHUCKLE] in ways that—be it athletics, or be it, academics, or be it something the school should be doing. It’s a place that’s always questioning, it’s always trying to become better. And that’s the pressure. But it’s also one of the virtues of the place. It’s never sort of standing still, it’s always looking in the mirror, it’s always in the process of becoming. So that’s probably one of my toughest challenges, just managing strong characters who always know how the school can be improved.


How do you manage that? What’s the management style for that?


I think my biggest challenge is getting people to see the whole, the one big system, not just their area. And sometimes it’s a matter of timing, sometimes it’s a matter of resources that are still scarce even for a place like Punahou that has enormous resources in some ways. So it’s looking at the needs of the whole, rather than the needs of the individual that’s getting people to understand that. They’re not always fit always.


Obviously, you hear a lot of good ideas, and you have a lot of good ideas. But you don’t have the resources or the time to make all of those good ideas happen. So how do you vet those ideas? Which kind of filter do you use?


Great question. In my younger part of my career, I was coaching baseball. And I grew up as a better pitcher than I was a hitter. So I was a starting pitcher in high school and at Stanford and everything. So when I coached, I needed to know more about hitting. So I picked up a book on hitting by Ted Williams, one of the best hitters of all time. And in this book, someone asked him, What’s the secret of hitting? And he says, Knowing which pitches to let go. Which pitches not to swing at. [CHUCKLE] Which is not helpful when you’re a coach, ‘cause you—




That’s a talent and so on. But I got to thinking about the Ted Williams School of Management, and wondering which pitches not to swing at, which good ideas, do you not go for. Every third person that walks into my office has a great idea about something.


And if you’re not gonna do it, you’re gonna have to get back to them.


Right. So I think that from where I sit in my office, I’m looking for synergy, congruence . I’m kind of a broker of ideas, and when I see patterns and recurring themes, they become good. And that’s why an idea sometimes takes time to bake to form.


Punahou School President James Scott has had the opportunity to watch thousands of children form into adults, developing traits and talents.   To quote Dr. Scott: “…we believe a person who is self-confident, creative and compassionate possesses the capacity to live a productive and fulfilled life that can improve the world.” For Long Story Short and PBS Hawaii, I’m Leslie Wilcox. A hui hou kakou.


For audio and written transcripts of this program, and all episodes of Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox, visit


You seem so well suited for Punahou, even to the point of marrying a fellow alum.




[CHUCKLE] How perfect is that?


Yeah. Well, Maureen and I dated in my senior year in high school, and actually, she said it took me twenty-five years to propose. But—




So she was a year behind me, class of ’71.


And you dated, and then at graduation, everybody went their different ways?


Right. We stayed in touch, but we went our different ways.


And then, you came back to take the helm of the school, and …


Well, my mother was living on Maui at the time, and so was Maureen. And we were both available. [CHUCKLE] And we rekindled the relationship, and were married shortly after that.



Part 2



I was a starting pitcher in high school and at Stanford and everything. So when I coached, I needed to know more about hitting. So I picked up a book on hitting by Ted Williams, one of the best hitters of all time. And in this book, someone asked him, What’s the secret of hitting? And he says, Knowing which pitches to let go. Which pitches not to swing at.


What he learned on the baseball field has served him well in life and as President of Punahou School. More from Dr. James Scott, next, on Long Story Short.


Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox is Hawaii’s first weekly television program produced and broadcast in High Definition.


Aloha Mai Kakou. I’m Leslie Wilcox. On this edition of Long Story Short, we continue our conversation with James Scott, president of Punahou School since 1994. Dr. Scott attended Punahou all the way through, from kindergarten through 12th grade, then went on to earn degrees in political science and education from Stanford, the University of San Francisco, and Harvard. He had a successful career in school administration on the continent, serving as headmaster at the Catlin Gabel School in Portland, Oregon before being recruited to take the helm of his high school alma mater. Much is expected of him by Punahou parents, teachers, students, trustees, and by the community at large. But James Scott remains calm through the pressure.


What do you think your management style and temperament is?


Well, I’m not real excitable. [CHUCKLE] I listen, one, and I try to feed back what I’m hearing to people, so that they know that I’m hearing them. So I think that helps. I also try to be evenhanded and consistent, but I try to be as direct as possible too, so people know that they’ve been heard, that I’ve helped them and sometimes I’ve helped them sort of reshape the question, or the issue, or the challenge. And in that process, have them see the bigger picture, like I just talk about, or some of the pressures that I have from other areas too. I guess that’s temperament. I probably had good mentors, either in school or when I first started to become head of a school or worked in schools with other trustees and people. So one of my mentors when I first came was a gentleman who’s no longer with us, Herb Cornuelle who was on the board of trustees.


Great guy.


He was wise and insightful, and thoughtful, and he’d ask me questions like, What risks has Punahou taken this year? ‘Cause if you’re not taking risks, who is? So I’d end up really thinking about it. So that centeredness and thoughtfulness has come from—I think maybe I seek mentors who can provide that.


You also said it seems to be a value at Punahou to challenge. And that means there are a lot of different constituents in a position to challenge you. So you must feel comfortable with that. You’re getting it at all sides, I’m sure.


I feel comfortable because of the common ground. I mean, everyone is … almost everyone is very loyal to that place.




And wouldn’t do anything to hurt it. But because they’re so loyal, they have a clear opinion or an advocacy about something.


Is it hard to lead change at a place that has so many traditions?


Yeah. I think that now that I have a sixteen-year perspective on this [CHUCKLE] … didn’t know it at the time, that although I sometimes felt like an outsider, and saw that as a value, the fact that I’m from Hawaii, graduated from the school, had relatives and friends that did so, I think that people could see some of the changes, and at some point feel confident that I wasn’t gonna totally abandon the values and the history of the place. So I think what makes healthy institutions work is this balance between, on one hand, continuity, history, tradition, but also with innovation, change, and creativity. And I think holding that tension is an art form, and probably takes a certain temperament.


Holding tension may be an art form, but it was something that Punahou School President Dr. James Scott learned on the baseball field. He says the secret begins with … breathing.


You’ve had this great sports background, this discipline. How much does that help in your current job?


Well, when I was a pitcher, I had a great pitching coach at Punahou named Len Kasparovitch, old police sergeant. His older son, Keith, was a couple years ahead of me at Punahou, and he was the pitching coach when I got there. But he used to encourage me to breathe. To take a deep breathe; actually step off the mound, and look away from the batter, look out to centerfield, and take a deep breathe. And that breathing centers you, relaxes you. And so I think that’s one. Second thing that he used ask us to do is to visualize the batting order of the other team, before you face them. So my memories of Kalani High School—




—or Joe Tory—I mean, Joe Story and the Kim twins, and Bubba Cruz, and Len Sakata; I mean, I could visualize that batting order. Never struck ‘em out, never got—could get ‘em out. But it’s the act of envisioning and imagining a good outcome that was helpful. So both of those, I still use. Before I came here, before [INDISTINCT] when there’s gonna be a potentially stressful situation, or the—a lot of things that come into my office, if they were easy, they would have been solved outside. [INDISTINCT] Breathing, and visualizing an outcome, that is a win-win, I think is.


You must get asked to everything; every school event, and many of them are so worthy. How do you decide which ones to attend?


Well, luckily, my kids are sports fans. [CHUCKLE] They, and my children are also musicians. So it’s easy to go with them. I have my family time to support Punahou events. And frankly, it’s one of the best tickets in town, to watch an ILH sport [CHUCKLE] to Kamehameha, and Iolani, and Mid Pacific, and all the great IL—I mean, those are great competitive events. And the performing arts at Punahou, it’s not an obligation or a chore, it’s a joy. No, I can’t do it all, and there are a hundred and sixteen sports teams in Punahou School, seventh through twelfth grade, three seasons. So my athletic directors give me a heads-up. When they give me the week’s schedule, they might highlight either the Blue-Gold game, it’d be nice to come, see the softball teams play yesterday, and then show up for a couple innings. So you don’t have to go the whole game. You came for two innings. If I went to one quarter—




—if I sort of circle the big key games or the rivalries. And so I always circle Kamehameha volleyball, Iolani basketball, [CHUCKLE] Mid Pac—


Do you try to—




—look threatening to the other team? [CHUCKLE]


I’m always there to support them.


What is it about this wonderful job that you have, that you either really don’t like, or is really surprising that you find it part of what you’ve gotta do?


There’s very little that I don’t like, or find surprising. I mean there are a lot of heads of schools or heads of nonprofits that find raising money challenging, or something that they didn’t think was going to be coming at them all the time. I enjoy asking people for money, because it’s a chance for me to talk about the school. And giving money to a charity, and hopefully giving money to Punahou is something noble. So I enjoy doing that. I’ve gotten better at it over the years, and you get more confident and secure at it, and you get lots of help at it. So I don’t see that as a chore, although it keeps coming at you. I mean, there’s often, people who want to give large sums of money to the school don’t want to meet a trustee or your development director, they want to meet you. And I’ll go wherever they are in the world, or the country, or in the island, to go see them. So that’s challenging.


Are you a good closer?


Yes. I mean, if the table’s been set either by a trustee or by a parent who know some … even if someone’s not in a position to do what you had hoped financially, they might eventually. And if after forty-five minutes or an hour, it’s a chance for them to get to know the school a little better.




So I don’t see that as—and so the tough thing about raising money is that the more successful you are, the less successful you feel, ‘cause there’s always something … else to do.


These 21st-century learning skills are what all the educators are talking about. How do you design schools around them, and how do you teach children who have entirely different references—




—than most of us growing up? They’re digital natives.


Well, at least for us, I think, we want to introduce the technology carefully and slowly, and not too early. So that’s why we don’t have the laptops required until the fourth grade, but we’re still introducing Smartboards earlier on. I think for us, the twenty-first century skills include learning how to collaborate, learning to see one system and how it interrelates. Being able to see the intersection of several disciplines, rather than sort of seeing them separately. And those are conceptual skills and interpersonal skills that are critical. Also, at least for Punahou, I think one of the things that connects kindergarten through twelfth grade is our goal is to make our students … independent learners, so they’re taking responsibility for their own learning. So there are a lot of open-ended questions, there’s a lot of work where they’re doing projects, where they’re on their own, where they’re working in groups. So we believe those are gonna be the twenty-first century skills.


Are you kind of comfortable with messiness?


Yeah. I mean, I think that most leaders … and I think especially someone who’s leading Punahou, needs to feel comfortable with uncertainty and ambiguity, and sometimes things that aren’t quite buttoned down, and questions that are always being asked. So I think, if you’re gonna be a lifelong learner, I think you have to be comfortable with messiness. That’s what keeps you curious.


It’s actually exciting and energizing, rather than defeating and—






No, it’s the older the kids get, the harder it is to get people who teach disciplines to think outside their disciplines. That’s been—




That’s been challenging. But that’s challenging for the universities. And especially for the high schools, and a little bit to some extent with the middle schools. So getting teachers to understand that they are not their subjects, that they’re not creating just little linguists or little mathematicians or scientists, but creating—or helping kids to see the intersection of all those disciplines, and that creativity exists at the intersection of disciplines. So just to give you an example, we had had a course in economics that was required of seniors for, like, fifty years.




Half course, and over the years, the social studies department on the high school has integrated the community service part of it. But just in the last three to five years, has reshaped the economics requirement so that they’ve decided what of the seven to ten principles of economics we’re going to teach and how do we use them to each globalization, or sustainability, or social entrepreneurship or social responsibility? And then, have different case studies, either their service opportunity or in one case all of our students give away micro loans to people overseas. That would be an example of—before they leave, it’s a capstone course using several disciplines—




—to understand the world. And so the metaphor we’ve used among the faculty is that, for our seniors, just like the faculty giving them their commencement address, but the intersection of disciplines being critical to their own learning.


The family tradition of attending Punahou began with Dr. Jim Scott’s father, and continued with Jim and his brother Doug. Jim is married to Punahou Class of 1971 graduate Maureen Dougherty Scott, and their children Tess and Buddy now attend. Yes, both children had to pass the entrance exam before being admitted. Because the School President and his family live on campus, it’s a pretty short commute to the office and the classroom.


Does Maureen de facto become another non-paid employee of Punahou?


That’s how she would describe it. Yes. [CHUCKLE] And so I was explaining to, my son the other day as we were playing catch in the backyard that the home doesn’t belong to us; belongs to the school. The home we own is in Oregon, but our job is to fill it up with interesting people. So we’ve got events there a lot.




Just this past week, we had two parent meetings, we had the basketball team dinner and this weekend, we’ve got some visiting educators coming through. So we get a lot of help and support in doing it, but Maureen does set the tone and the expectation for the home, and does a great, great job at it. And along the way, the kids have a cool backyard. As I said, I come home from my job at five o’clock, we jump into a pair of shorts, and we try to go see the rest of the campus.


Sometimes, is it too much of a good thing?




You know, there’s that line—


That’s a great question.


There’s that line in that It’s A Wonderful Life movie, where Jimmy Stewart says, I’m having a wonderful life, I’m just too busy to enjoy it.




Do you feel like that sometimes?


Um, yes. But what’s great about it is that just in a school cycle, just when you’re feeling that, Christmas break comes along. [CHUCKLE]




Or spring break. Or, in summer, I have a little more control over time, and we try to get away as a family for two to four weeks off island. So I think what I’ve learned, or what my family has learned is that my children don’t have to share me with the school.




When we’re on vacation, or off island. So that’s—


You turn off your—


-That’s when it gets-


—digital devices?


That’s when it gets hard, when there are too many events that take my time. If I miss dinner more than two or three times consecutively, we start to miss it, we start to feel it as a family. And now that my children are getting older, they’re playing club volleyball, club basketball, they’ve got cello, they’ve got—our lives have become more complex.


Are you able to turn off your job when you’re away from it?


I could do a better job of that. I mean, I’m always thinking about the school. And but I sometimes have my best—do my best thinking when I’m traveling on behalf of the school, or even on vacation. Where I’m sort of … you’re relaxing, but you’re finally resting.


You took a breath.


Yeah. You take that breath.


You mentioned that much of your job is strategy. And so I take it that you’re a risk manager, you’re out there looking for risks to Punahou. What are they?


Well, I think sometimes the risk is kind of the part of the noble vision. It’s a very idealistic place. I believe that if you’re admitted to Punahou, you should be able to come there, regardless of your financial circumstances. And I think I got that from my father, because he was a financial aid recipient, my brother and I were able to attend the school because of the generosity of others in the school. So with the support and leadership, and generosity of the trustees, we’ve been able to grow the endowment, we’ve been able to adjust the operating budget, so we’ve been able to do that the last five years. And the way we measure that is that everyone who applies for financial aid, there’s a calculation about what your financial need is. And our goal as a school is to be able to fund a hundred percent of that demonstrated need. So most colleges and universities, most independent schools, that’s their noble vision. That’s a risk. [CHUCKLE] It’s hard. It’s what’s able to keep us selective, but at the same time, especially in these times—I mean, we passed the tuition for this next year …


What is it?




It’s seventeen now, isn’t it?


It’s seventeen-three; next year, it’s gonna be seventeen-eight. So tuition is gonna go up two-point-nine percent, five hundred dollars. Although it’s going up higher than the cost of living, compared to what the current parents have been used to, it felt like it was music to their ears. Like it—




—wasn’t five or six percent. But we want to meet that gap between what the financial need is, and what the financial aid budget is. So that’s a risk.


If you make a commitment to all of the children who do qualify, does that ever squeeze the folks who have great legacies at the school, and they have kids who they want to see get in there, and they’ll pay?


That’s a tension … specially at kindergarten, where we only have seven hundred applications for a hundred and fifty spots. It’s very competitive in kindergarten and fourth grade. And luckily, as the school gets—as you advance in grades, there are more pukas, more openings. But yes, that’s a tension for some. We’re trying to create as much of the economic and ethnic diversity as we can. At the same time, we feel an obligation to those people who have been loyal to us in the past, or who have siblings who have attended there.   So there’s—it’s the hardest part about March and April for me during admissions time.


Despite a strong scholarship program, and the school’s commitment to accept all qualified children regardless of income, Punahou is still viewed by many as the school for the haves rather than the have nots. But a new Punahou initiative may help change that perception.


You and Punahou have been honored by the DOE for your commitment to public education. And you have a philosophy about public education and private schools; what is it?


Well, when I first got home, everyone wanted to know how Punahou was gonna improve public schools. And I think that’s a fair question. But at the time, and I still feel this at times, is that my job is to make Punahou the best it can be. At the same time, I think that as we were requiring community service of our seniors … over the last six, seven years, the seniors have been saying, What’s the school really doing for the community? And so we’ve set up a center for public service that coordinates all the community service that talks about service learning within our curriculum that convenes conversations about how to improve Hawaii. And so I think that’s been good. But we’ve also launched something called Partnerships in Unlimited Educational Opportunities; PUEO. And as we thought about what we could do to support public schools, we asked ourselves, What do we do best? And we said, We think we get our kids ready for college pretty well. So the way PUEO works is that we have identified rising sixth graders in local public schools, bring them to the campus for consecutive summers to give them a summer school course and enrichment courses and also when they get into high school, support that.


So you make multiple-year commitments.


Yeah. So the first year, the PUEO students, they—and the first rising sixth graders are ending their sophomore year now; they’re about to become juniors. The purpose of the program is to raise the expectations and the preparation for public school kids to attend a four-year college.


Is it working?


Yes. Well you’ll have to have me back in about three years, because by then, we will know. But we’ve hired Johns Hopkins University to do a longitudinal study to help us answer that question. We have advisors within the public schools. Pat Hamamoto has been really a source of advice, but also of support and encouragement. So getting the support of the public school superintendent, but also some key public school principals has been helpful.


And these are kids who do have financial challenges; they’re on reduced or free lunch at their public school.


Right. So the way we identify them, we ask the elementary school principals to help us identify them. We identify kids who have high academic promise.




But who are experiencing low economic opportunity. And we identify that through a criteria, free or reduced lunch.




So I go to their pep rallies all the time, ‘cause they gather the kids several times in the summer, and our teachers ask, Who are you? And they say, PUEO. And these are two hundred forty kids. Where are you gonna go? College. And I was sitting with Pat, in the Punahou chapel last summer when that happened, and she just teared up. We said, because every child should have that expectation if they choose it.


So what is your commute to work? How long does it take you? [CHUCKLE]


Leslie, I have the best commute in Honolulu. I get to walk to school with my children. And we usually walk to their classrooms. Now that my daughter’s in sixth grade, I sort of walk ten feet behind her.




And then she trots along. And then my—so we walk past barefoot children, and lily ponds, and just thirty-seven hundred people descending on the campus at the same time. So I’ve got a great commute.


M-m. Great commute, but huge weights to carry.


Yeah. Well, this is my sixteen year. And when I was first hired the trustees kept asking me how long I was gonna stay. [CHUCKLE] And I knew my predecessor had been there for twenty-six years, and his predecessor twenty-four years, and I couldn’t do that. I couldn’t guarantee that.




And I said, What I’d like to do is give it ten rigorous years. After which, the board would decide, and I would decide separately whether it’s a good match. And so after ten years, we were raising money for the Case Middle School, so it wasn’t an opportunity to leave. But in 2006, I took an extra month in the summer, and they gave me a chance to do a fellowship at Columbia University for a month to really think about the next twelve years. And I feel like I came back ready to sign up. So if Buddy’s in the fourth grade now, that means he graduates in eight years. I feel like I’m running out of time. [CHUCKLE] In eight years, I’ll be sixty-six years old, and trying to figure out how to pay for college, and—




—retire at the same. But I can now see how someone is able to stay in this job for twenty-four years. It’s not that it’s easy, but you have a chance to reinvent yourself, because Punahou is just always reinventing itself.


This Long Story Short conversation took place in 2010, with Punahou School President James Scott, a master of balance—the varsity baseball player who always takes the time to breathe and who knows which pitches to let go. I’d like to thank Dr. Scott for sharing his philosophy on education, management, and life. And I’d like to thank YOU for joining us on Long Story Short. For PBS Hawaii, I’m Leslie Wilcox. A hui hou kakou.


For audio and written transcripts of this program, and all episodes of Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox, visit


Do educators tell jokes about the business?


Well, we tell jokes about Punahou alums. How many Punahou alums does it take to screw in a light bulb?


How many?


It takes seven. It takes one to screw in the light bulb, and six to reminisce about the old one.




Bob Sevey



Original air date: Tues., Nov. 20, 2007


Hawaii’s News Anchor


Legendary Hawaii News Anchor Bob Sevey, fondly remembered as the Walter Cronkite of Hawaii, sits down with Leslie Wilcox to talk about Hawaii television then and now.


Bob Sevey, Part 1 Audio


Download: Bob Sevey, Part 1 Transcript



Original air date: Tues., Nov. 27, 2007


Bob Sevey, Part 2 Audio


Download: Bob Sevey, Part 2 Transcript




Part 1


Aloha no and mahalo for joining me for another edition of LSS – this time from the Pacific Northwest.


I’m Leslie Wilcox. Bob Sevey, fondly remembered as the Walter Cronkite of Hawaii, gave me my first TV job in the old KGMB newsroom. It’ll be a pleasure to talk with him about Hawaii television then and Hawaii television now. In Part One of this special, two-part LSS – the former KGMB News Director and Anchor begins by sharing what only a close circle of family and friends has known… he has inoperable cancer.


Last time people saw you on television, you had gold hair; this very distinctive and very lovely blond —


Well, it’s gorgeous, actually; yeah. I don’t have much of it left, uh, Leslie, and it’s um, not exactly by choice. This is a byproduct of chemotherapy. Uh, I do have cancer. And so I’m in chemo. The only side effect that I’ve suffered at all is a lot of the hair wound up every morning on the pillow. I’d have to sort of like you have a long-haired cat. And so I decided, well, what the heck; I’ll look like I’m gonna join the Marine Corps, and buzz cut it.


It’s a good look for you. And bald is in, right?


Bald is in; yeah. But otherwise, by the way, I’m doing fine, and we’re under control.


And you’re taking proactive means of taking yourself, or is it – I mean, how do you handle that?


Well, the thing I’ve found out about cancer is, you do take care of yourself. You make the decisions. Uh, you listen to the doctors, they give their advice, their opinion; but you’ve gotta decide yourself. You want to do this, you want to do this, you want to do nothing; you decide. And right now, for me, the chemotherapy I’m on is the, I think, the best way to go. If it works, fine; if it doesn’t, we’ll try radiation. Or a baseball bat upside of the head. Whatever.


You sound so matter of fact about it.


Well, there’s no sense getting all clutched up. Um, I was first diagnosed thirteen months ago, at which time the doctor said that I probably had a year to live. Well, I figure I’m running on somebody else’s time now for a whole month, and I feel fine. So I’ve just renewed my subscription to Golf World Magazine, and I still buy green bananas.


And he still has that commanding, comfortable camera presence.


Bob Sevey (news footage):


You know, I think a lot of people never find what it is that they’re meant to do. You know, you seem to have found at an early age, you wanted to do news and you were — and blessedly— you were good at it.


Well, I wanted, I wanted to do broadcasting. And I wanted to do that ever since I was a little kid living in Minneapolis. My dad had a good friend who had a fifteen-minute radio show every morning on WCCO Radio. And one day, I sat in the audience, and another day I sat in the control room. And I was just fascinated by the fact that here’s this guy talking into this thing, and people all over the Midwest can hear him. And I thought, ‘That’s pretty magical.’ And I think from that day on, being a broadcaster — and I was thinking radio, because if television had been invented, they weren’t talking about it very much. That’s really all I wanted to do.


And that’s exactly what he did. In 1966, KGMB owner Cec Heftel recruited Sevey to run a top-quality news department – and authorized him to spend what he needed to do it.


When I had signed; I said, I suppose we ought to talk about budgets. And he said, It’s been my experience with budgets that news directors never think they’re enough, and owners and general managers always think they’re too much. So your budget is whatever it takes to make this the best news department, not in Hawaii, but west of the Rocky Mountains. And that was the only budget meeting we ever had. Period. There were department head meetings weekly. And I never had to go to one. Some of the other department heads, I understand, were a little miffed about that, and said, How come Sevey doesn’t have to come and get yelled at? And he said, ‘‘Cause Sevey’s the only one who has to go on the air every night at six o’clock and represent this station to the public.’


And when you say he gave you a blank check; you must have had some constraints in your head. I mean, how did you figure out —


Well, because he did it that way, he put the constraints in my head. Because suddenly, I was responsible. And the last thing in the world I was gonna do was go hog wild. And I would have felt that was somehow a betrayal of the trust that he had invested in me. And so I — you know, obviously, I didn’t offer everybody a million dollars a year to come and play television news with me – tried to keep everything within reason. But he, he didn’t’ question it, and he — and I really want to emphasize this — he left us alone. Cec never once tried to influence the way we covered news. The only thing he ever said — I don’t remember; he ran in I think 1960, he ran against Hiram Fong for the U.S. Senate. And did a pretty good job. He had moved out of the station all during the campaign. And afterwards, he grumbled that he wished he could have gotten as good coverage from his station as he did from the others. And I suppose we were probably very sensitive to it too.


And he grew that station and his media empire.


Checkers and Pogo, and the Sky Slide, and yeah, and the whole thing.


And you think the success was due to his entrepreneurial bent, as opposed to, ‘Let’s bring some consultants in and let’s figure this all out?’


Oh, yeah. Cec’s best consultant was Cec Heftel –   Cec Heftel. I mean, yeah. You know, other people may have contributed some ideas – but obviously, I’m very indebted to Cec. The eleven years I worked for him were far and away the best broadcast years of my life.


You know, that is just so different from what happens in television news today. Was it different from what happened at that time as well?


I’m sure it was different. And I found out how different uh, eleven years later, when Cec sold the station to a corporation. And now, I’m working in corporate environment. And uh boy, you talk about different ballgame, different rules.


You continued with KGMB for many years after that. How did life change for you? I mean, television news changes anyway.


A hundred and eighty degrees. And I think that was the beginning of the end for me. Consultants are, are people who devise news formats and things for television stations to do. And they tend to do it on a formulaic basis. The first thing they said was, ‘We’ve got to put in a two and a half minute weather segment.’ And if you’ll recall, our weather was either the lead story, or it was the last fifteen seconds of broadcast. Weather tomorrow will be mostly sunny, a few mauka showers blowing occasionally makai, temperatures from the mid to upper eighties, trades blowing fifteen to twenty-five miles an hour. That’s the news; good day. And that pretty well did it. And they said, ‘You’ve gotta have a weather person.’ And I — that’s where I bowed my neck. And I think that’s where I first got in trouble with corporate ownership. I simply wouldn’t do it. ‘Cause we only had twenty-two minutes anyway, out of the half hour.


When you consider commercials and sports.


Commercials and formats, and everything. And to throw another couple of minutes away on what I considered to be an unnecessary commodity — I mean, I understand they do weather there now, with, with all the bells and whistles, and I suppose it’s great. Uh, I don’t understand it, but I suppose it’s great.


But that had worked in mainland markets, so that’s why it came here.


Yeah. It works in Peoria, so it’s gotta work in Honolulu. And that’s sort of the consultant’s view of things. And I hope my former colleagues and friends in the television business in Hawaii will forgive me for saying all this. But it’s really the way I feel, and I feel the same thing when I sit and watch, as I do, the Seattle broadcasts each night. They’ve got some really good people there. But just watching, I can almost tell you which consultant they’re using.


But why a consultant? Did there need to be a change?


No; nothing was, nothing was broke. We were still, we were just incredibly number-one in news.


And how number-one were you? Because this was in the age before cable stations and internet. And there wasn’t a fourth broadcast station. How much of an audience did you have at that time?


Well, I mean, going by shares, we were, we were pulling fifty and sixty shares.


Which is unheard of today.




The market is so fragmented.




Sevey’s best TV memories are from the days when KGMB, still owned by Cec Heftel, beat local news competitors by being fast, nimble and original.


I think our finest hour is the night that Apollo 11 launched for the Moon, and then the night it landed on the Moon. I had decided that it would be a good thing if somebody in our news department knew a little about the space program, and I decided that maybe it should be me, since all the other reporters had things of importance to cover and I didn’t. So Cec allowed me to go back for Apollo 9 and Apollo 10 and then for Apollo 11. Well, if you recall, in those days there was one satellite, which meant that we couldn’t take the CBS coverage, Channel 2 couldn’t take the NBC, Channel 4 couldn’t take the ABC. We had to take the NASA world pool. So we all had the same video. And we decided that having our own audio was important. So not only did I go to uh Kennedy Space Center for the launch, but we bought a position at mission control for the landing. The night of the Moon landing, the other stations were covering it, you know, doing audio from their studios. And I was doing it from mission control. And I didn’t know they were gonna do this, but the sales people had decided to take an overnight Nielsen. We had a ninety-one share. Which was —


You blew them away on the other channels.


Absolutely beyond belief. Which I’m glad, because it cost Cec a heck of a lot of money to, to do all that.


Ninety-one percent. Have you ever heard of a number as big for another program?


No. I never had. It was totally unique. But that was just kind of the way we did things. And oh, I also remember when Channel 4 decided – when satellites became more readily available, they were still brutally expensive – Channel 4 decided to bring in the first ten minutes of the ABC Evening News. And they ran large ads in the newspapers and promoted it very heavily.


Oh, competition.


Yup. And we didn’t say a thing. But the night they brought in the first ten minutes of the ABC Evening News, we brought in the entire Cronkite show and did it every night from then on. And that was Cec’s idea, by the way. But he just wasn’t about to be number two.


And was he – is and was a businessman. Was his goal making money


Oh, yes.. Oh, absolutely.


Or making quality? Or both? And in what proportion?


I don’t know the proportion. Um, I never saw the books. All I know is that Cec seemed to do well. He paid Aku a tremendous amount of money. But I think Aku made him more money than he was paid.


Aku was reputed to make more money than any DJ in the country.


He was at one time reputed to be the highest paid DJ in the country. Yeah. He paid me a, a very handsome amount of money. And I assume that we made money for him. See, I never did know how much a spot or a sponsorship, or anything cost in our news broadcast. That wasn’t my end of the business.


Did you even know when they were taking the ratings?


Oh, yeah; you always know…


A few months of the year?


You always know when the ratings are on.


And did you do special shows?



For example, nowadays TV stations get accused of doing –


Oh, I know; yes.


— blood and guts and sensational stories to grab people during ratings.


Well, not only accused of, but rightly so. They do. I mean, you know –


Well, let me ask you – when you started with Cec Heftel running the newsroom and anchoring the news – were newsrooms known to be a moneymaking operation?




Or were they a public service?


No; in those days the news was not a moneymaker. The news was how you made your reputation; the news was how you served the public. Remember, broadcast stations used to be licensed in the public interest, convenience and necessity. I don’t know if that applies anymore, given the state of the current industry and the FCC. But no; news was not a profit center.


So Cec Heftel was expecting you to make money indirectly by enhancing the product of the television station.


Sure. If we, if we came in with a fifty-share at six o’clock, that’s gonna do real good things for the shows at six-thirty and seven o’clock, and for the rest of the evening. And then if we can come back with another good, solid share at ten o’clock —


And you know nobody does a fifty-share anymore, anywhere.


Well, I know; I know.


But you did at the time.


We did at the time; yeah. And it was neat, actually.


You had a very talented anchor staff. Any one of your anchors could have been a main anchor somewhere else. At one point, you had — it was you at six, it was Bob Jones and Tim Tindall at ten. Later, there was Linda Coble, there was Kirk Matthews.


M-hm. No, we had — we had really, really talented people. And not only were they talented—and they still are. And I was very fortunate that in a market the size of Honolulu — I mean, it’s not the biggest place in the world, or Hawaii’s not the biggest state in the world – we were able to get both from the local community, and from the mainland, really good people who were willing to commit to Hawaii. I mean, you know, Linda came from Portland, and you won’t find a more kama‘aina kama‘aina than Linda Coble anywhere right now. So yeah, as I say, I’d love to go through all the names, but I’m just scared to death of the ones I’m gonna forget. And I don’t want to do that. Uh, the people that I tried to hire, and the people I did — well, you’re a good example. You were a very good newspaper reporter.


And knew nothing about television, by the way.


I know.


–when you hired me.


But it didn’t take you long to learn. And you were still a very good reporter. And that was the main thing. Same with the late Doug Woo. Marvelous reporter. Bambi Weil.


The judge.


Now Judge Eden Hifo. Oh gosh; you know, if I start naming everybody, and then don’t name everybody, I mean Carolyn Tanaka and Elisa Yadao, Bart Fredo and Don Baker.


Matt Levi.


Matt Levi; oh, yeah. What an investigative reporter he was.


Linda Coble doing your features.


Linda Coble doing features, and at some point, co-anchoring. Kirk Matthews came along, thanks to Linda. And we had some pretty good sports guys too. Like we had a fella early on named Al Michaels — wonder whatever happened to him — as our sports anchor. The irrepressible and marvelous Jim Leahey.


Gary Sprinkle came out of your newsroom as well.


Gary Sprinkle came out of our shop; yeah. And I’m delighted that, you know, Gary is, is still going strong, as is Kirk. Linda sticks her toe back into the TV lake every once in a while. I’m just very proud of those people.


Incredible talent.


We had Bob Jones, another — another newspaper man that we converted to TV.


You know, I always wondered why you hired people like me because I didn’t have TV skills; I didn’t have performance skills. I had news gathering experience as a print reporter. Why would you take a chance on somebody like me, when you had the number-one station?


Well you know, we did talk a couple of times before I hired you. And it’s pretty easy to see that, that you are an outgoing person, that you express yourself well, that you’re not afraid to talk. The other thing you have to get over is the fear of talking when there’s a camera aimed right in your face, and you can get over that real quick. And you suddenly start learning to verbalize your report, instead of just putting it on a piece of paper. You put it on the paper, it goes into your mind, you tell the camera what it is. You learn to edit, in those days film, and then tape, to visualize your story. And it’s not that hard.


But to you, the news experience was the important part.


Oh, that was, that was, that was the essential, was – she’s a good reporter, he’s a good reporter. And that was the criterion number one.


What about Joe Moore, the sportscaster hired by Sevey, who switched to news on KHON and overtook Sevey in the ratings race? Bob has a lot to say about him – fondly – next week… in Part Two of this interview.


Let’s go back a little bit to when you retired. You were doing, I mean, your station did not want you to leave. But you chose to retire.


I did.


And you weren’t of retirement age yet. Why did you leave?


Shall I tell you the story about Goo’s Golden Tire Shop?


I think I was sitting behind you at the time this all happened. But please do.


It was about twenty minutes to six, and a great, huge column of black smoke appeared adjacent to Nimitz Highway. And we heard the fire radio say that there was a fire at Goo’s Golden Tire Shop. And we had the crash unit, the thing with the dish on it and everything, so we rolled that. And they got there pretty quick. And within the first five minutes of the, of the news broadcast, whoever the reporter was did a very credible job of telling us, ‘This is a whole bunch of tires that are on fire, there are no peopled involved, there are no injuries. There’s one little old lean-to in the middle that’s gonna burn up, but other than that, nothing else is in, in danger. It’s under control.’


No concerns about air quality.


The wind is blowing the smoke out to sea. Okay; I think we just did that story. About – I don’t know – ten, twelve minutes later, I’m told we’re going back to Goo’s Golden Tire Shop. Well, okay; all right. I mean, ‘cause there’s still a lot of black smoke, and maybe some people didn’t get the word. So we go back, and the reporter essentially does the same story, ‘cause there isn’t any other story. At this point, obviously, they haven’t figured out what started it; that’ll take time. And okay; we wrap that up. Now we’re in sports. Gary’s doing the sports. Linda and I were co-anchoring at the time. And the floor director relayed the message that we’re going back to Goo’s Golden Tire Shop again at the end of the broadcast. And I said, ‘No, we’re not.’ Linda got down and crawled under the anchor desk and ran into the control room to tell them, ‘No, we’re not.’ Well, the word was, ‘Yes, we are.’ The news director and the producer were both in accord; they were in the control room. We came back, and we had a monitor on a hydraulic lift. And all of a sudden, I heard the whir, and the monitor came up, and there was a picture of Goo’s Golden Tire Shop and the smoke –


Meaning you as an anchor – you’d better talk about it, ‘cause it’s right there next to your head.


And I did my fifteen seconds of weather, and said goodnight.


And you were steaming.


I was quite unhappy. But not as unhappy as were the news director and the producer, who were all over me like a bad rash.


And the next day, I was summoned to the general manager’s office, and told that the producer was the final authority on the six o’clock broadcast, and I’d better understand that or else. And I explained that I had been the final authority on that broadcast for the last twenty years, we’d done fairly well, and no, I’m not going to accept that. And he made what I considered to be a threat, that I’d better, or else. So I went back and sat down, and wrote out my resignation, posted it on the board with two weeks notice. I had just signed a new, five-year contract. And the attorneys came flying out from Iowa to tell me that I couldn’t resign, because of my contract. And I reminded them that my attorney had written the contract; and yeah, I could resign. Yeah, it obviously cost me a lot of money, ‘cause I, I’m just quitting, two weeks. And uh, my last day was July 4, 1986 — twenty years to the day. Independence Day.


Independence Day; yeah. And uh, and I’m kinda sorry that it ended that way. Well we, we played it for the public as retirement. And it was; so it wasn’t, that wasn’t totally dishonest. But that’s what happened.


It occurs to you me that you left Hawaii after you tried to help Cec Heftel, your former boss at KGMB get elected governor.


I did that in ’86, when he ran for governor. And I was at loose ends, and he needed a volunteer, so I volunteered for the campaign.


And he was the target of a smear campaign, and it was a very bitter defeat.


Oh it was, it was brutal. There may be, there may have been uh, dirtier election campaigns sometime, somewhere, but I can’t imagine it.


Did that make you lose a little faith, a little heart for Hawaii?


It did. It did. It was a scurrilous campaign of rumors, spread mostly on the neighbor islands, among the agricultural community. Much of what was being said out there was never heard in Honolulu. So we couldn’t cover it. We couldn’t go on the media and say, ‘This rumor isn’t true.’ ‘Cause most of the people had never heard it. But it’s also a truism that if you don’t win the neighbor islands, you’re not gonna win governor of Hawaii. And we didn’t and we didn’t. And I took it, I think, a lot harder than Cec did. The primary was on Saturday, and Monday he left; flew to Los Angeles and founded a Hispanic radio empire.


Made a fortune.




Again. Yet again.


Again; yeah. A very resilient guy, Mr. Heftel. But yeah; that did, that did take some of the bloom off the rose of Hawaii for me. I knew politics was a dirty business; I just didn’t ever believe that it could be like that.


More than two decades later, retirement outside Seattle involves serious health issues. Sevey’s wife Rosalie has Alzheimer’s; and he has cancer – lymphoma. The man known to his former colleagues as Cap – for Captain of the newsroom – is steering a course in changing conditions. You can see that Bob Sevey is a consummate communicator. And he has more to say. So we’ll let our conversation spill over into another edition of LSS – next week. Mahalo for joining us. I’m Leslie Wilcox. A hui hou!


When I started on July 4, 1966, the news staff consisted of Tim Tindall, photographer Ted Shibuya, photographer Tom Hisamura and me.


How did you cover the news of Hawaii with those few people?


Poorly. Uh, but Cec gave me, in effect, the blank check to do stuff. And so I started hiring people as fast as I could – guys like Jack Kellner, Jim Manke.


They were radio guys, right?


Yeah, but you were a newspaper girl, right?




I mean, news is news. It’s just a different format that you’re putting it in.




Part 2


GUEST: BOB SEVEY (2 of 2) LSS 107 (LENGTH: 27:16) FIRST AIR DATE: 11/27/07


Aloha no and mahalo for joining me for another edition of LSS. I’m Leslie Wilcox – about an hour outside of Seattle – at the home of former longtime Hawaii news anchor Bob Sevey. Last time, in our exclusive, two-part interview with the former KGMB News Director and Anchor, Bob Sevey told us that he has inoperable cancer. And he explained that he did not “retire” from the news business in 1986 – he actually “resigned.” Here’s how he described the scene in the newsroom: a producer called for Sevey and co-anchor Linda Coble to lead to a “live shot” at a rather unremarkable fire at a small tire shop – for the third time in the same newscast.


The floor director relayed the message that we’re going back to Goo’s Golden Tire Shop again at the end of the broadcast. And I said, ‘No, we’re not.’ Linda got down and crawled under the anchor desk and ran into the control room to tell them, ‘No, we’re not.’ Well, the word was, ‘Yes, we are.’ The news director and the producer were both in accord; they were in the control room. We came back, and we had a monitor on a hydraulic lift. And all of a sudden, I heard the whir, and the monitor came up, and there was a picture of Goo’s Golden Tire Shop, and the smoke Meaning you as an anchor, you’d better talk about it, ‘cause it’s right there next to your head.


And I did my fifteen seconds of weather, and said goodnight.


And you were steaming.


I was quite unhappy. But not as unhappy as were the news director and the producer, who were all over me like a bad rash. And the next day, I was summoned to the general manager’s office, and told that the producer was the final authority on the six o’clock broadcast, and I’d better understand that or else. And I explained that I had been the final authority on that broadcast for the last twenty years, we’d done fairly well, and no, I’m not going to accept that. And he made what I considered to be a threat, that I’d better, or else. So I went back and sat down, and wrote out my resignation, posted it on the board with two weeks notice. And uh, my last day was July 4, 1986 — twenty years to the day.


Independence Day.


Independence Day; yeah. And uh, and I’m kinda sorry that it ended that way. Well we, we played it for the public as retirement. And it was; so it wasn’t, that wasn’t totally dishonest. But that’s what happened.


He took a stand and took his leave. Mounting pressure from corporate owners and news consultants had come to a head for Sevey in 1986.


How do you think consultants took away from the public, in terms of what they needed to know? I mean, that’s what the news is supposed to do – tell you what’s going on with your government, with your business, just let you know what’s happening. How did the consultants take away from that?


Well they were all over us because we had beat reporters. You don’t need beat reporters. We had people who covered CityHall on a regular basis, State government on a regular basis.


And broke stories all the time.


And broke stories all the time. We had a judicial reporter, we had an educational reporter. They wanted me to get rid of that, because the operative phrase is, ‘If it bleeds, it leads.’ So we gotta be ready to cover the serious traffic accidents, the fires, the murders, the near murders, the assaults, the batteries – and I just couldn’t understand that.


M-hm. Do you think an anchor needs to be a journalist?


No, I don’t. I think it is – I think it’s a plus if the anchor has been a journalist. Um, I was never technically a journalist. I mean, I was a broadcaster; that’s what I started doing from the minute I got out of the Army and started in college, I started in radio as a broadcaster. And I was exposed to news. But uh, I was never a beat reporter, per se. Um, I think it helps if the anchor is a journalist, particularly on occasions when uh well, something spectacularly catastrophic happens, like a Kennedy assassination or a 9-11. I think journalist background might be helpful to the anchor at that point. But for day-in and day-out broadcasting, I think communication is the secret.


You talked about how television news started as a loss leader, a public service, something for the image of the station — and then became very profitable and very important and you — It’s now a cash cow; yes.




And do you think the fact that it is so lucrative is what is leading to its demise in quality? Well, I think they’ve gone hand-in-hand. And I have a problem watching television news now. What do you see that really turns you off?


Formulaic news. Lead stories invariably are accidents, fires, murders – no matter what else is going on. I don’t see much going on in the way of beat reporting at all, and I live in the state capital of Washington. They may send somebody down here from time to time when the legislature is in session, or the governor is gonna do something, but I don’t see reporters living a beat.


And why is that important?


Well, government’s kind of important to us. It sort of regulates almost everything we do. We pay them a lot of money in taxes.


They churn out a lot of press releases to inform us.




You’re saying that’s not enough?


I don’t think that’s quite enough. No; the, the press releases tend to be just a skooshi self serving. And good reporting tends to wring a little bit of truth out of what isn’t in the press release. At least that’s been my experience. There seems to be a – I don’t know; a kind of a robotic feel to it. Never mind that in many place now the cameras are robots. And the human touch, I guess, is what I miss. I keep thinking, ‘Is there anybody in the control room there listening to what’s going on? Does anybody hear what that reporter or that anchor just said, because they made a really bad mistake.’ I never see anybody correct anything. Our rule was, if we make a mistake, we will correct it in this newscast if possible; if not, in the next newscast for sure. I want the anchor to say, ‘Boy, we, we got a real mess here; uh, hang on just a sec. What’s going on, Charley? Uh, assuming there is a Charley there in the studio. We used to have a studio director. I guess they must still have one. But everybody just sort of sits there kind of dumbfounded, and the screen goes black, and then generally a series of commercials comes up.


But what’s the point of television news now? Do you think it still is a public trust? Are we thought of it as a higher calling and a sacred trust. I don’t think the public now considers it that watching the fare that we give them.


This is probably very unfair for me to say. But for an awful lot of people who are now in television news, I think it’s a job. It’s what they do.


And so many things are beyond their control; they just deal with things and do what they can in their little piece of the ‘aina?


Yeah. M-hm. And do you know whose name I’ve gone this far and not mentioned as being an alumnus of whom I am so proud I could cry? Joe Moore, for heaven’s sake. How could I overlook that?


Exactly. Well, I was gonna ask you about Joe Moore. Joe Moore was gonna come up, no matter what, because he —


Oh, he destroyed me.


He became the leading anchor in Hawaii, and has maintained his hold for so long.


Yes, he did. Yes.


And he came out of your newsroom.


Yeah. And, and during the last — oh, my last year, or maybe even two – he was beating us in the six o’clock ratings.


That must have felt horrible to you, because you’d been the leader so long, and so high up.


It wasn’t the high point of my life, but I — you know, I understood – because I had always felt that Joe — I never thought of Joe as being a journalist with a capital J. But boy, was he a communicator. And to the credit of the people that owned Channel 2 at that time, they took him from us to do sports. Somebody figured out, ‘Hey, this guy, if he can do sports that well, there’s no reason he can’t do news.’ And so they switched him to news anchor.


Joe Moore has expressed some of the same feelings on the air, as you have been saying in this conversation. Corporate owners from other shores and consultants.


I understand he’s been rather outspoken about that sort of thing, and I’m not surprised, knowing Joe. And I know how he feels.


And my guess is he’s had the same as – and worse – than you experienced in 1986.


Oh, I think worse.


And he chooses to continue.


I think worse. He has seen the news staff just riddled in terms of number of reporters and that sort of thing. And I think it’s too bad. He chooses to continue. Uh probably, if I’d been smart, I would have too. Because I would have been far ahead financially. If you quit, and you’re under contract, that’s it.


You can’t compete against the people you have the contract with.


And you can’t compete. And yeah, and so I don’t blame Joe for continuing to work. And he’s doing well, and he’s surviving all of the slings and arrows that now come at you when you’re in television news.


Well, I remember your goodbye, the tearful — at least, least for those watching, tearful goodbye at Channel 9. You were retiring earlier than anyone expected you to, including yourself, as you explained. What were your thoughts then? Were you asking yourself what was next, or did you know?


I had no idea. I just knew that we were gonna get out of town that night. And we did. We took a redeye and I think we were gone for about two weeks. And by the time we got back, all the hubbub had pretty much died down. And I didn’t really have a retirement plan, because it happened, as you say, a lot more abruptly than I had thought it would. And I think we just sort of let it happen. Rosalie and I did some traveling, which we wanted to do. And then we moved to Washington.


((Selected highlights from Bob Seveys farewell message – KGMB News 07/04/86))


On July 4th 1966, when I first sat down at the KGMB news desk, I had no idea I’d still be here 20 years later. … This job has given me the opportunity to meet and to know so many good people – newsmakers, news reporters and you the news viewers who have kept me in business night after night here at the same old stand. … And for my part I’ve tried to be honest with you, to let you know what was happening without letting you know what I thought about it. I wasn’t always successful in that either. But it was my goal; because that is what I think this job is all about. Now, for me, this job is done. And I have been amazed and overwhelmed at the reaction to my retirement announcement. My colleagues and my competitors in the news business have written and said so many nice things – especially the fella who does the same sort of work a few notches up the TV dial – Thanks, Joe. … Thanks too, to all of you who’ve been so thoughtful these last few days – for the leis and the bouquets and the baskets and the bottles and the letters and the calls and the good wishes. … My two heroes in this business, Edward R. Murrow and Walter Cronkite had signatures. And I’d never been able to develop one. Murrow said, “Good night and good luck;” and Walter said, “And that’s the way it is.” And I think I’ll leave you tonight with a few lines of a song not too many people know – I’m not going to sing it, don’t worry. It goes back to the late 40’s in radio when the late Meredith Wilson wrote it as a theme for an NBC Radio Show called, T   B S . … “May your troubles all be small ones and your fortunes ten times ten. May the good Lord bless and keep you until we meet again. Good night.”


You did so well in Hawaii, you had so many friends, you had so many people cheering you on no matter what you chose to do. Why did you decide to leave the place where you’d found so much success, your home for so many years, where you raised your two boys?


Well, for one thing, when you retire, particularly if you retire early, you don’t have anybody to play with. All you know, all the guys I liked to play golf with, they had to work. And it’s no fun playing golf all by yourself. Um, and Hawaii was changing. We’re in the mid-80s now, the Japanese believe that their economy is bulletproof, and they’re coming into Hawaii and buying everything in sight, not just for the asking price, but asking price plus a little more. So prices are rather going out of sight. Traffic is beginning to be very bothersome. H-1 is no longer a parking lot during rush hour, it’s a parking lot; period. And I don’t know that there was anyone — I’m sure that Rosalie and I never sat down and said, ‘Okay, we’re going to move away from here.’ It just didn’t happen.


When you think of retirement, you think of, you know, planning the retirement. You didn’t really get to do that, because of the, the circumstances at Channel 9 at that time. And when you hit retirement, and you find a way to enjoy life, something else will always coming knocking. And now, retirement is about enjoying life, but it’s also about holding onto life.


Well, yeah. And, and so far, we’ve done both. Rosalie uh, unfortunately, came down with Alzheimer’s. And so that put a pretty severe restriction on our ability to do things together; to travel and that sort of thing. But you know, just try to make the best of it. Then this cancer thing came along. But I haven’t found that to be terribly, you know, much of a handicap. I mean, it’s just a fact of life. And it’ll get me someday, but it ain’t got me yet, and so as long as it doesn’t have me, I’ll keep on doing. I’ll keep on keeping on.


You say doctors tell you this, that and the other. But sometimes the choices, the options you have aren’t enough. Well, I try to get them to explain as in language I can understand. Okay; what does this do? What’s the potential? What’s the best thing that can happen, and what’s the worst thing that can happen?


And then make the decision.


You’ve done very well with chemotherapy. You haven’t had a lot of adverse effect.


No; just, just the hair loss. No other side effects, whatsoever. And that’s from two different formulas — actually, three different formulas. And so far, it’s been duck soup.


So do you read all the material, the literature, the research you can about it? How involved are you in this process?


I read as much as I can, to the point that I can understand it. And a lot of it is in medical gobbledygook that I can’t understand, and that’s where I count on my oncologist, who is an absolutely marvelous guy; patience of Job, speaks in plain, ordinary English that you can understand, listens, asks questions, answers questions. And he’s my anchor to windward. I mean I, if he said, ‘Now, what’ll really cure your cancer is if you go jump off the Golden Gate Bridge,’ I’m on the next bus to San Francisco. Yeah.


You really are the anchor of your home now. Rosalie needs help with decision making and constant care.




And you, you’re fighting this, to some extent, by yourself.


Well, by myself – but, there are three ladies who work for me, work for; they’re caregivers. And they work shifts; there’s one of them here every day, twenty-four/seven. Without them, I think Rosalie and I would both be either in the Happy Academy or a cemetery. They are that important to us.


Are they here to take care of?


Take care of . It’s a full-time job.


So that’s, and that’s a huge burden from you. Otherwise, you would be —


Yeah. They, they’ve all expressed a willingness to pitch in and help if this whole cancer business begins to be a problem. I figure we’ll face all that when it happens. And I am so grateful to them that you know – knock wood – it’s just working fine.


Do you think of that every day, that this — you know, who knows?




Everyone can say, ‘This could be my last day, this could be my last year.’ Nobody ever knows.




But do you consciously think if that every day?


No I don’t. I don’t think about it. I mean, when you go in for chemo and they poke a hole in you, and you sit there for three hours while the chemicals drip in you, it tends to get your attention. But other than that, no I don’t – partly because I feel good. I really don’t feel bad at all.


And do you ask the doctor, Okay, now how long — based on what I, how I’m doing now, how long do you think?


Oh, yeah, I do that about once a year. And as I say, the first year, he gave me a year, thirteen months ago. Now, he’s given me up another year. And a year from now, we’ll see what the next prediction is.


Yeah; you can go year by year.


Yeah. And heck, you know; it’s not like I’m a kid anymore. I’ve already outlived the what, the average age now is seventy-seven years and six months; something like that. I’ve got that beat by two and a half years.


You have a chance to do things now that —


I play golf as often as the law will allow. I mean, I play what, what I say is golf, as opposed to what golfers think of as golf. But yeah; I do that regularly.


You’ve reorganized your life around your health and certainly Rosalie’s health.


Pretty much, pretty much; yeah. I haven’t restricted myself very much because I haven’t found that I needed to. Folks who used to play golf with me in Hawaii will be pleased to learn that I’m not only no better than I used to be, but I’ve actually gotten worse.


And don’t care.


Yeah. Well, you know, when you get older, you just don’t hit the ball as far. And so I guess that’s a good thing; instead of slicing it a hundred and fifty yard out of bounds, it only goes a hundred yards out of bounds. But yeah; I still very much enjoy — I have some problems with my legs, with the circulation, so walking particularly on hills — and our golf course has some hills — is difficult. But because I’m old and infirm, they let me put a flag on my cart. If you’ve got a flag on your cart, you can drive on the fairways when the other folks can’t, you see? So I’m hanging in there.


What do you think about mortality? I mean, it should be part of every day life, because nobody guarantees you any tomorrow.


Absolutely. I feel if the cancer doesn’t get me, something else will. I don’t think about it that much. I suppose when the time comes, that the cancer starts making the decisions instead of me, I’ll be given pause and we’ll start thinking a good deal more about mortality. But when I’m in no pain, when I feel no effects, I just am not gonna worry too much about it. I’ve done my very best, I think, to get my affairs, whatever they may be, in order, so that the kids know what’s supposed to happen. And got a good lawyer, a good accountant and a really good stockbroker. And with those three guys on my side, I’m, I’m pretty happy.


Bob, you reported on many people’s deaths, and you wrote obituaries. How do you want yours to read?


Well, first of all, given what newspapers charge per word for obituaries these days, I’d just as soon not have one.


They have the free ones too.


Do they have free ones?


They have free ones.


Maybe I could get them to put it in the Honolulu papers instead of over here. There are no free ones over here. I don’t know; I haven’t even thought about it. ‘He did the best he could.’ I guess that kinda sums it up. Um, ‘He won some, he lost some, and a few ended in ties.’


Do you carry regrets with you at all?


Well, yeah. I regret that I was never a starting catcher for the New York Yankees. I was never a navy carrier pilot. And there are probably some decisions that I made, particularly in the news business, that were really dumb. I try to put those out of my mind. But by and large, I’m fairly content with what’s happened in the last almost eighty years. But yeah, you know, I guess, well, aside from my greatest regret, which is that my father wasn’t the richest man in the world and left everything to me so I never had to work, um, I’m pretty content with the way things turned out.


As a News Director, Bob Sevey was no talking head. He put his whole being into leading a hard-charging newsroom – so that viewers could have straightforward, accurate information about things that mattered. Not fluff, not stories by formula – real news. You can see why his former colleagues still call him ‘Captain.’ Mahalo Captain and thank you for joining us for another edition of LSS. I’m Leslie Wilcox. A hui hou.




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