Leslie Wilcox

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Benny Rietveld

 

Benny Rietveld’s first experience playing music was at the age of six, in the piano department at Gem’s in Kapalama. “I liked the idea that you could press something, and it creates this…cool sound,” Rietveld remembers. He was mentored by band director Henry Miyamura at McKinley High School, and played in local jazz and rock bands before moving to San Francisco and touring with Sheila E. and Miles Davis. Today, Benny Rietveld plays bass for Carlos Santana, and still sits in with the Hawai‘i musicians he grew up with.

 

This program will be rebroadcast on Wednesday, Oct. 14 at 11:00 pm and Sunday, Oct. 18 at 4:00 pm.

 

Benny Rietveld Audio

 

Download the Transcript

 

Transcript

 

Do you think music is more than just fun?

 

Totally; yeah. Music is powerful, music is magic. It allows us to do so many things invisibly. You can put it in the background, you can have it in the foreground, you can stop, start. You know, it’s always there, and it helps you celebrate things, it helps you mourn. It drives people to battle, you get married and you can create babies with it. It transports you, it reminds you of things in your life, just hearing something. Like, oh, my god, you know.

 

M-hm.

 

It’s an incredibly powerful force, and it can actually change people’s lives, you know. And that’s why I think musicians have a really big responsibility to just keep on point, keep being mindful, keep getting better, showing up. Because it’s a really powerful thing.

 

Benny Rietveld, who still calls Hawai‘i home, is the bassist and music director for Santana, a band he first heard when he was a young boy growing up in Honolulu. He’s been recording and touring with Santana since the 1990s, and he’s also known locally as a member of Topaz, a jazz fusion band that he and his high school friends had in the 1970s. Benny Rietveld, next, on Long Story Short.

 

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

 

Aloha mai kakou. I’m Leslie Wilcox. Benny Rietveld has recorded three albums with the iconic Latin rock band Santana, including Supernatural which became a worldwide sensation when it was released in 1999. Rietveld was born in Holland to parents of Dutch, French, and Indonesian ancestry. They moved their family to Hawai‘i when Benny was three. He grew up in Honolulu, where he started showing musical talent at a young age.

 

I took piano lessons when I was six.

 

Why did you take piano when you were six? Now, that’s early. How did that happen?

 

Remember Gem Store on—well, I don’t know …

 

Kapalama?

 

Yeah; in Kapalama. Yeah. Well, we used to live in Kalihi, and so we’d go through there, and it was always the piano section, and I was always plinking on the piano, you know. And my mom thought, Oh, he’s musical. You know how kids, you know, they hit a hammer, and it’s like, Oh, he’s gonna be a carpenter when he grows up.

 

But were you plunking better than most kids, do you think?

 

I don’t think so. I just liked it. I liked the idea that you could press something, and it creates this cool sound. I think. That’s how I remember it. And then, so we got like a little piano, upright piano, and she gave me lessons at Palama Settlement. And I think the first teacher was named Mrs. Leong. I think. But I didn’t really like ‘em. And I was like, Oh, really? You know, really like boring music, and River keep on rolling. You know. I just didn’t get it. And then, when was ten, we still had the piano in the, you know, attracting dust. And then, the song Hey Jude came out from the Beatles, and it had that cool piano intro. I was like, wow, that’s cool. I was like, wow. And then, oh, it’s sort of like that instrument that’s in our living room. So, I was like, huh. And it was really easy for me, and it was really fun. So, I thought, well, this is great, I’m gonna keep doing this. You know.

 

Then you learned other songs.

 

And then, I learned the entire Beatles catalog, practically.

 

By yourself, or with a teacher?

 

No, no; by myself. Yeah. You know, then I was hooked. And it was like, this is fun, I don’t want to do anything else. And I was just on my way. And then, I met my cousin, the guitar player in Topaz, or calabash cousin, actually, Fred Schreuders. And he was slightly older than me, but he was already playing music. He was, you know, playing guitar, and his dad also played music. So, I was like, wow, cool. And we met, and we jammed, you know, tried to play songs together.

 

You were on the piano?

 

Yeah; and then, I branched out to drums, and then a little bit of bass. And then we started, you know, playing. Hey, let’s do a band, you know. And so, yeah, we put together a band. So, when I was about twelve, I was playing in these dances at, you know, Star of the Sea.

 

And that was kind of the beginning of that. So, you know, I met the guitar player for Topaz way back then.

 

You were just picking it up as you went.

 

Yeah; yeah. ‘Cause it was easy.

 

And you were playing for high school dances at age twelve, or middle school dances?

 

Yes; yeah. My parents were really worried. ‘Cause there were some situations where sometimes we’d play a party, and and more like a high school kids’ party. And so, there may have been some illicit drugs.

 

And it was nighttime.

 

And it was nighttime.

 

Driving.

 

Yeah. So, my parents, you know, lost a lot of hair.

 

And you gave them reason to.

 

A little bit. But, you know, I wasn’t that wild.

 

And where were you on instruments? ‘Cause right now, you’re a confirmed bassist.

 

Yeah.

 

How did you pick the bass, or did the bass pick you?

 

Well, yeah. This is the joke. Usually, the bass picks you. It’s usually because you don’t know anyone else who plays the bass. So, you’re like, oh, you play the bass. So, what happened to me was, I was playing drums in this little dance band, and our bass player left. So, we didn’t know any other musicians, but we knew one drummer. So, it was like, well, what do we do? You know, so we’ll just get him, and you play bass. So, that’s how it happened. But I kept playing guitar with Joe the Fiddler, because, you know, it worked better for chords and stuff, and I kept up on piano playing. You know, I just like always was interested in all of that stuff. But you know, I started getting kinda good on the bass, which is easy to do.  Yeah; so that was that. It just happens like that, you know.

 

What schools did you go to?

 

I lived in town mostly, and I went to McKinley High School.

 

You had a band director who is legendary.

 

Yes, legendary; Henry Miyamura. He’s like one of the big musical mentors of my life, and of Noel’s life, and of Allen Won’s life, too, the other guys from Topaz. He was … amazing. He was like that Mr. Holland guy. I mean, just deeply, deeply committed to the real essence of music performance, which goes beyond, you know, the notes and stuff, but the actual conveyance of the emotion or of the story, or of the tragedy or comedy, or whatever. And to get a bunch of high school kids, half of them who weren’t really gonna go into music anyway, or most of them, and get them to sound as good as he got those bands to sound was really a remarkable feat.

 

How do you think he did it?

 

I think he really loved music, and he loved people. He knew how important it was, you know, even if we didn’t. You know, we were kids then. He knew.

 

While Benny Rietveld was busy playing music through high school, his parents were thinking about his future. They didn’t consider music to be a suitable career path. But Benny was already doing what he loved, and it wasn’t long before his talents took him from the local venues in Hawai‘i to a larger stage.

 

Did you decide consciously, I’m going to be a musician as a livelihood?

 

I don’t think so. The only time it was a conscious thought was like as, you know, graduation from high school was imminent. Then my parents were like, So, you know, what are you gonna do? You’re gonna go to trade school? You should go to trade school, because you know, you learn a trade and make a lot of money. I guess they didn’t see me as the scholarly type, which I wasn’t.  And I said, Oh, I’m just gonna play music. I just assumed I was.

 

Were you already getting paid to play?

 

Yeah, yeah. Yeah. Just like, well, I don’t know. You know, I just thought I was gonna be a musician. And they went, What? No, you can’t. And they were very upset for a little while, only because, you know, they just saw their child being an intravenous drug user and being in the gutter, and you know, whatever. So yeah, I totally get why they freaked out. But then after a while, they thought, Well, he seems to be doing okay, and he’s playing, you know.

 

And you went to college right after that, here.

 

Not right after, but yeah, I did.

 

Oh; so you graduated from high school.

 

Graduated from high school. I was living on my own. I think for about a year, I was living on my own, then I got a scholarship for UH, through Mr. Miyamoto, who suggested I do that. So, he championed me as far as getting a scholarship.

 

And didn’t graduate.

 

No.

 

Because?

 

‘Cause I was also playing music, and then I got a road touring gig with The Crusaders. It was very short. But with all my other gigs in Hawai‘i, and then going off to the mainland for a little bit, just like I lost the whole momentum.

 

How did you make the transition from having lived almost all of your life in Hawai‘i, to the mainland, to the continent?

 

With scarves and heavy sweaters. Basically, that’s how I made the transition. I went to San Francisco first.

 

And that was, I’m going to go try my luck in the San Francisco Bay Area?

 

Well, because I had a friend there already. And he said, You gotta come here, there’s a lot of good music there. And there was, at the time. Lots of great musicians there.

 

You played with some biggies, fairly early on.

 

No. I mean, I don’t know. Pete Escovedo, you know, I learned a lot from him. Ray Obiedo, you know, he used to play with Herbie Hancock and really good songwriter. And a lot of really great local San Francisco Bay Area musicians.

 

When was the first time you played with someone that you went, Whoa, I’m with so-and-so, I’m intimidated?

 

Well, sort of like Sheila E, because her producer was Prince. So, he’d be around, and I’m like, Whoa, you know, ooh. You know. That was my sort of introduction to the high end pop world.

 

And you went on tour with Sheila E, didn’t you?

 

Yes, yes; for about two years.

 

How did you get along with Prince?

 

He was like kind of a mysterious background guy. So, he didn’t talk much to us, but he seemed okay, you know. But he kinda kept more to Sheila and, you know, just sort of like that.

 

Now, did that tour lead to anything?

 

Then I was playing around the Bay Area for a while, and then, I guess Miles Davis was looking for a bass player, and he kinda wanted that sort of Prince-influenced sound. Then we rehearsed, and I met Miles, and it was crazy. And I think I was too much in shock to be actually intimidated, tell you the truth. It was only until I think a year later, I was on the stage, and I was like, Holy crap, that’s Miles Davis. You know, and then I had that moment. But I think, you know, your body blesses you with the gift of shock, so you’re just, you know, immune.

 

And how was it? You know, you have to feel each other in music, you have to work together. How did that go?

 

It went fabulously. You know, he would, you know, give direction while we’re playing, and sometimes before the shows we’d talk about let’s do this part a little faster, or let’s do this kinda rhythm and, you know. And we would keep trying, and so really, back then it was like a laboratory, you know. Because we would do the same song, and it would just evolve. It was like a petri dish. I mean, the songs would evolve so that if you hear the same song two years apart, they’re almost radically different. You know, the tempo is like way slower or faster, and this part is really loud, you know. It was really, really interesting, and it just demanded that you focus a hundred percent on him and the music all the time. You know. That was the big deal.

 

You had to be really mindful.

 

Yeah; like mindful to an incredible degree, because if you weren’t, then then he’d know, you know, and then those eyes would, you know, turn. You know, zzzz, laser, laser. So yeah, you really had to have presence of mind.

 

So, you had a real sense of what he wanted, who he wanted—

 

Yeah, yeah, yeah.

 

–how he wanted.

 

Yeah, yeah. And yet, there was that … still, the challenge was to inject yourself in that, within that framework, you know.

 

And he expected you to.

 

Yeah; yeah, yeah, yeah. And so, that was really intimidating, ‘cause I felt like I wasn’t really mature enough as a musician to inject a lot of myself. I don’t know, maybe I did. I don’t know.  That was another coming of age thing, because I had to, I think, almost completely relearn music. You know, really music and bass playing, and the ethos of what it means to be a bass player and what it means to be a musician.

 

Why?

 

Well, because I hadn’t learned all these really basic fundamental things well enough, you know.

 

So, you were good enough to get in the band.

 

Yeah.

 

And once you were there, you had to up your game.

 

Yeah; yeah, yeah. It was like raw talent is one thing, but to really like hone it is another thing.

 

After two and a half years playing with Miles Davis, Benny Rietveld moved on. Two months later, he met Carlos Santana.

 

Coincidentally, I did a recording session with Carlos Santana.

 

You sound so casual when you say that.

 

Well, no. I mean, because it just happened, you know. It was somebody else’s session, and we met. And that was another intimidating moment, ‘cause it was Carlos Santana, and I grew up looking at that album cover, you know, and all that stuff, listening to all those albums over and over again. And he said, Yeah, you know, I might need another bass player, and you know. Luckily, we lived both in the Bay Area, so I called him and I said, Yeah, I would love to play. Are you kidding? You know. So that’s how that happened.

 

Aren’t you the musical director as well now?

 

Yes. I don’t know, I’m not really the musical director so much as like traffic cop. You know, ‘cause I consider Carlos actually is the musical director, ‘cause he’s very hands-on and he has an uncanny ability to know what he wants. It’s more about during the show itself, when he calls an audible, which he does every time, then I just help direct traffic. Okay, we’re going here now, instead of, you know, how we rehearsed it.

 

How much of the year do you go on tours?

 

With Santana, it’s roughly four to five months out of the year. But it’s broken up. You do get burnt out, you know, no matter what you do. And it’s always gotta be really, really high level, energy, fun. And the minute it’s a little bit below that, then we’re not doing it.

 

Do you ever get sick of being asked to play a song you love, but you’ve heard it and you’ve sung it … Black Magic Woman, so many times before?

 

No; love it. It’s great. I don’t care about all the other times I’ve played it. It’s like, oh, wow, this is the first time I’m playing it. You know. That’s special, and we have to convey that to people every time. That’s the hard part. That’s the higher level stuff. Not playing the music; the notes are like whatever, you know. That’s like hammering a nail; okay? But it’s how to get into that thing, and it sounds so, fluffy and goofy, you know. But that is, to me, the higher level of music.

 

Did working with Santana when you started require a different sensibility than working with Miles Davis? Did you have to shift in any way?

 

Only superficially, actually, with the style of music, the genre, you know. Because it’s more rock-oriented, Latin, which we hardly ever did in Miles’ thing. But in essence, it was actually very similar, because they both demanded passion and fire, and presence of mind, like all the time. And not being afraid, you know. I think that’s another thing. You cannot have any fear.

 

Is there a way to describe how they work musically, and how you work with them musically?

 

With both of those guys, it was about trying to … articulate the in-articulable.  That’s the weird part about music, is that like underneath the hood, underneath all the technique and theory, and all the numbers, which are all useful, underneath it all, I like to say the last thing that music is about is music. You know.  It’s really about feeling and life. And it sounds so, you know … fluffy. You know, like, Oh, it’s feelings. You know. But all the major guys hardly ever talk about nuts and bolts of music, you know. The jazz guys, a little bit more, because it’s more their realm, you know. But all those guys share the predilection for using aphorisms to describe music. It should sound like, you know, red wine streaming through. You know, something like that. And sometimes, it just sounds so bonkers, you know, to the uninitiated. But then, you realize it’s just a personal lexicon and a cosmology. And actually, now that I’ve known Carlos for a while, it makes complete sense, you know. Now when he says something, you know, like really poetic, I’m actually kinda knowing what it means in dry, boring music terms. Sometimes Miles would say—an actual musical thing would be like, Give that part a little lift. Instead of, you know, doong, doong, doong, doong; maybe like doong, ka-doong, ka-doong, ka-doong, doong, ka-doong. You know, all these little things between. I think everyone knows that deep down inside, it’s really silly to talk about music, because it’s the most abstract of all art forms, you know. But we try, anyway. We have to, sometimes. You know, we’re trying to convey what we want, you know.

 

Although Benny Rietveld lives in L.A. when he isn’t touring with Santana, he likes to come to the place he calls home: Hawai‘i. In 2014, he and some of his former bandmates from Topaz reunited for a show.

 

What brings you back to perform with your old high school buddies?

 

Love of music, and love of them. You know. We’ve kept in contact all this time.

 

And tell me what the names are. Who’s your gang?

 

The gang is Noel Okimoto on drums, Allen Won on the saxophones, Fred Schreuders on guitar, and Carl Wakeland on keyboards.

 

That’s a pretty amazing group from McKinley High School, isn’t it?

 

Yeah. Well, me and Allen, and Noel are from McKinley. Carl is from Mililani. Fred ended up graduating from Kaiser High School. We got kind of popular because we were this bunch of high school kids that could play this kind of difficult and technical music known at the time as fusion. And we loved jazz and all that. So, there weren’t many eighteen-year-olds playing that at the time in Hawai‘i. So you know, we got a kind of rep, and we were the little darlings there for a while, and we even played at La Mancha for two weeks. We disbanded ‘cause we all had stuff, and we were doing our lives. And Noel stayed here, so he’d play. And his late dad, unfortunately, George Okimoto, would go to his gigs all the time. And George actually managed us back then, because he was the manager of Easy Music Center, you know, by McCully. And so he was like, You know, you kids really got something. And he got us equipment to use, you know, cool new gear. So he was like our manager, and really championed us. Cut to couple of years ago. We’re at Gordon Biersch, I’m visiting, and I see Noel, and like you know, listening to him, Byron Yasui and all these great local guys. And there was Noel’s dad, George Okimoto, and he goes, Eh, hurry up, you know, get a reunion. And it was like, actually very bittersweet because he actually made a joke. He was like, Eh, hurry up, before I die.  And what I got from that was like, he wasn’t really joking around. He was like, you know, everyone is about to move on here, and you guys should do something, ‘cause it was really special. So, we did a show last year. It was really, really fun. So, this year again, earlier in the year, we recorded a CD. But you know, we all have these other crazy lives, and we’re not gonna like, Yeah, let’s have a band and tour together. That’s not gonna happen.

 

Did you ever conceive, did you ever think in your young life, that you would be in your fifties, and it’s a tour, it’s concerts and crowds, and music, and vans?

 

I had no idea. Who really knows what their thing is, you know.

 

And how long do you see that going on?

 

Playing music, being involved in music for me will go on until either I die, or I find suddenly that I don’t like it. You know. I don’t really see the latter happening.

 

Benny Rietveld has not stopped having fun playing music since figuring out how to play Hey Jude on the piano at age ten. Along with his raw talent, his dedication to his craft, his ability to work with people, his fearlessness and his determination took him to a world stage. Mahalo to Benny Rietveld, a proud graduate of McKinley High School in Honolulu, and longtime bassist for Santana. And thank you, for joining us. For PBS Hawai‘i and Long Story Short, I’m Leslie Wilcox. Aloha, hui hou.

 

For audio and written transcripts of all episodes of Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox, visit PBSHawaii.org. To download free podcasts of Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox, go to the Apple iTunes Store or visit PBSHawai‘i.org.

 

[END]

 

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Sam Low: Raising Islands

 

As a crewmember on the Hōkūle‘a, waterman Sam Low experienced the chicken skin moments when, as the canoe would approach a Pacific island, the island itself would appear to be raised out of the distant horizon as the canoe sailed closer.  As a documentarian, author Sam Low heard the vision, fears and dreams of master navigator Nainoa Thompson and those involved with sailing the canoe. On this episode, Sam Low shares his stories of sailing on Hōkūle‘a.

 

Sam Low Audio

 

Download the Transcript

 

Transcript

 

Nainoa has said that early on he’s been hindered by a fear of failure. Do you know how he resolved that? Because he certainly succeeded.

 

Courage. He resolved it by being courageous, I think. It was Nainoa’s job to be the first Hawaiian in perhaps a thousand years, after that devastating accident, devastating loss of Eddie Aikau, to take the canoe as navigator on the first voyage in a thousand years that a Hawaiian has navigated. So, naturally, he was fearful. He was fearful for his own ability, but he was fearful for his people. Because if he failed, that would have been, Oh, Hawaiians, yeah. I have the feeling that his father helped him understand that there’s a deeper mission. That everything is based on helping your community, helping your people, and that your fear or your immediate reluctance is nowhere near as important as pushing through it to get that mission accomplished.

 

In researching his book, Hawaiki Rising, Sam Low spent hours interviewing his cousin, Nainoa Thompson, talking to him about the double-hulled canoe Hōkūle‘a, and what drove his dream to voyage in the wake of his ancestors. Sam Low, next on Long Story Short.

 

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

 

Aloha mai kakou. I’m Leslie Wilcox. Sam Low was born and raised in Connecticut. His Hawaiian father left the Big Island to attend prep school on the Continent, where he got married, never to return home again. Their son Sam inherited his father’s love of the ocean and of boats, and grew up spending summers at the beach on Martha’s Vineyard, where he still lives at the time of our conversation in 2014. Sam Low made his first trip to Hawai‘i as a young naval officer, and has been coming here ever since, connecting with his family that includes Nainoa Thompson. Sam’s background as a documentary filmmaker, his ocean skills, and his family connections eventually led him to become a crewmember on Hōkūle‘a, where his role on the voyaging canoe was that of the documentarian. His job was to observe, and through that, he got to experience what life is like sailing on a canoe in the middle of the ocean, thousands of miles away from land.

 

My role on Hōkūle‘a has always been as a writer, as a documenter. Usually, on Hōkūle‘a, you’re a crewmember, and so that’s basic. You know, you stand your watch, and you do all that. But you have another role as well, which is, you could be a cook, you could be a watch captain, you could be a carpenter, or you could whatever. And my role was as documenter. And so, that fit, you know, what I had been doing for so many years prior to that, going out and documenting, either filming or writing about, or doing a thesis at Harvard about a way of life that I wanted to bring back and I wanted to give you, wanted you to have this gift. I have seen this, I have been there. And now, I want you to have it. And that was a perfect blend of what the job was. As a documenter, the kuleana, or actually as any crewmember, the kuleana on Hōkūle‘a.

 

Isn’t it interesting that all your interests sometimes come together and inform each other into one wonderful culmination?

 

Yeah. I probably never would have gotten on the canoe if it hadn’t have been that I did have this skill of being able to write. And of course, it didn’t hurt that Nainoa was my cousin, and I had a relationship with him. I was invited on the voyage to Rapa Nui. And that was actually my first trip on the canoe. The voyage to Rapa Nui was supposed to be the hardest voyage, because the prevailing winds are against you. And so, Nainoa had predicted that it would have to be tacking into the wind. So, this would be a zig-zag all the way. So, what was maybe, I think about seventeen hundred miles could easily become three thousand miles, if you had to tack. So, he chose a veteran crew. He had on board those folks like Tava Taupu, and Michael Tongg, and Snake Ah Hee, and Bruce Blankenfeld, and you know, Kalepa Baybayan. The best of the best. They set off. Now, I should say that this was the first voyage that I was actually invited to go on. But Nainoa wasn’t quite sure about me. I had made one voyage on the escort boat, and that went fine. So, he just wasn’t sure, and he put me on the escort boat and he said, You’re gonna be on the escort boat for four or five days, we’re gonna see how it goes, and if everything’s going okay on the canoe, then we’ll bring you over.

 

Why was Nainoa unsure about whether to have you on the Hōkūle‘a? ‘Cause you’re a waterman, you’ve been around water all your life in different kinds of craft.

 

Right; but you have to remember that on that voyage, there were the tested men, they were the best of the best. These men had probably voyaged thirty thousand, forty thousand miles. Not only that, they’re surfers, and they’re athletes.

 

And did Nainoa figure you could document it just as well from the escort boat?

 

I think he knew I couldn’t do that. But I think he wanted to just be sure. I think he wanted to go out and to see, and if it was a slog, and it was what he expected it to be, the most severe test of endurance, then maybe I would have stayed on the escort boat. But it didn’t turn out that way; it turned out to be easier. And so, I think that’s why he invited me.

 

So, it had to do with physical conditions?

 

Physical training.

 

Not fit?

 

Not fit. Not like those guys. No; uh-uh. Those guys, well, look at them. I mean, look at Tava. You know, look at Snake. All of those guys are watermen, all the time. You have to remember, New England, it’s the winter, so I get to swim four or five months out of the year. I was not in the kind of shape that those guys were, so I think that’s what his reservation might have been. So, I think on the fifth day, we got word that they wanted me to go over. And I’m like, Yes! And it was one of those rainy, kind of drizzly days, not a lot of wind, and I was rowed over by one of the crew on the escort boat. And Hōkūle‘a is up here, and I kind of crawled in. You crawl over the hulls, and then you crawl up over this canvas kind of space shield. And I remember crawling out and looking up, and there was Mike Tongg. His appearance is like this gentle, loving Buddha, you know. He has that kind of loving appearance. And the rain was just dripping down off his face, like this. And he was looking down at me with this beneficent smile. He didn’t say a word; just … Welcome, good to see you. And so, I just immediately felt at home with Mike’s blessing. He’s such a veteran on that canoe. But Nainoa had felt that we had to be prepared for the slog of wind. But as it turned out, fortuitously, at that time of year, down in the roaring forties … I hope I’m right, but I think that we were probably up around twenty degrees south. And down around forty degrees south, there were a number of low pressure areas that were spinning storms up toward us, spinning wind up toward us. And so, they broke the trade winds, and they created following winds. So that Nainoa seeing that, set off basically in a storm, and sailed along with the wind coming from behind, spun up by these storms down in the roaring forties, until that storm went through, and then we were kind of the calm. And then the trades would fill in again, and we’d do a little tacking, and then another storm would come along. And we made the trip so much faster than what was predicted, that we got there a week before our welcoming party.

 

Nice when storms are your friends.

 

Yeah; yeah. So, it turned out to be a lot easier in terms of the crew, and in terms of the endurance than we thought it was gonna be. More difficult from the navigation point of view, because often you would have cloudy skies. In fact, on that voyage to Rapa Nui, two or three days before Nainoa found the island, we started to have cloudy skies, and he had no real sight of his guiding star. He was steering pretty much by swells, and he was navigating by dead reckoning. So for three days, he was navigating by instinct, trained instinct. And on the day that we sighted Rapa Nui, the winds shifted. He was going to do a zig, and instead of doing a zig, the wind shifted and kind of pushed us in the direction that he thought we wanted to go. And he said, We’ll follow the wind; we’ll just stay, we’ll follow the wind. Hōkūle‘a knows where she wants to go.

 

Now, when you can’t navigate by stars, does he sleep at all? I mean, because he’s always watching current conditions.

 

Yeah; he is. Well, when you’re not navigating by the stars, you’re navigating pretty much by the swells and the wind. Of course, the wind was gyrating around and changing, so he was using the swells to navigate. Normally, if he’s alone on a voyage, then he will sleep in catnaps. He’ll sleep for maybe twenty minutes, thirty minutes, and then jump up and be awake for, say, eight hours, and then lie down for twenty or thirty minutes, and jump up. And he’ll do this for thirty days at a time. One of his great fears on that first voyage in 1980 was he wouldn’t be able to stay awake. That’s Mau’s secret, not mine; I can’t do that. But it was one of those first, as he calls them, the doors of perception had opened. One of those first doors that opened was that when they set sail out of Hilo and started on the voyage, after about fourteen hours, he decided he was really tired, he was gonna take a little nap. And he lay down, and he lay down for about fifteen or twenty minutes, and he jumped up and he was refreshed. And he said that was the first kind of sense that there is something in navigation, there is something in accepting the challenge and the risk that comes from another level, and that he was able to that, on that first voyage. And that’s what he normally does. On this voyage, the Rapa Nui voyage, he had Kalepa Baybayan on board, he had Bruce Blankenfeld on board; he had trained navigators with him. So, he could sleep.

 

If you don’t have enough sleep for enough time, I mean, I would think your judgment becomes impaired. So, I guess you have to have a limited goal in terms of time? How do you do that?

 

He does it for a month at a time.

 

Amazing.

 

I have no idea; I couldn’t do it.

 

So, maybe because you have a goal and you’re trained, and you’re generally in good shape, you can manage your mind and your brain cells for that amount of time.

 

Yeah; it’s a mystery to me, how he can do it. You know, it’s always chicken skin if you’re crew, and/or a documenter particularly, my job being to watch everybody, and to record. But you know, I’ve watched Nainoa pretty intently, and it’s always that moment when he says, Post lookouts, land is near. And then, I would get to go ask him, Well, what’s going on? He’d say, Well, I think Rapa Nui is there. And he put Max Yarawamai, who is Carolinian, who has great eyesight, he put him on watch. And about five hours later, there it was, Rapa Nui. And it was pretty much where he said it was. And Rapa Nui is tiny. And so, he found this island after seventeen hundred miles.

 

After sailing to Rapa Nui, Hōkūle‘a navigator Nainoa Thompson invited Sam Low aboard the canoe for the trip home. This second experience gave Sam even more insights into how Nainoa used nature and his intuition based on experience to guide him to exactly where he wanted to go.

 

The second voyage I got to make was from Tahiti to Hawai‘i. And we’d been at sea for, I think, about twenty-four, twenty-five days. Had lots of storm on that particular voyage, lots of squalls. I’m going to say it was the twenty-fifth day, I forget exactly, Nainoa turned the canoe downwind. We’d been headed into the wind all the time to get to the east of the Hawaiian Islands, and he turned downwind. So, we knew something was up. And steering downwind on Hōkūle‘a, the sails are on either side, wing-on-wing, ‘cause the wind is directly from behind. And we were steering that way for a while. We couldn’t see anything; there was this gentle mist wafting over the canoe. You could feel the sun, but you couldn’t see it. Visibility ahead was maybe oh, I don’t know, half a mile.

 

And during this time, do you say, Hey, Nainoa, what’s going on? Or do people not talk about what’s up?

 

Well, I got to be bratty, because I was the documenter. So, I didn’t say anything for a while, but we went wing-on-wing, and then the wind changed slightly, and so one of the sails came over. So, now, we’re sailing like this. We felt that. And around six o’clock, I saw Nainoa was just back there on the navigator’s platform, just peering intently ahead. Again, this mist was coming over. We couldn’t see anything; I couldn’t see anything. So, being a documenter, I get to go back and say, you know, What’s going on? He said, Well, Hilo is right there. After twenty-five hundred miles, twenty-five days, Hilo is right there? So, I said, How do you know? And he said, Well, do you remember when the sail, when we couldn’t sail wing-on-wing? Well, that’s because we got into that place where the winds are coming and being broken by Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea, and churning around the island. And so, that wind shift, that gentle wind shift told me that we’ve gotten into that zone where the winds are breaking. You know, these mountains are fourteen thousand feet high. And he said, Look ahead, you see that mist seems to stall, it seems to slow down. So, I looked. Yeah; okay. Keep going. I know I couldn’t see it. And he said, If you look—the sun was starting to go down. If you look on either side, you can see it’s kind of dark ahead of us, and it’s a little bit lighter there.

 

You couldn’t see it?

 

I couldn’t see it. And so, I wrote it all dutifully down. And then we sailed on for a while, and then he tacked. And I said, Well, why’d you tack? He said, We’re on the Hamakua Coast, and I don’t want to get too close. Of course, none of us can see this. This is after twenty-five days. I don’t want to get too close, and Hilo is right over there. And so, I said, Okay; write it down. And then, we all felt it. And we all went over to the rail, and the whole crew is standing there looking, and Nainoa said Hilo is there, and they know Hamakua must be there. And we waited for about fifteen minutes, and then fortuitously, that low cloud layer lifted; just lifted. And there it was, the twinkle of the coast, Hilo over here, the lighthouse. And at that moment, Nainoa just said, We’re home.

 

Wow.

 

After twenty-five days. So, that’s the chicken skin, that when you’re navigating with someone like Nainoa or Kalepa Baybayan, or Bruce Blankenfeld, or Chad Paishon, or Shorty Bertelmann, any of these great navigators who have dedicated their life to merging with the signs of the sea, and you have the privilege to be on a canoe after that much time, and to see land is there, exactly where they say it is.

 

What happens over the twenty-five days, say, of a voyage? Is there a lot of talk? Is there a lot of laughter? What do people do, day-by-day?

 

I think it depends a lot on the crew and on the chemistry of the crew. And I think it’s all of that. But if I think back on it, I think more of a kind of … quietness, actually. I don’t think so much of laughter; there’s that. I don’t think so much of talk; there’s that. I don’t think so much of music, although there’s that. I think of the quietness of being at sea, and the feeling of being out in an immense ocean, completely alone, and you don’t see another ship, you don’t see another person, you don’t see land, and you get into kind of a rhythm of watch-standing, of being alert, and being relaxed, and being alert, and being relaxed, of the stars turning, and the moon and the sun. And there’s a blending with that diurnal rhythm so that it’s a meditation you get into. I think it’s a meditational state. I think it’s a very relaxed state. I think that even in storm aboard a vessel like Hōkūle‘a, which is so staunch and so seaworthy, and so sea kindly, that you’re not afraid. You know that if you do everything right, if you follow the instructions of your captain, if you bring the sails down, if you stand your watch properly, you’ll be fine. So that’s not it. It’s not anxiety, it’s not fear; it’s contemplation, it’s meditation. And actually, I think for most of us, say after five or six days, you’re just in the rhythm, and then when the canoe turns down and the navigator says, We’re there, we’re almost sort of like saying, Well, that’s good, we can have a hamburger, we can have a beer, but you know, why don’t we just keep going. ‘Cause you’re in this world. You’re with your crew, you’re with the weather, you’re with the canoe, you’re in this meditational almost Buddhist, Hawaiian meditational state, and you don’t want it to stop.

 

Sam Low started working on a book about Hōkūle‘a after he returned home from the Rapa Nui voyage in the year 2000. At first, he didn’t know what would be in the book, but it finally came together, and Hawaiki Rising was published in 2013. It tells the story of Hōkūle‘a, Nainoa Thompson, and the Hawaiian Renaissance.

 

There was a period of time, and I think it was uh, 2010. See, I’d been working on this book for ten years. I mean, I didn’t really know that I’d been working on it for ten years. I was just recording, and I was writing articles. The first idea for a book would be a picture book, and then I went off and did my grandpa’s book. And I got partway there, and then I came back onto this. But there was a time, I think it was 2010, when I did have a chance to interview Nainoa very extensively. I was living in the family compound, and the guest house is, you know, a hundred yards from his house. And I would sit and wait, and every time he came out, I’d say, Hey, Nainoa, how you doing? You know, and he’d say, Not today, Sam, not today. Okay, okay. And then, How you doing? Yeah; okay, come. And so, we’d sit and spend two or three hours with a tape recorder, and I think the exchange did help him bring together all his experiences. Well, it was certainly great for me, because I was able to get this raw material for Hawaiki Rising. But I think it also helped him bring together his own experiences and correlate that, and put it together into kind of a set of values and a philosophy. It’s his philosophy, but I think in being able to exchange with another person who he was fairly intimate with, that it did help him in that. And at that time, about three years ago, the concept of moolelo became very important. And he expressed that; he said, You know, we stand on the shoulders of heroes, and it’s very important that as we move forward around the world, that we look back, and that we celebrate and bring with us the spirit of those people who made all of this possible, and the lessons that we learned from them, from his father Myron Pinky Thompson, from Mau Piailug, from Wally Froiseth, from Ben Finney, from Herb Kane, from all of those who had built the canoe, who had the vision of the canoe, who had sailed the canoe, and that evolving vision, that gift that they gave to all of us who’ve sailed on the canoe. He wanted that to be celebrated, and part of that was the book, Hawaiki Rising. It is a celebration of those heroes whose shoulders we stand on today. He expresses in Hawaiki Rising very clearly how fearful he was of that time of his first voyage. You have to understand that everything depended on it, that the canoe had capsized, that they had lost Eddie Aikau, and that Hawaiians were on the cusp of being able to, through voyaging, and all the other arts as well, not just voyaging, but Hōkūle‘a was the symbol of the Renaissance. Through voyaging, to recapture this great pride of ancestry. And the canoe had capsized. There was a great deal of anxiety, which he expresses in the book. And he pushed through, and he discovered deeper reserves, I think, of courage and of a sense of connection to his ancestors that allowed him to enter a world of understanding and of comprehension that was deep and that was powerful.

 

You went back and talked to a number of the people we associate with Hōkūle‘a over the years. What did some of those conversations yield in terms of insight about the voyages?

 

Well, they were key. The book is made up of what I like to think of as a chorus of voices. See, I’m not in it. It’s not my story. I’m the person that’s behind the camera, if you like, or that’s writing the story, singing the song, I hope. And I had this opportunity to interview dozens and dozens of crewmembers, and I wanted the book to be a chorus of voices. I wanted it to be told in the voices of the people that experienced it, not an impersonal narrator, a personal narrator. And I didn’t know that that would work. It’s like an oral history. And I’ve been very interested in oral histories, something told directly, authentically from the person who experienced it. So, the opportunity—and of course, I was very kind of shy and bashful. I mean, Tava Taupu, and Snake Ah Hee, and Herb Kane, and Nainoa and Pinky, and Marion Lyman-Merserau, and Dave Lyman. I mean, these are heroic figures to me. So, to have the honor that they would sit down and talk with me was terrific. And I didn’t want that to end. You know, so writing the book, you have to eventually do that; right? But the great pleasure was to have those moments, those intimate moments with people on whose shoulders we all stand on, and to have them tell me their story. That in itself, was the process, is sometimes more important than the product.

 

Through the eyes and ears of Sam Low, we all get to experience what it’s like to sail aboard Hōkūle‘a as she makes her way across vast oceans, guided by the stars and other natural elements, to faraway destinations. Mahalo to Sam Low for sharing his stories with us, and mahalo to you for joining us. For PBS Hawai‘i and Long Story Short, I’m Leslie Wilcox. A hui hou.

 

For audio and written transcripts of all episodes of Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox, visit PBSHawaii.org. To download free podcasts of Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox, go to the Apple iTunes Store, or visit PBSHawaii.org.

 

Pinky evolved a philosophy that came out of voyaging. He said, You first have to have a vision, and you have to have a vision of an island over the horizon. And once you have that vision, then you have to formulate a plan to raise that island from the sea, Hawaiki Rising. And then, you need to have discipline to train, to achieve that plan. And then, you need to have the courage to cast off the lines, and then you need to have the aloha to bind your crew together to find the island. So, those are values that were inherent in Pinky’s view in voyaging, and also in the world, and also all cultures of the world. So, he brought this philosophy from the past, brought it to the present, and made it a possible future. And Hōkūle‘a is voyaging around the world with that philosophy in mind.

 

[END]

 

 

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Alberta de Jetley

 

Alberta de Jetley’s life has been a winding path, taking her through the island chain. She was born on Moloka‘i, raised on Lana‘i and spent her married life in Hana, Maui. She eventually returned to Lana‘i after the death of her husband, Tony de Jetley. A journalist since 1985, she has served as publisher, editor, photographer and advertising salesperson of her own newspaper, Lanai Today, for the past nine years.

 

This program will be rebroadcast on Wednesday, July 26, at 11:00 pm and Sunday, July 30, at 4:00 pm.

 

Alberta de Jetley Audio

 

Download the Transcript

 

Transcript

 

We had horses, we had dogs, we had a whole island right in our backyard to explore. So, the first thing I did is, when I was about seven years old, our neighbor who was one of the last cowboys from the ranch, my Uncle Ernest Richardson, he taught me how to ride. And from then on, I never walked.

 

Alberta de Jetley grew up during the Territorial days of Hawaii. She’s lived almost all of her life in rural and, some might say, idyllic places in the islands. Horseback rider, hotelier, writer, and community newspaper publisher, Alberta de Jetley, next on Long Story Short.

 

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

 

Aloha mai kākou. I’m Leslie Wilcox. Alberta Sophia Morita de Jetley loves open space, fresh air, and life in small communities. She’s lived on Molokai, Lanai, and in Hana, Maui. She’s the publisher and editor of Lanai Today, a community newspaper she founded in 2008. Alberta de Jetley was born in Kaunakakai, Molokai. At age six, she started school on Lanai, graduating from high school in 1963. Some may think there isn’t much to do on a small island, but she found plenty to do growing up.

 

When I was six years old, my family moved to the Island of Lanai, where my dad became the island’s game warden during the Territorial days.

 

He’s a Morita.

 

He’s the Morita side. His father raised hogs in Kalihi, and my grandmother was actually one of the Japanese brides that came over. When she came over to Hawai‘i, she was sent to someone on the Island of Kauai, and lived there, and had one child with them, my Uncle Harry. Unfortunately, he died, so she came back to Oahu, and she married my grandfather.

 

How did she find him?

 

He was a marriage broker. The story I heard was, my grandfather didn’t want to spend the money to send her back to Japan, because there wasn’t really anything for her to go back to. So, he decided to save the money and married her, himself.

 

So, that’s the Japanese side.

 

Yes. And then, on my mother’s side of the family, my grandmother is pure-blooded Hawaiian. And she married my grandfather, who was pure German. And my grandfather had been previously married, and I don’t know what the circumstances were, but he was no longer married to whoever he had been married. And the story I heard was that—and my grandmother told me this, that he wanted a housekeeper, and one his friends said, Oh, just marry, you know, Grace, because she’s not married, and then you don’t have to pay her.

 

Did you learn Japanese and Hawaiian?

 

No. We came from that period of time, unfortunately, when it wasn’t politically correct or socially acceptable for young Hawaiian families to speak Hawaiian to their children. So, I don’t even have a Hawaiian name. It’s always been a bone of contention for me; I wish I had a Hawaiian name. But my grandmother spoke Hawaiian to her friends whenever they met up. She never spoke Hawaiian at all to us. And on my father’s side of the family, I know my father spoke Japanese in their home, but as we were growing up, we weren’t really exposed to the Japanese side of our family, because they lived on Oahu and we were living on Lanai. So, we didn’t speak Japanese at home, either.

 

Did you make a seamless adjustment to Lanai? When you moved there, you were six years old.

 

When we first moved to Lanai, I remember that it was really, really cold. Every day, the fogs came down and covered the trees. There was fog all the way down to the ground all the time, and it was really cold. Whereas on Molokai, we lived right by the ocean. After living in the town, in Lanai City for a year, our family was moved to Koele, where the old Lanai Ranch was located. And that was a fabulous place to grow up. When I was about seven years old, our neighbor who was one of the last cowboys from the ranch, my Uncle Ernest Richardson, he taught me how to ride. And from then on, I never walked.

 

I always rode.

 

How nice that must be.

 

But I would ride anything. I could ride anything, and everything. They couldn’t keep me away from horses, and many times, it didn’t matter if it wasn’t a horse that I had permission to ride. So, I’ve been called on the carpet several times for riding other people’s horses without permission. I should have been hung.

 

Yeah; horse thief used to be a really bad thing to be.

 

Oh, yeah; I was. My nickname in those days was Alberta the Horse Killer. Or the Horse Thief, depending on who was calling me out.

 

But it sounds like you were an adventurous little girl; you were ready to get up and go.

 

I don’t know how my parents allowed us to do the things that we did. My Uncle Ernest, you know, the day before, he’d say, You fulla. He always called us, You fulla. You fulla want go, you be here four o’clock. And we would be there at four o’clock. He would come out of the house, and we would be there with our horses, waiting for him. And then, we would ride up over the hale with my Uncle Ernest. And I couldn’t have been move than like, ten, eleven years old. And Albert was seven or eight years old. And we did stuff like this all the time.

 

And meanwhile, your parents were having more children, too; right?

 

Yes.

 

Including a certain young girl who became the chair of the Public Utilities.

 

Public Utilities; yes, my sister Mina. When we moved to the Island of Lanai, my parents came with five children. And then, they had my sister Mina. Her real name is Hermina, but everybody called her Mina.

 

And she was a State legislator and the chair of the PUC.

 

So, my sister Mina was hanai’d by the Richardson family, my Uncle Ernest. And then, my sister Trudy, and then my brother Wally. So, he’s the baby of our family. So, we call them the ratoon crop.

 

Right.  Well, explain what that means.

 

It means it’s a last crop, you know, the last harvest. In the pineapple days, usually the first crop is your biggest pineapple, the second harvest is the one that most of us like, and the third crop is the last harvest before the field is plowed under. But then, they experimented, and they found that you could get a really, really sweet sugar crop; so that would be your ratoon crop. So, the last three were the sweetest.

 

So, you’re starting school on Lanai. And how was that?

 

It was difficult. I didn’t quite fit in, in any group. You know, in those days, the population was predominantly Japanese. The Filipino population was just beginning to come in. So, the main push into Lanai was 1947, 48.

 

Okay, but you were a Morita girl; what’s the problem?

 

But we were also, you know, Haole.

 

Hawaiian, Haole.

 

Hawaiian, Haole, Japanese; whatever you want to call it. In those days, they would say, Oh, you’re Cosmopolitan. And it’s okay; it’s kind of fancy to be called Cosmopolitan. But in actuality, you don’t really fit in anywhere.

 

That is so interesting. You know, I’ve heard so many local people who look local and everybody thinks, Okay, local-local. But it depends on your mix and who else is around; right?

 

Yes.

 

There are so many people who don’t feel like they fit, who would seem to.

 

Well, all the Japanese girls in my class were so studious, and they were always so polite, and they did their homework, and they, you know, did everything that was asked of them.

 

Oh, they weren’t stealing horses?

 

No.  They weren’t stealing horses, and I would cut school to go steal horses, too. And it was like it was really boring to be around them. For me, it was really boring to be around them. And then, I had some friends who were part-Hawaiian, you know, mixed, and I played with them too. But they didn’t do things like go out into the forest and build forts, or make tunnels, or you know, just go out and climb trees, and do all kinds of stuff like that. They wanted to come up and play with dolls. And playing with dolls was one of the last things I wanted to do. So, I was always around horses and dogs, and out in the forest playing. After our chores were done, we had this whole island to explore, so why would I want to sit around and visit with people who were playing with dolls. It just wasn’t gonna happen.

 

So, it was more of a temperament, personality disconnect.

 

Yes. And then, at school, I wasn’t very well-liked. I had a few favorite teachers, but I always had difficulties with my teachers because I never paid attention in school.

 

I can see how that would be a problem.

 

It would be a problem. Especially because I would have a book in my lap. The teacher would be out in front of us, and I would have a book in my lap, and my head would be down. And every now and again, I would—Oh. And I would be hiding and reading a book. Well, how do you discipline a child that’s reading a book? It’s almost impossible. You can’t say, You shouldn’t be reading. Because you want children to read. But I would build myself a tent. You know, at recess, I would build myself a tent under a table, and I would sit there and I would read the whole recess. And that was my world. If I wasn’t on a horse and out playing with my dogs, I had a book. One of the things that really made us that way was, of course, it was before television. But my Hawaiian grandmother bought us a World Book Encyclopedia as a present, as a gift. And she bought it on time payments; I think she said that she paid about five dollars a month for thirty months, or something. But my brothers and I read that encyclopedia from back to front, and back to front again. That’s how we grew up; that was our entertainment.

 

After graduating from the public high school on Lanai, Alberta de Jetley left for Oahu to attend the University of Hawaii at Mānoa. Or at least, that was the plan. Didn’t last long.

 

After I got out of high school, I was supposed to come down to the University of Hawai‘i. And I had a lot of adult friends who had horses on Oahu. So, as soon as I came down to go to college, they’d call up and say, Hey, what are you doing? We’re gonna go pick up some horses at blah-blah; do you want to go down to Waimānalo, or do you want to go down to ‘Ewa, or do you want to go down with us to go get some horses? And I would be gone; they’d pick me up. So, I had a very short stay at the University.

 

What did you expect your life would be after graduation from high school and starting the University?

 

Well, I knew that I didn’t want to stay on Lanai and work in the pineapple fields. In those days, as soon as you got out of high school, you pretty much left town to go into the military, to go to college, to come down to Oahu to get a job. So, when I was asked to leave the University, I had to go and get a job. And one of the people I interviewed with was Elmer Cravalho, who was in the Hawai‘i State Legislature.

 

As the Speaker.

 

Yes; he was the Speaker.

 

Of the House.

 

And I was offered a job as one of their, you know, aides or whatever you want to call them. But we were the gofers. And I was living with my sister. And she said, You can’t work there, you need to get a real job, because the Legislature is only in session for part of the year, so you have to go and get a real job. So, I became a dental assistant for a dentist. Hated it. I learned a lot. I liked the physical part of working with patients and learning all this stuff, but it was a difficult job for me; it didn’t suit my personality. So then, I became a mail clerk at Theo H. Davies in Downtown Honolulu. And I liked that, because you know, it was a five-story building with one of those old fashioned elevators. So, I’d go up and down, and deliver mail all over the building, and that was kinda cool. But I eventually ended up working in Waikiki for a company that represented hotels and other travel-related businesses on the neighbor island. The best part about my job was walking up and down Waikiki, delivering pamphlets and talking to the people in all of the travel desks. So, I like to tell people that I was a streetwalker in Waikiki. But it was fun days, and that’s how I met my husband.

 

He was in Honolulu?

 

No; he was the general manager of the Royal Lahaina Hotel. It was one of the properties we represented, so I was sent to Maui to look at all these Maui properties, and the first person I met there was my husband.

 

British person who was twenty-two years your senior.

 

Yes.

 

And you were, what, twenty-three?

 

Even younger.

 

Even younger; okay. So … then?

 

It was very difficult. My husband was married. We had to go through the whole process of figuring out what we were doing, what in the hell were we even thinking of. Separated, and then came back together. He was married to a lady who was a citizen of New Zealand. And in those days, the only way that you could get a divorce is if your divorce papers said that you were an adulterer, which—you know, big A on top of your forehead. So, we both had to go back down to New Zealand to be served with papers. And we stayed there a year; we stayed in New Zealand for a year, and we were married in New Zealand on May 31, 1968. Later that year, we moved back to the United States, moved back to Hawai‘i. My husband was offered a job at Hotel Hana Maui, and we moved to Hana, and stayed there until he died.

 

How many years was that?

 

We moved to Hana, I think it was 1969. At Christmas, 1969, and he died on February 1, 1981.

 

And you were helping him with hospitality. I think you did two or three cocktail parties a week.

 

Yeah, that was a different era, a different world. Our guests were mainly a lot of repeat people, guests coming to the hotel. But we had this house right across the Hana Ballpark, which was huge, and we gave three cocktail parties a week. You know, my husband Tony was twenty-two years older than me. So, people couldn’t understand how this Englishman who lived across the world, who traveled and ended up in Hawai‘i, how in the world did we ever get together, because our cultures were so different. So, they were always very curious about us, and would ask questions that really weren’t polite. But they would always ask how we met. And my husband started saying, Oh, I found her under a pineapple plant.  And that would keep things quiet for a little while. But it was fun. It takes a lot of adjustment to be in a May-December type relationship, but we had a very, very loving and good relationship.

 

In some ways, you had it easy. You didn’t have to cook, you didn’t have to clean, you had help with your two boys.

 

Ah … we did not live normally, because we lived on the hotel property, and we had two children. So, the entire time we were at Hana, we had daily maid service, somebody came down and cleaned the house because of all the cocktail parties; right? So, they took care of that. They took care of the flowers. When it was time for a party, they came down and did the setup. And then, we also had nannies while the boys were young who helped to take care of them. So, when my husband died, and we had to move … well, we didn’t have to, but you know, we weren’t gonna be involved with the hotel, my son David was ten years old, my son Tony was five years old. So, we moved to Lanai, where we had to make our own beds, and where we didn’t have daily maid service.

 

And was there a job waiting for you there? How did you support yourself?

 

We did have a job. I had a big job. We had acquired the lease of Hotel Lanai. In 1980, the lease was up, so I applied for it, and we got the lease. And my sister Mina moved over to Lanai and managed the hotel. So, when Tony died, I said, Okay. Mina wanted to go back to her life on Kauai, and I said, Okay, I’ll come over and take care of the hotel myself. So, we moved over to Lanai, and it was like, Oh! We had gone through a very, very sad period in our lives, because my husband had cancer, he was very ill. My boys really needed a lot of time together with me. So, we went horseback riding, we went fishing, we went sailing. The first thing I did is, I bought us dirt bikes. And we just turned into these dirt bike fanatics; we rode all over the island. We took our bikes down onto the ocean, we just went everywhere. And it was really, really fun, but it was also a very bad time economically for the Island of Lanai. I had a five-year lease, but in 1984, I had decided that we really had to bite the bullet, sell the lease, and stop spending money. So, I sold the lease, and we moved back to Maui. We lived in Wailuku. And that’s about the period of time that I became a writer.

 

How did you get to be a writer?

 

I was selling real estate for Carol Ball and Associates in Kahului. Our office is in Kahului. And then, I later decided that I wanted to live more in Hana rather than Kahului. So, I transferred to Cathy Paxton Real Estate. And one of my clients that I was showing property to was a lady named Joan Arnold. She decided that she was gonna have her own four-color magazine, not a newspaper. So, it was called The Mauian. And she said, Do you think you could develop an article for me for the magazine? So, I said I thought I could. And she taught me all kinds of wonderful things. Her son was eighteen years old, fabulous; a genius, really. And he taught me all I know about graphics and layout, and art direction, and photo direction. And that’s how I ended up back on Lanai.

 

The company that owned most of the island, Castle and Cooke, asked Alberta de Jetley to write a newsletter for its one-company town. She accepted the offer, and after moving back yet again to Lanai, it didn’t take long until she met Castle and Cooke’s CEO, David Murdock.

 

I worked in the old Dole administration building. My office was there. So, I was working there, and the phone kept ringing, and ringing, and ringing. I answered the phone, and it was Mr. Murdock’s speechwriter. So, he wanted me to go over to the fax machine, pick up a fax that he was gonna send to Mr. Murdock so he could review the speech he was giving on Oahu. So, I said, yes, I could do that. So, I went up there and I thought, Perfect, Alberta, perfect, perfect, perfect. Because I hadn’t met him yet. I can tell him exactly what I want him to do to my island; right? I’m gonna ask him what he’s gonna do, and then I’m gonna tell him what I would like to see him do. So, I went up and I knocked on the door, and he came to the door and he looked at me, and I said, This is for you. And I gave it to him, and he took it. And I said nothing; I turned around and left. And when I left, I was so mad at myself. I was staying with my parents, and when I walked in, my mother said, Where have you been? This man keeps calling and asking you to go to see David Murdock; he’s sending you some stuff, he wants you to take it back to him. So, I went up to the office, and I went up to the house, and I knocked on the door, and Mr. Murdock came. He took the papers from me and he said, Stay; don’t leave. So, I stayed, and I heard him yelling and screaming the way he does at people on the phone. And then, he came back out to where I was waiting for him in the living room, and he said, Who are you? So, I said, Well, I’m the person who does the newsletter, blah-blah, you know, and my name is Alberta de Jetley, and I’ve been working for you for the last few months. So, after I got through telling him who I was, he said, Well, let’s go to dinner. So, we went down to the Hotel Lanai. I walked in with Mr. Murdock. There’s dead silence. We had the longest, most uncomfortable meal ever. And when we left, he said, What are you doing? I said, I’m just going to go back to work. And he said, No, you’re not, we’re going to go for a drive. And he drove around, and he showed me everything that he was going to do. You know, and it was all up in his brain. You know, it wasn’t anything on paper yet. And I was just fascinated. And that was my first meeting with Mr. Murdock.

 

Did you tell him what you thought he should do to the island?

 

No. Because I liked what he was telling me.

 

So, the man who inspired such fear … gained followers.

 

Oh, yeah.

 

And sold the island, and then there was more fear.

 

Well, it’s a different kind of fear. You know, being afraid of change is normal. People worry about their futures.

 

Especially that kind of control, because it the control of the island.

 

Yeah.

 

And what will the island be like in a few years, do you think?

 

The sad thing I see about the changes occurring now is, we have priced our kama‘aina travelers out of the Lanai market. We still have a lot of vacation rentals, we have bed and breakfasts. There’s other places, smaller places to stay. It still allows our kama‘aina visitors to come back to Lanai. You can come over there from Oahu, which is so crowded, and you can walk up to Koele or you can walk up toward the mountains to the overview, you can go down to one of the beaches and be the only person down there. Five minutes out of town, you’re out in the boonies, and you’ve got all this space to enjoy. It’s just a wonderful feeling to have all this space around you.

 

And cool air.

 

Cool; it’s cool, cool air. And our town is really friendly.

 

At the time of this conversation in Summer of 2017, Alberta de Jetley continues to publish Lanai’s only print newspaper, Lanai Today. The island is still a one-company town, now owned by tech billionaire Larry Ellison, whom she says she does not know well. She’s an empty-nester, with her older son David living in Maryland, and her younger son Tony making his home in Hana, Maui. Mahalo to Alberta de Jetley of Lanai for sharing your life story with us. And mahalo to you, for joining us. For PBS Hawaii and Long Story Short, I’m Leslie Wilcox. Aloha, a hui hou.

 

For audio and written transcripts of all episodes of Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox, visit PBSHawaii.org. To download free podcasts of Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox, go to the Apple iTunes store, or visit PBSHawaii.org.

 

I have a community newspaper, and I’ve been doing newspapers since 1990, you know, on my own. And I look at the newspaper as a vehicle to keep people informed of what’s happening in the community, and trying to encourage them to show up for public meetings, to make their feelings known, and to be out there and not just to sit at home. We all live in this community together, and we should all take part in making the community work. So, that’s what I feel that I can do best, is through my newspaper, bring all of these different things together.

 

[END]

 

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Connie Mitchell

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX: Connie Mitchell

 

As Executive Director of The Institute for Human Services, Hawai‘i’s largest homeless services provider, Connie Mitchell has worked ceaselessly to find effective ways to heal and comfort her community – mind, body and soul. Bringing experience from careers in nursing, financial planning, pastoral work and more, she takes a multifaceted and compassionate approach in her stride toward solutions.

 

 

This program will be rebroadcast on Wednesday, July 19, at 11:00 pm and Sunday, July 23, at 4:00 pm.

 

Connie Mitchell Audio

 

Download the Transcript

 

Transcript

 

We’ve had a couple of deaths recently. One lady was in the park, you know, someone that we knew, a homeless person that died. And … sometimes when those things happen, in some ways, it just kinda galvanizes my desire to make things different. And sometimes, people might mistake, you know, my passion for some of that as anger.

 

Connie Mitchell has spent her life serving those in need, especially those who often need the most help. Connie Mitchell, executive director of The Institute for Human Services, next, on Long Story Short.

 

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

 

Aloha mai kakou. I’m Leslie Wilcox. Connie Mitchell runs Hawai‘i’s oldest and largest nonprofit agency dedicated to the problem of homelessness. But for all of her efforts—and she generally gets high marks for her work from a range of community stakeholders, Hawai‘i has one of the highest homeless rates in the nation. She’s known for her positive attitude, in fact, a fiercely positive attitude despite challenges, and she’s known for seeing the homeless population as people, as individuals. Born Constance Kau Yee Fong to immigrant parents from China, Connie Mitchell grew up in the same town neighborhood where The Institute for Human Services is based, and where she leads the agency in serving the homeless and affected communities.

 

I grew up on Vineyard Street. And the duplex that I actually lived in isn’t there anymore. They actually used it as a prop and bombed in Tora! Tora! Tora! Yeah. But anyway, I grew up there, went to school at Kauluwela Elementary School right around the corner there. And I didn’t think I would end up being so close, you know, to where I grew up, but I am now.

 

Does it feel familiar?

 

It does. You know, in some ways, it does and yet, the neighborhood has changed, you know, a little bit. But of course, when I was a child there, there was a really different context, you know, and I might not have noticed, you know, the things. But I ‘m sure there weren’t as many homeless people back then as there are now.

 

Well, what was your life like as a child?

 

Well, I grew up, you know, with an older sister and two younger brothers. And my mom dad are actually immigrants from China.

 

What part?

 

Guangdong. And they came separately, actually. My dad came as a teenager, and then afterward, you know, brought my mom over.

 

How did he know your mom?

 

You know, I asked her that question the other day, and she said, Oh, you know … I think he knew a relative of hers, you know, her mom’s aunt or something. And so, they kinda got together. I always say it was a semi-arranged marriage, ‘cause I think there was, you know, an attraction there. But she didn’t know what she was coming to when she was gonna come to Hawai‘i; right?

 

And they stayed together?

 

They did.

 

Four kids.

 

Four kids. And so, we ended up moving when I was in the fourth grade, I think, or seventh grade, up to Liliha. So, it still wasn’t that far from where I am now, either. But that’s where she lives, still. And we grew up, you know, pretty Spartan lives, but you know, I learned a lot about living simply, but never feeling like I was poor or anything. You know, because we always had what we needed, had our imaginations, had really good friends to play with, you know, and really just enjoyed it. So, I think, you know, I learned a lot from my mom and dad, but didn’t really fully appreciate, I think, the experience of being an immigrant until I was much older.

 

What did your parents do for a living?

 

So, my dad had a restaurant in Kapālama.

 

Called?

 

Called Nam Kok Chop Suey. I don’t know if you remember it. But it was, you know, a small Chinese restaurant, and my mom helped him in the restaurant. I even worked there, you know, in summers when I was in high school to wait on tables. And it’s right where the Central Pacific Bank building is, you know, on Dillingham now. You know, it was really the times that I worked was when I saw my mom and dad, because they were working all the time. And I think that’s real typical a lot of times, you know, of people who have family businesses. And … I think it was great, because I could still connect with my Chinese culture, but you know, they weren’t really there so that I explored a lot of other things and really learned a lot from friends, you know, because my parents weren’t around that much. You know, my dad would bring dinner home, and then he would be back at the restaurant afterwards.

 

And you saw this as a positive thing; that you had your parents, but you also had your friends.

 

Yeah. You know, and I didn’t know the difference. I didn’t know how other people were growing, but that’s how I grew up, and I’m just really thankful for it. I think my parents really were … I know they loved us and cared about us, and really wanted to make sure we were safe and were provided for. But you know, when I would watch TV, and you would see those TV shows about families, and I’m thinking: Well, that’s just not how our family is.

 

Did you have an extended network of family at all?

 

We did, and it’s because my dad and my mom would sponsor other relatives to come over. And my uncle on my dad’s side actually worked for him as a cook, also. You know, so we did have family that came. My grandmother came when I was in the seventh grade, I think, and she was a part of our family for a short while, and then she ended up leaving and finding a place of her own. But it was really sometimes challenging, ‘cause you know, like being bicultural, I went to Chinese school like, from first grade to ninth grade. So, for nine years, I went to—

 

Did you learn to speak Cantonese?

 

Yes; uh-huh. And you know, my parents spoke it at home. But you know, it was a way to really hang onto my ethnic culture, you know. But I think all the while it was being shaped, I also had, you know, a lot of influence from the fact that my parents, being really open, said, Why don’t you go to church? You know, and they actually encouraged me to go. And I went to a church on Judd Street for many years. And, you know, that helped shaped my own faith.

 

Was it the same faith church that they believed in?

 

No. You know, they weren’t Christian. And I think there was a woman that went into the neighborhood and was just, you know, looking for children that might want to go to church. And so, I started going to Sunday School, and then ended up really just learning so much about God’s love, you know. And that was like, a little foreign in some ways, you know, from the culture that I was coming from. But I’m thankful for that, and I think that my faith has actually inspired a lot of the choices that I’ve made, you know, throughout my life and work, particularly.

 

And your parents never said one thing to you about, Don’t go there, that’s not what our Chinese family has always done?

 

Right, right. Yeah. So, I kind of like, you know, was embracing the Christian faith, and then at the same time, you know, my parents practiced their own cultural practices and faith. So, … I think it’s in some ways typical, you know, of people who grow up in Hawai‘i. You know, you’re exposed to a different way of thinking. And I’m thankful for the way that Hawai‘i is, you know, that we are able to … no matter how we think or how we believe, that we’re able to get along most of the time.

 

Did you feel that Honolulu was friendly to immigrants?

 

Yes; and I really felt like … I didn’t feel like I stood out or anything like that. You know, a lot of us maybe came from the same kind of background, and I think as a child, you just know. If you’re playing with other people, you’re playing with them, you’re getting along with them, and you don’t think about those other things. But that kind of childhood, growing up in a diverse community very much shapes how you feel when you grow up.

 

As a child, did you see college in your future?

 

I did, ‘cause my parents really valued education.

 

And had they had a college graduate in the family yet?

 

No.

 

So, who was the first?

 

Well, my older sister was. You know, she graduated from the University of Hawai‘i, and then, I did also. She left right after college, you know, and went to San Francisco. And my brother who’s a couple years younger than me, he did also. And they’re both there now. You know, he’s an architect in San Francisco, and my sister was teaching in the Berkeley school district for many years, and just recently retired.

 

And what did you go to college to study?

 

Oh, I became a nurse, and later on went back to get my master’s in psychiatric and mental health nursing. And you know, at first, I wanted to be a pediatric nurse, but I couldn’t deal with the pain of seeing the children, you know, suffering so much. And I thought: Okay, I don’t know if I want to really do this. You know, but … I think I really … have always seemed to gravitate toward serving underserved people. Like, when I was in San Francisco, my first nursing job was at San Francisco General Hospital. And it was a county hospital, so you had people who were prisoners, and people who were on Medicaid, and you know, people who just didn’t have that much. But it was an excellent medical center, and I learned a lot when I was there.

 

Where do you think that comes from, wanting to serve the underserved?

 

I don’t know. I’m always for the underdog, number one. You know, but I also feel like … maybe because I’ve been given so much, and I feel so blessed … that … for one, I think everyone … it’s a basic need, a basic right, you know, to have healthcare. And I really want to make sure that people are afforded that opportunity.

 

So, you’re in San Francisco getting your master’s of science in nursing. And how did you get back here? And I don’t think it was a direct path to IHS.

 

No, it wasn’t. So, actually, I graduated here at the University in nursing, and then I went to San Francisco. I came back. and I worked actually for a doctor and managed his office. You know, an internist. Internal medicine practice, and then kind of saw that a lot of people who were coming in, they seemed to have a lot of mental health issues also, lot of anxiety and stress that were causing a lot of, you know, their illnesses. So, I did a stint, you know, just really after that, going to work on a demonstration project that really addressed the connection between mind and body. You know, so we were actually trying to demonstrate that if you’re provided mental health services, behavioral health services, you could actually reduce the amount of medical utilization, you know, of a person. You know, this holistic medicine, you know.

 

It was just common sense to you.

 

Yeah; really. And you know, I think along the way, I’ve also done a little bit in financial planning. I think I spent about seven or eight years serving as a pastoral associate at a church. And you know, all of these experiences just kinda come together in my work at IHS, you know, because I think it’s given me skills and perspectives, you know, that are very … maybe different, you know, from somebody else who might be coming from just strictly a social work perspective.

 

You also saw acute mentally ill patients in residence at Hawai‘i State Hospital in Kaneohe.

 

Yeah. And so, after I graduated with my master’s in psych mental health nursing, my first clinical position was as a clinical nurse specialist there. And I worked with people who were dually diagnosed with cognitive impairment, as well as mental illness, so they might have been developmentally disabled also. So, it was just really a wonderful learning experience there. We were under a Department of Justice consent decree and was really needing to upgrade, you know, the quality of the care that was there.

 

It had to be sad to see that, you know, the place wasn’t taken care of as it should have been.

 

Oh, yeah. I mean, I think when I first started there, it was really …

 

And it was dangerous for employees too; right?

 

It was. You know, and at one point when I was there even, you know, I had to take out a TRO on someone, because I thought, Okay, I don’t know if this person’s gonna kind of retaliate or anything. But we also had like a car fire that was set, and it was, you know, very much a retaliatory thing from one of the patients, we believe. And the hospital was evolving at that time. I mean, it was facing the fact that it was a forensic hospital. Almost everybody that was coming in the hospital was coming in from a court order, you know, after that. But I think we really need to maintain a sense of the fact that these were also patients. And I think learning to triage and understand, okay, some people have some criminal tendencies that make them dangerous in a different way, and some people have more mental illness and are impaired by their mental illness. That needs to be acknowledged and recognized, because sometimes, if you just say, Okay, well, they’re all mentally ill, and so we need to just, you know, always take the tack that they’re not responsible for their actions, then some people who are responsible for their actions don’t really get the consequences that they really need.

 

After spending most of her career in the field of nursing and healthcare, including fourteen years at the Hawai‘i State Hospital in Kaneohe, which included a tenure as the director of nursing, Connie Mitchell leaped into tackling homelessness in Hawai‘i.

 

Well, a friend of mine knew that they were looking for an executive director. And you know, I had never worked nonprofit before.

 

You had a stake in the State retirement system.

 

Yes; uh-huh. When I was looking for what next, you know, for myself, I really wasn’t sure where it was gonna be. And that’s why I really think it was almost divine providence that, you know, this really came about. Because I heard about it through a friend of mine, and I applied. But I had applied a while ago, and I thought, Oh, well, I guess they found somebody. So, you know, I didn’t think twice. And then, I got a call back, and I went for a second interview, and then was offered the position, you know, shortly after that. And I thought, Well, okay, do I take a break? You know, ‘cause I was just moving out of, you know, my place and had just left the hospital. And I thought, No, I think this is really what I need to do. And even when I was being interviewed, they asked me, Well, how long are you gonna stay? And I said, Well, I don’t know, and all I can tell you is that when you give me a chance to do something, I will give it my all. And I said, You may not like me, you know, so we’ll how it goes. And I think that it’s been a really good match for me in terms of the work.

 

What is your goal? Is it eliminating homelessness?

 

I think as a group, you know, our Partners In Care consortium of homeless service providers and people who are concerned about homelessness, what we’re trying to do is develop a system where we no longer have unsheltered homeless, and anyone who becomes homeless will quickly get into housing. You know, so it’s not about just managing homeless, like let’s just put ‘em in the shelter and leave them in the shelter. We have long left that model behind at IHS. You know, we have been trying to house people as much as possible, you know, and as quickly as possible. And as the system has changed and as funding has become available, we’ve been able to do more and more of that. I think there’s very few people who just absolutely don’t want help.

 

So, I mean, it seems like there are people who, if you offer them a job, they say, Can’t you just give me money? I mean, I’ve met a couple of those.

 

Yeah. You know, I think the people on the street, you know, people who are unsheltered, there’s a really big mix. But remember, the people on the streets unsheltered are a small population compared to everyone who experiences homelessness. Once you hit the streets, you know, a lot of people stay there for quite a while. And what we’re trying to do is like, try to bring them in so that they don’t stay there. ‘Cause once you become homeless for a long time, it’s harder to get people off the street, because they realize, Oh, I can do this, this is fine. You know, and they don’t realize that their lives are changing, their health could be threatened, and when they do get sick, they’re gonna get more sick. You know, ‘cause we see infections that are just ridiculous, you know.

 

Somehow, they get accustomed and prefer it?

 

I think they lose hope. That’s what it is. You know, and they just don’t think that it’s possible. And you know, if you’re using drugs, you probably can’t get a job. If you can’t get a job, you certainly can’t get a place. And if you can’t get a place, then that’s why you’re out there on the street; right?

 

Hawai‘i has a great compassion, doesn’t want to see people on the streets, doesn’t want to see people suffering. And on the other hand, you know, there’s, Hey, are we using our money well? Because aren’t these people just being moved, moved, moved, moved? Is anything really happening?

 

M-hm.

 

What do you say to that?

 

I think that there are a lot of people that are coming off the street, and you know, they are being tired of the movement, you know, of the enforcements that are going on. But I think what I envision is being able to try to convince people that they can be a part of the community again. You know, they don’t feel a part of the community; that’s why they’re out there. You know, they don’t have a place to go, and we have to, as a community, figure out how to do that. I believe that if every one of those people who is capable of working could work if they weren’t using drugs, or you know, their mental health was stabilized.

 

Those are big ifs.

 

Yeah; but we could do it. I believe that it can be done, if we have the will to provide the services, you know, and to walk alongside some of these people so that they can believe also. Because I don’t think they believe it right now; they don’t think that there is a way out. And I’ve seen it happen, that when they start to believe and they actually take a chance on us, they’re able to get out of that situation.

 

The day-to-day challenges of running a large nonprofit organization and navigating the highly politicized issue of homelessness can take its toll on anyone. Connie Mitchell continues to maintain her positivity through her faith, and through the inspiration of the late Father Claude DuTiel, who is beloved for founding The Institute for Human Services through his Peanut Butter Ministry of handing out sandwiches on Downtown streets.

 

You know, Father DuTeil has always been sort of the person that I think of, you know, in terms of his values and his approach to people.

 

Who started IHS.

 

Yes.

 

Or the forerunner of IHS.

 

Right. You know, he did start IHS, and he himself was someone that suffered from both mental illness and alcoholism. And … he just had that kind of heart, you know, that really wanted to give back to the community. And I think that, you know, it’s a person like that who galvanized the community to want to do something that is my inspiration in a lot of ways. And on the other hand, you know, I feel like the heart part comes from that. I think my husband Mark is someone that has really taught me a lot about systems, and how to be willing, you know, to kind of … change things, so that things can be better. And my husband is just awesome; you know, he really understands, because he was in the mental health field as well. I shouldn’t say was; he still is.

 

Okay; now, how did he come into your life?

 

Well, we met at a conference. And then later on, you know, he was doing some consultation, and when he ended up coming over to Hawai‘i, he was the CEO at Kahi Mohala, you know, for a number of years. And then he retired again, and then he ended up not retiring and going back to work for the State at the Department of Public Safety. So, you know, he’s very well versed in systems issues, you know, with mental health, with developmental disabilities, with health in general. And so, we had a lot in common, you know, and really, I look to him for a lot of wisdom sometimes, you know, about how to proceed. But he also has a lot of experience that he is able to share with me that I’ve learned a lot from, I think. So, emotionally, intellectually, you know, I’m really grateful for a lot of the friends that I have had. You know, a good friend of mine, her brother had committed suicide, and this was when I was in college in nursing school. And I just thought, Wow, you know. I mean, that impacted me. And then, I had another friend who committed suicide later on who was in my Bible study group. And mental health seemed to be a theme in my life.

 

As of this conversation in June of 2017, Connie Mitchell has grown The Institute for Human Services from its original two shelters in Iwilei to eight facilities, including locations in Sand Island and Kalihi Valley. A believer in servant leadership, Mitchell remains passionate about the job, overseeing one hundred and fifty employees.

 

So, one of your staffers, Kimo Carvalho, says he really likes working with you because of course, you’re serious, but you’re also silly. What does that mean?

 

Oh … I can be … pretty silly in terms of, you know, when we get together and we do like little office parties and stuff like that. You know, I will sometimes surprise people, you know, when I would dress up at Halloween, or something like that. But, you know, it’s like I’m just like anybody else, and I’ve always felt like being a leader doesn’t mean you put yourself above. You know, it really means that you’re willing to do whatever anybody else is doing, and you’re working alongside them, you know.

 

So, servant leadership?

 

Yeah. It’s gotta be about that. You know, I think it’s really trying to bring out the best in other people, you know, and really helping them to really blossom and find their voice, and find their strengths.

 

You have so many. How do you spend your time?

 

Well, um …

 

And you’ve got to talk to lawmakers.

 

Absolutely.

 

You got to talk to funders, you’ve got to talk to homeless people, and supervisors, and community leaders, and business owners.

 

So, there’s no … usual day at IHS. Everything is urgent. And you know, you’re right; you know, we really look at the community as a major stakeholder. You know, we serve not only the people who are homeless, but we serve our community. You know, and as a part of that community, we have people who are policymakers, we have people who are funders, people who are just the public. You know, we really want to help people understand better what homelessness is about in Hawai‘i, and we want them to understand how we all can help them better.

 

I think it’s so wonderful that after—is it eleven years on the job now?

 

Yeah.

 

Eleven years on the job, you’re very positive, you continue to work at a very high performance rate. What keeps you going?

 

That’s a good question. I think it’s really seeing people turn their lives around when we are able to help them. And it happens quite often, I have to tell you. So, I think just, you know, being able to … do some new things, find some new solutions, partner with new people who have similar passion and, you know, just really want to make a difference; that’s really exciting to me, to see so many people like that.

 

Connie Mitchell, executive director of The Institute for Human Services, is a hard worker and a respected leader, and Hawai‘i still has a high homeless population per capita. She says we’re making headway in slowing down the rate at which homelessness grows. And she says that if different parts of our government would just agree to work together at important junctures, such as when inmates are released from prison, we could do better. Mahalo to Connie Mitchell of Honolulu for sharing your story with us. And thank you for joining us. For PBS Hawai‘i and Long Story Short, I’m Leslie Wilcox. Aloha, hui hou.

 

[END]

 

Where Everyone Knows Your Name

 

CEO Message

Where Everyone Knows Your Name
A Surprise for Our Board Chair


Where Everyone Knows Your Name: A Surprise for Our Board Chair

Left: PBS Hawai‘i outgoing Board Chair Robbie Alm and PBS Hawai‘i President and CEO Leslie Wilcox. Right: The newly named Robbie Alm Board Room

 

It’s not my practice to keep secrets from my outgoing Board Chair, Robbie Alm. I’m doing it this once, because it’s a one-of-a-kind secret that really should be a surprise.

 

By the time you read this, the cat will be out of the bag and Robbie will have retired from the Board following a long and successful tenure. Among his many achievements as leader: diversifying our revenues, investing in revolutionary tech advancements, founding the nation’s first statewide student news network, and building a new $30 million home on time and on budget.

 

Even before he was a Board member, Robbie was a champion of public broadcasting. He’s been involved in supporting this station, in one way or another, for more than 30 years.

 

So, of course, Board and Staff are having a party for him. We’ll give him lei and an engraved keepsake, and there’ll be a special song from former Board member, Hoku Award-winning performer/composer Kawika Kahiapo. Robbie also will have to endure a few speeches.

 

And – here’s our secret. PBS Hawai‘i’s handsome Board Room, which doubles as a second TV/video studio and has a view of our large studio below, will be named after him.

 

Robbie displayed both battle-hardened confidence and quiet humility in getting our new home built. He likes the results so much, that he’s known to stop by when he could simply make a phone call. He enjoys the natural light, the openness of the floor plan, the cheerful colors, the way the space accommodates work flow.

 

And now his name will be on the room where he presided over high-level governance decisions. We hope he continues to stop by and enjoy – without any worry.

 

In next month’s guide, I’ll write about PBS Hawai‘i’s incoming Board Chair. We’re proud to have our first ever Chair from a Neighbor Island: Jason Fujimoto of Hilo, an accomplished executive whose family-founded, employee-owned business is nearly a century old.

 

A hui hou – until next time,
Leslie signature

 

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Harry Tsuchidana

 

Harry Tsuchidana’s love of art would carry him far in life, but it would hardly be a straight path. His tenacity would take him far beyond his childhood in Waipahu, to the Marines, Washington, D.C. and eventually, New York City. Now 84 years old and a successful abstract artist, Harry still creates with the same urgency and passion that fueled him early on.

 

This program will be rebroadcast on Wednesday, June 21, at 11:00 pm and Sunday, June 25, at 4:00 pm.

 

Harry Tsuchidana Audio

 

Download the Transcript

 

Transcript

 

In all the years that I’ve been painting, I took some standing eight counts. Standing eight. It’s a—it’s a base—uh, it’s a boxing term. When you get beaten up, you get a standing eight count. I took several of those. But I—

 

Because people didn’t like your work? Is that what you’re saying?

 

Yeah; yeah. Or me.

 

That must feel terrible when you feel it represents you, and they reject it.

 

Yeah. Well … lot of actors are like that, too; right? They get rejected.

 

Yeah; yeah.

 

So, I just—uh, I just created it. Yeah. So …

 

So, the confidence, you still have the confidence and the—

 

Yeah.

 

And the—well, tenacity is what you also mentioned.

 

Yeah. And I’m still in the ring. I’m still in the ring.

 

Yeah. You got up.

 

Yeah. I got up. Still in the ring.

 

As a boy growing up in the plantation town of Waipahu on the island of Oahu, all he wanted to do was draw. As a young man living a Bohemian life in New York City, all he wanted to do was create art. Today, he wakes up every day and still draws…still creates art. Harry Tsuchidana. Coming up, on Long Story Short.

 

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

 

Aloha mai kakou. I’m Leslie Wilcox. How many of us can truthfully say that we are doing what we set out do as a child? That we had a dream, followed through with it, stayed the course through thick and thin, and achieved the respect of our peers in doing what we love? Abstract artist Harry Tsuchidana, 84 years young at the time of our conversation in October of 2016, has spent his life doing what he loves. While Tsuchidana’s “Stage Series…” a collection of abstract expressionist paintings, is celebrated for the use of straight lines that divide the canvas, Harry’s journey as an artist was hardly a straight path.

 

I was born in Waipahu . . . May 28, 1932. And I was born with an asthma, so I couldn’t play with rest of the other kids. So, I start to trace comics.

 

Tell me what your parents did for a living, how you were raised, what—

 

We had—

 

–were they like.

 

Yeah; we had a farm…we raised uh, eggplant and uh, bitter melon. That’s what we raised. And … my mother was a very strong—they were illiterate, they couldn’t write or read their own language. But they were strong-willed, and uh, religious too. And she always stopped and pray. So, I said to her, Did you pray for me? She said, You’re the first one. I remember that.

 

I understand for much of your life, your mother only raised you; single mom.

 

Yes.

 

Your dad had left.

 

Yeah.

 

What was that like? ‘Cause a lot of kids at the time had both parents in the house.

 

Right. Well, uh, she wasn’t uh … she saw me doing artwork, and she said to me, Do like—what you like to do best. And I—and she never said anything about the bottom line, how you’re gonna make a living. She said, As long as you like what you’re doing, that’s the most important thing.

 

 

And brother, sister?

 

I have a brother. And my sister left, you know, so just my brother and I, and my mother were there. So, uh, yeah, we worked on the farm. I always wanted to be an artist. Always. I told everybody I going be an artist. You know, so—

 

And what did they say to you?

 

I don’t know. They did better grade than me. I didn’t do too much grade in art, you know. Because I thought I was better than the instructor.

 

In art?

 

Yeah. That’s not a good thing to do. Yeah.

 

So, you didn’t get good grades in art?

 

In other works too. Yeah. But it didn’t bother me.

 

M-hm.

 

Yeah. Grade didn’t feel that I should … grade didn’t determine me, how good I am. You know. So …

 

You just always felt that you had this talent, and you were going to use it.

 

Right; yeah. Well, it’s really tenacity. You know, stick-to-it-ive. I was intrigued by uh, creating by adding and eliminating. You know. I did a—there was a landscape, and there were and there were junk trees, and there were nothing on the land. So, I just turned around and looked, and there was a mango tree. So, I put the mango tree there. So, I could move things. And that’s the thing that fascinated me. In fact, when I was seventh grade, I did a tree, Waipahu Elementary School. The tree is still there. I did a red and blue background. And the teacher said to me—her name was Mrs. Wong, she said, That’s not a tree. But, I said, that’s my tree.

 

Just as Harry Tsuchidana saw more than the literal tree, his vision for the future went beyond the eggplant and bittermelon crops in Waipahu. So what’s next for a young man who dreams of being an artist? How about the United States Marine Corps?

 

Now, tell me why you joined the Marines. That’s tough guy land; right? I mean … and tough women now, but …

 

Yeah.

 

Why Marines?

 

I saw a movie called Halls of Montezuma, with John Payne and Maureen O’Hara. It wasn’t like the movie at all. It was like Cool Hand Luke.

 

Really? So, you enjoyed the Marines?

 

I—I served only two years, you know. But uh, well, yeah, I really liked Marines. I developed alligator skin, you know. And uh …

 

Why did you develop alligator skin?

 

Because, you know, being the kid from Waipahu, you’re sensitive, everybody says something, you get hurt by it. You know, in the—in the service, you know, they kid you around, and you know, you develop that. You know. When I was stationed in Japan, in the enlisted men club, this person in charge said, You should have a show. I did some artwork. An—and then, I got a note from a second lieutenant saying that, You shouldn’t be in the infantry. You know, you should be in GS2. So, he transferred me. That changed my whole life, that second lieutenant.

 

Because you were made a GS?

 

Yeah. You know. And well, in the enlisted men club, there was a library there, and in that library they had a art in America. In the back of that art in America, they had all the list of art school, and I wrote to every one of ‘em. Rhode—Rhode Island School, California there was one, Chicago Institute. I wrote to National Academy in D.C.

 

Harry Tsuchidana was accepted at the National Academy, which helped him get settled in Washington DC. A short time later, Tsuchidana enrolled at the Corcoran School of Art. But it was while Tsuchidana was at the National Academy that he met an unlikely tutor who directed him to study the work and creative techniques of some prominent French painters.

 

There was uh, uh, a gallery named uh … Phillips Gallery. And there was a man, the doorman, you know, when you walk in, they click you. And he and I became good friends, and he taught me everything I know today. He said, When you look at—when you do artwork, measure the eye distance from here to here, from here to here, from here t—to here, and to study Pierre Bonnard. Because underneath all that color has the geometrical shape. And study Cezanne.

 

I think he was a dark Italian or Armenian. He knew everything, but he couldn’t paint. But he knew … what artist for me to study. He said, Study Seurat; he discovered the white light. If you—if you have the primary colors projected through a pinhole, it will create white. He taught me all those—uh, uh, as a … just coming out from the Marine Corps an—and uh, uh … all these things that they don’t teach you in school.

 

The indirect line that Harry Tsuchidana was following was beginning to straighten. The doorman directed Tsuchidana to seek out abstract painter Karl Knaths, with whom Harry became close friends. By chance, Tsuchidana befriended another abstract artist, Hans Hofman. Tsuchidana’s formal arts education was being supplemented with real-world advice and relationships with noted artists in the Washington D.C. area. Then one night, Harry Tsuchidana had a surreal moment…He believes that his late sister, who had died in an auto accident, spoke to him as he walked alone one evening.

 

I felt that the sister that died in 1945 is my guiding angel. I think she’s the one that talked to me in D.C. when I’m crossing the street. Move.

 

Go to New York.

 

Yeah; I think she’s the one that did it. I’m sure she’s the one.

I lived close to the White House, and I was crossing one night the Pennsylvania Avenue to go home at uh, was—at Lafayette Park. And a voice came to me, crossing the street. It said, You’ve gotta leave to New York. And I’m talking to the voice. I said, How I’m gonna do it? He said, Write it down, what you’re gonna do. You know. And put—put a sign on the bulletin board in school that you’re looking for a ride to go there. And someone wanted my apartment, so was everything he can—everything to take me to New York.

 

But you hadn’t finished art school.

 

No. That was—yeah, that’s right; I didn’t finish art school. First day in New York …, I see this guy. Hey, you’re from Hawai‘i. That was Jerry Okimoto. First day in New York. And uh, and h—he wrote his phone number into my—and that was also the key to go to the place that all the artists lived. And uh, and that’s how I got to meet all the artists.

 

They were all living in the same—

 

Building.

 

–building.

 

Yeah. Isami Doi was on third floor, Tadashi Sato was in the next unit, uh, Satoru Abe was on the fourth floor. You know, so Bob Oshikuru was on the first floor.

 

At the time, did you know that there was this small movement of Japanese Americans from Hawai‘i to New York? Did you know that?

 

I didn’t know that.

 

And you ended there, too, with them.

 

Yeah.

 

As one of the youngest.

 

Yeah; I was the youngest. I didn’t know; it just was there.

 

Artists following their muse, I guess.

 

Yeah. Uh, uh … amazing, how it turned out to be. Being the youngest, I was more of a listener and observer than a contributor. You know. And I learned a lot from them.

 

What did you learn?

 

Well … Isami Doi had an uncanny way of looking at art. He was very. And he had that view. Lot of the landscape had that view. And uh … uh … gotta say Sato was uh … I liked the way he used uh … uh, the form, and the space, and color. And uh, uh … Satoru Abe did the sculpture, he did the form, the intricate moving form that that sometimes I apply in my work as well. And Jerry … to me, he combined op—op art and … uh, pop art together. You know. And that’s—what a combination, he did that.

 

What about personality wise? How did you guys get along? What did you talk about?

 

Uh, well, we played cards a lot; Pinochle uh, and there was the corner bar, John’s bar, and we used to drink there often. You know. So, uh …

 

Well, these were the 50s, the mid-50s.

 

Yeah.

 

What was it like for a Japanese guy from Hawai‘i to be living there with other Asians? How did—

 

You know, I never—

 

Was there prejudice?

 

Yeah; I never thought of that, you know. I never thought that I was Asian and they were—you know. Uh, we just were there.

 

LESLIE UPPER #4:

You may have heard the phrase, “nature versus nurture” in the debate over which has more of an influence on how we’re shaped…our genetic makeup or our environment. In the case of abstract artist Harry Tsuchidana, his environment was clearly nurturing him as an artist…from his formal and informal education all the way to the guys with whom he played pinochle. He began expressing himself through photography and printmaking. And to make ends meet, Harry, as most struggling artists do, took a night job.

 

It was perfect for me to be at Museum of Modern Art.

 

What did you do at the Museum of Modern Art?

 

I was a night watchman.

 

You were the night watchman? Did they know you were an artist as well?

 

Uh, yeah, I’m sure. Uh, the personnel director, Anita Baldwin was because a lot of Hawaii artists were there, working there. And they had a good reputation of being a good worker.

 

I see. And so, at night, as watchman, you roamed the museum—

 

Yeah.

 

–looking at art?

 

I’m looking at art. And there was one time when Pablo Picasso had a show there. Lot of times, the janitors are Black people or Spanish, and they were discussing Pablo Picasso’s work. Yeah.

 

And so, you discussed it with them?

 

No; I just let them, you know, go. But I can watch the curator setting up a show. Lot of work. They tear down the wall, paint the color for the paintings. Oh, lot of work.

 

And what was your plan at that time?

 

To get married. Well, no. I don’t know; I just uh, uh … the excitement of being there, you know.

 

And you were working on art on the side?

 

Yeah, al—always painting.

 

Always?

 

Yeah.

 

Always.

 

It was after World War II that abstract art expressionism gained popularity in America, with artists such as Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko, and the aforementioned Hans Hofmann leading the movement.   Loosely defined as a style in which the artist conveys emotion through non-traditional means, abstract expressionism had its center in New York City. Harry Tsuchidana’s early abstract expressionist works had nature themes, with organic shapes. His later paintings, most notably his Stage Series, took on a whole different style.

 

 

What kind of art had you been doing all this time? You started when you were a little kid, and going through the Marines—

 

Mm.

 

–I’m sure you didn’t stop.

 

Yeah.

 

What kind of art had you been doing?

 

Nature motif, like weed it out uh, uh, sprouting. But in nineteen s—seventy-nine, I depart from that. I did uh, uh, uh, stage series. Maybe—can I demonstrate?

 

Sure.

 

I think it be a good time to do it.

 

Stage series; so, non-nature.

 

Non-nature. And uh, it’s uh … uh … uh, uh, I’m … okay. Now, this is … okay. This … uh, let’s see. Usually, I use T-square, but this will do. Okay. This … this distance here … took me a while to get that distance. The early ones, I made it higher. You see. This is eye level right here. So, my view is right here. This one is right there. And the vertical line … randomly, I put this here.

 

So, you’re actually drawing this, and people would look off the paper. I mean, you’re directing eyes off the paper—

 

Yes.

 

Above.

 

Yeah, above; yeah. Yes. Okay. Constantly, I’m aware of the distance. Constantly. Okay. Now, there’s two areas right there, and there’s another area. I’m breaking the space.

 

Hm.

 

That’s what it is. There’s an area there. Now, this is where the—right here … okay. I have a T-square at home—

 

M-hm.

 

–that my mother-in-law, when she passed away, was in that room.

 

Oh …

 

I use that every day. Okay. Now, this is the angle, right here. This is the angle. And you put another vertical line here … yeah, this. I did this ’79. To this day, I still do it. It fascinates me. And this angle right there. So, constantly moving. Dave Shoji do this every day; right? This way, he shift things. Yeah. So …

 

When he considers what to do in his volleyball games, you mean?

 

Yeah. You know, the way he look at things from an angle.

 

I see.

 

Same thing applies. It applies to—it applies to you; right?

 

Three-sixty looking at things, you mean?

 

Yes; yeah.

 

Except yours is on a linear plane.

 

Yes; yeah. Okay; this—this where it comes. After a while, I don’t think like that; I just do it. You know, so …

 

So, you’re trying to get people to look at, quote, all the angles.

 

Yeah; all the angles. And the color … uh … then that’s—that’s another level. You know, because you create a sensation when you put color next to each other.

 

I have alienated lot of people by doing the stage series.

 

Why is that?

 

Because there’s no handle. There’s no representation. So, uh, so just look at the lines. They don’t know what it is; right? So … so, that’s why it was important for me to demonstrate on that, to see the angle. So …

 

I’m sorry. I don’t understand when you say there’s no handles.

 

Yeah. Handle mean there’s no representation that you can say, Oh, that’s what uh, that—that’s a tree, or you know, whatever. So, the uh … the uh … uh, stage series, you know, there is no handle; it’s just lines.

 

So, you weren’t trying to make your art friendlier to the user.

 

Yes.

 

Right?

 

Right.

 

And why is that?

 

I don’t—

 

You figure, that’s my business, not yours?

 

Right. And I can reach more people, I felt applies to more people, the stage series. You know. Uh, and …

 

You can reach more people, even though they don’t know what you’re going for? Or were you trying to reach a different kind of person?

 

Yeah. Well, I don’t know. I just did it, uh … hoping that they will see what I’m doing. You know.

 

Harry Tsuchidana moved back to Hawai‘i for a short time, then to Los Angeles, finally moving back to Hawai‘i for good in 1972. By this time, the Bohemian artist, while still following his passion, had a family to support…his wife, Violet, and his son, Grant. And while Violet provided a steady paycheck by teaching, Tsuchidana worked a variety of jobs to help provide for his family.

 

Now, you became a father along the way.

 

Uh, uh, that’s when we came back from New York, 19—

 

How did that change you, having a son?

 

Well, I did all kind of uh, jobs to support him. Because my wife, you know, was schoolteacher, but she didn’t work, you know, for couple of years.

 

Well, tell me about your wife and how she felt about being married to an artist.

 

She was very supportive. In fact, she—you know, she was a schoolteacher, and she’s the one that supported me. And that’s the work that you see there. And she said, you know, Keep an eye on the ball, you know…so, she did … big help to me.

 

Because you didn’t go out promoting your work, and selling yourself. You—

 

Yeah.

 

You did art. That’s what you did.

 

Yes.

 

You’re more of a purist.

 

Well … well, thank you for saying that. Yeah; I just created, you know.
And I didn’t ask anybody for help. I did all—I did um, about seven job in one year. And my mother-in-law said to me, Gee, I didn’t know you knew many things.

 

What kind of jobs did you do?

 

Kamaboko.

 

At a factory?

 

Yeah.

 

Kamaboko factory?

 

All the—all the kamaboko factory. Um, uh—

 

What did you do at the factory?

 

You know the kamaboko, you cut the end. You cut the end. And Tupperware; I was—you know, the warehouse, stack the thing. And uh, um, Waikiki, there was—oh, I work as a dishwasher. And uh, what else I did? I did all kinda things. Yeah.

 

Did you … enjoy all of them?

 

I did. I had fun doing that.

 

Really?

 

I was exterminator at Sheraton Hotel.

 

Pest exterminator?

 

Yeah; exterminator.

 

Uh, you know, about one or two o’clock in the morning, the chef prepare for the next day. They put the salt, pepper. Ajinomoto, at the time, they used to put. Okay. And that gave me the idea that I put all the primary colors mixed together, and then take from there, and put a white … and mix the white. And all the colors will mix with the white, has all the colors. And that’s how I got the idea, from the chef.

 

But you know, when I was um, at the uh, Sheraton Hotel wor—working, two o’clock in the morning, I pushing the uh, fogger. And I’m thinking, One day, I’m gonna have a studio, and one day I’m gonna have a—you know, just paint. Walking three o’clock in the morning, and I still had that dream.

 

Still.

 

Yeah.

 

Harry Tsuchidana finally got that studio…he bought a condo unit for his family in Salt Lake on Oahu, and also bought a second unit to serve as his studio. Fittingly, a sale of his art to the Hawai‘i State Foundation on Culture and the Arts helped to pay for the condo units. He also had some very handy real estate advice from land developer and art lover, the late Pundy Yokouchi.
You lived in New York, you lived in L.A. And when you came back to Hawaii, how did you decide to live?

 

Well, I was very lucky to get the condo. You know.

 

How did you get the condo?

 

Uh—

 

In Salt Lake; right?

 

Yeah; in Salt Lake. I knew that when I was in L.A. Uh, Pundy told me that they’re gonna develop a condo in Salt Lake. And he said, Well, you gotta wait. When you come back, you have to rent a place, and then … you know, to get that Salt Lake. That … that architect of that building … was my wife uh, classmate husband, Mike Suzuki.

 

And you do art every day?

 

Every day.

 

Do you have a regular schedule?

 

Not a schedule. It’s uh … uh, I have a coffee, I read the paper first, and then coffee, and then did that. And watch TV later on. Okay.

 

Mm. So, you don’t wait for inspiration; you’re already working.

 

That’s Hollywood. Hollywood wait for inspiration. I chase the buggah. I don’t wait for the inspi—I come to them.

 

Do you think you’re still getting better at art?

 

I—I … uh, Bumpei Akaji once said to me, I’m over-productive, but I always believe that the more you do, the more you evolve. You know. And I feel I’m getting better, and better. Even though some people don’t think about it, but that’s okay. Just getting better, and better.

 

But you have the process, too.

 

Yeah; process.

 

So, is it more about the outcome, or the process.

 

It’s the process. You know, the Eastern philosophy is not hitting the target; it’s getting the bow and arrow, and let go.

 

M-hm.

 

You know. And then, the—uh, and the … uh, the scientific perspective is this way. But the East is this way. As you get older, you get wiser. Bigger.

 

Famed artist Pablo Picasso once said, “Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up.” Harry Tsuchidana, who, as a young boy, drew his tree, grew up and remained an artist…one who found happiness and the admiration and respect of his peers and the public in doing what he loves, and who still wakes up every morning and “chases the buggah.” Mahalo to Harry Tsuchidana of Salt Lake on Oahu for sharing his story. And mahalo nui loa to you for joining us. For PBS Hawai‘i and Long Story Short, I’m Leslie Wilcox. Aloha a hui hou.

 

For audio and written transcripts of all episodes of Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox, visit PBSHawaii.org. To download free podcasts of Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox, go to the Apple iTunes Store or visit PBSHawaii.org.

 

You know, you said you developed an alligator hide when you were in the Marines ‘cause of all the put-downs.

 

Yeah.

 

Have you developed that in art? When people don’t care—

 

Oh, yeah.

 

–much about—

 

Yeah, yeah.

 

–this or that.

 

Yeah. I—yeah, I learned to cope with that. Yeah. In fact, when people insult me, say, you know, they don’t like my work, I shake their hand, you know. I—

 

Do they actually say that to you? They don’t like your work.

 

 

Yeah. At my home my home. And one, you know, at—uh, at the show. So, I shake their hand. I said, I’m sorry I caused you a problem.

 

[END]

 

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Nainoa Thompson

 

As a young boy growing up in ahupuaa o Niu, now known as Niu Valley, Nainoa Thompson would go to Maunalua Bay with a family friend, Yoshi Kawano. “And we would go fishing. And that’s where my love for the ocean started, through fishing,” Thompson remembers.

 

In this interview from August 2015, Master Navigator Nainoa Thompson discusses sailing the Polynesian voyaging canoe, Hokulea, on a voyage around the world to raise awareness about the importance of taking care of our earth and the ocean that he loves.

 

This program will be rebroadcast on Wednesday, June 14, at 11:00 pm and Sunday, June 18, at 4:00 pm.

 

Nainoa Thompson Audio

 

Download the Transcript

 

Transcript

 

You know, we do things ‘cause we believe they’re right. We’ll take voyages or we’ll move forward because we believe that they’re necessary to be active. The worst thing in our time is ignorance, and it’s apathy, and it’s inaction. And especially now, ‘cause the world is changing so quick, you need to be in front of it, not behind. And so, you create an idea, you create a vision that is based on something like taking a canoe forty-seven thousand miles, going to twenty-eight countries, eighty-two ports around the only island we have called Earth in a way in which you hope in the journey that you can create awareness and better understandings and moving community towards being active. And so, inherently for the success of the mission of the Worldwide Voyage, it requires both a strong local community connected to a global community. Otherwise, you’re gonna fail your intention. I see myself as part of the responsibility to do certain pieces to make that happen.

 

Nainoa Thompson is a master navigator who has learned how to rely on nature and his instincts to guide the double-hulled Polynesian voyaging canoe Hokulea across vast stretches of open ocean to faraway destinations. And he’s using wayfinding skills on land, navigating political and diplomatic terrain to reach with the Hokulea across the globe to raise awareness about the importance of taking care of our Earth. Nainoa Thompson, next on Long Story Short.

 

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

 

Aloha mai kakou. I’m Leslie Wilcox. Nainoa Thompson was the first Hawaiian in over six hundred years to sail a canoe between Hawai‘i and Tahiti without the use of modern navigational tools. He has the vision to see an island thousands of miles away, and the courage to leave the safety of land, because he feels the long voyages connecting people will make the world a better place. That’s come from a lifetime of training and community, starting here in the East Honolulu ahupuaa of Niu, also known as Niu Valley, where Thompson grew up. From this place, his sense of community has grown to encompass the world.

 

When does a child learn values, caring for the Earth, caring for your place, caring for ohana, caring for your family, caring for elders? When do you learn that? And for me, it was very young. And that was because my two greatest teachers were my mom and dad. Here is my primary school, in my mom and dad’s house. It sets the course for my life. And right down the road, right here was my grandfather’s dairy. I mean, I’m so old that there were no supermarkets, no Costco, no Foodland, no nothing. There was nothing in Niu Valley. It was a dairy farm and a chicken farm, and Kuliouou had a meat house. Hawaii Kai marina was the largest fishpond in the State of Hawaii, and Aina Haina had a few stores. And my grandfather made milk, and it would be delivered in glass bottles at night. And the guy that would deliver it, his name was Yoshi Kawano, and he was the man that taught me kindness, he was the man that taught me compassion. He lived in an old wooden house. My mom and dad, when they would leave us with someone, we would always be with the Kawanos, ‘cause they were the ones that they trusted the most. And you felt that, you know, as a child. You were taken care of, you were nurtured, you were safe, and you were clean. And so, in Yoshi’s house, everything was Japanese. And so, you bathed in the furo, and you ate Japanese food. You could smell it in the house. You ate on futons and everything was Japanese. But he was my greatest ocean teacher, my primary ocean teacher. When I was about five years old, he gave me a fishing pole. Too bad for him to do that, because he gave me this little bamboo fishing pole, and then he was the one who delivered the milk at ten-thirty at night, worked all night ‘til eight o’clock in the morning. And then I would be sitting on his old wooden doorsteps with the fishing pole. And then, he’d put me in the car every single time, and we’d drive what seemed very far to me to Maunalua Bay right out here, and we would go fishing. And that’s where my love for the ocean started, through fishing, ‘cause Maunalua was so full of life. And so, that was classroom, that was school, and Yoshi became my definition of community that was caring, that kept you safe. We were safe as children here, and we could be left here on the land or with the community. It was a beautiful time. And Yoshi, in his house, everything was Japanese, and it was fully respected. He’s Nisei, so he was born in Hawaii. But everything outside of his house, once you stepped out the door, was Hawaiian. And so, this whole valley here, or this ridge Kulepeamoa, this is where he taught me about the spirits and the blue light. He talked about the Menehune when Kalanianaole was a coral road. And that that beautiful blending and mixing of who he was, of Japanese ancestry, but on a place that’s Hawaiian, and honoring both sides. It was hugely impactful on how I look at our amazingly beautiful mixing of many cultures around the world that created a fabric of a culture that is more based not on race, but it’s based on values. And that makes Hawaii powerful. Not just a nice place to be, but it makes it powerful.

 

In addition to Yoshi Kawano, the teachers whom Nainoa Thompson most often recognizes are Mao Piailug, one of the last traditional navigators from Micronesia; Nainoa’s father, Pinky Thompson; Lacy Veach, an astronaut from Hawaii; and Eddie Aikau. Eddie was an outstanding waterman and crew member on Hokulea, and was lost at sea when he went for help on his surfboard after the canoe capsized in 1978. When that happened, the dream of a Hawaiian navigating a canoe voyage to Tahiti could have ended.

 

My dad was saying that, you know, you guys, your community, you need to find Tahiti. Not for you, but for your people. And he was so forceful. You need to get up, get off your knees; you’re on your knees and you can’t see, you need to get up, and you need to find Tahiti. But with me, he said—interesting, you know. He pulled us all together, our leadership. After the loss of Eddie, we couldn’t even talk to each other. We were just so … overwhelmed with grief and anger, and rage, and denial. All that kind stuff. And blaming; yeah? And that’s the worst. And so, it was all of that, and so we couldn’t even talk to each other. Leadership was was pau, it was finished. But my father and guys like Abraham Piianaia, they said, Absolutely not. I mean, these guys have been through the war; right? They know what it takes to stand up and fight for your beliefs. And they knew it was a pivotal time. But dad was interesting. He gets us all together, he pulls us all together, he creates the idea of finding Tahiti. We all come together around the idea in one room at the Biomedical Building and so, we were together. Then we’re walking in the parking lot after the meeting, and we’re all solid and the vision’s clear, we’re gonna go. We’re gonna work hard, we’re gonna take years to do this, do it right, not wrong, but almost in an angry voice. In the parking lot, the light was so bright, ‘cause we were in a dark room the whole time. And he goes, Okay, Nainoa, you want to navigate? Who’s your teacher? ‘Cause Mau went home; yeah?

 

And he said, You won’t look for me, and you won’t even find me.

 

Yeah; and he was not gonna come back. Yeah. So, he was just so … frankly, disgusted with Hawaii. Because Hawaii was just not together. It wasn’t pono, and it was in conflict all the time. In the world he comes from, that is completely unacceptable. You know, anyway, make a long story short, Mau came back.

 

After Mau Piailug returned to Hawaii, Nainoa Thompson trained with him for the next two years, learning the paths of the stars and the movements of the winds and seas, and sailed to Tahiti. Over the next two decades, Nainoa would take the canoe over enormous expanses of ocean. Throughout the Pacific, he became regarded as a wayfinder on land, as well as at sea. In the year 2000, he was appointed by the Hawaii Probate Court to serve as a Bishop Estate trustee. This, after a scandal over gross mismanagement that had placed the future of Kamehameha Schools in jeopardy. Do you know how he found his way in these uncharted waters? This is his story.

 

You know, I never applied for the leadership job. I mean, actually, I don’t even know how it happened. But the agreement to become a trustee was really about service. It was really about if you’re gonna be asked, certainly, it’s honor and privilege to be a part of that amazing institution. And it is. It’s just so extraordinary. But it was a rough time. I remember it was the first month of being a trustee, and you walk in the door with four of your colleagues that you don’t even know. I mean, we come from very different worlds. Why they picked me, I have no idea. But I’m not in the business field, I’m not an attorney, I’m not in real estate development. I’m a fisherman. So, in the back of my mind, two things. The primary thing, you need to rebuild trust in trustees, ‘cause it was gone. It was evaporated. Nobody trusted the trustees. And the only way that you’re gonna do that is to have that community of five trustees come together. And if we fail to come together, we should quit and have the courage to do it. So, make a long story short. In the first month, I don’t know, I remember … it’s like where our office is, you walk around and go through this small little kitchen into the boardroom. And that boardroom has so much mana. And it’s like a brass golden doorknob, and I reach for the doorknob. I grabbed it, and then I pulled my hand away, ‘cause I was like afraid to go in the room, like I wasn’t ready. I didn’t know how to lead this. I didn’t know how to command. And then, I took a really deep breath, and I opened the door and walked into the room filled with people. They don’t trust you. And then, working with a group that you don’t know. It was a rough time. And then to really be able to collect and glue back the pieces of a broken trust, it was a rough time. And I didn’t feel I was adequate, I didn’t feel like I had the tools, I didn’t have the background. But you were asked; right? You were asked to do this. And so, I remember my response to that was, I got my assistant, Stella Kutaka, a beautiful lady, to help me. And I got pictures of all my great leaders, all of my great teachers, those who I would define as leaders that navigated. So, you had Yoshi on the wall, you had my father on the wall, you had Lacy on the wall, you had Eddie on the wall, you had Kala Kukea on the wall, you had Herb Kane. There was like sixty-something pictures, and I put ‘em around the whole room. And so, when I would be in a decision that was profound to a whole institution that’s on the governance side, it’s my job to set course for the institution, and I didn’t know how to answer it, and I’m getting pressured for the wrong reasons, and you feel it, I would stop the meeting. And I would go inside the room, turn on the light, and I would sit with my teachers. My leaders that have set the course for me for my whole life, and I needed them, ‘cause the vast majority of them are gone. And so, in the pictures were their story, their work, their values, and their relationship. So again, that is that community around the whole room.

 

And are you saying that after spending time with the photos that you were able to find a course?

 

Well, sometimes, the course, but the ability to be able to say, You gotta get up, you gotta go in that room, and you gotta make a decision. If you’re not completely clear too bad; you’re a trustee, and you need to decide. You can’t go absent. And so, I needed their counsel and their guidance, and so, I would remember their stories. You know, what would Mau do? What would Eddie do? What would my dad do? My dad was a trustee for twenty-one years. What would he do? And so, that was the smartest thing I ever did, was to get all my teachers and my leaders in the room with me, and I could sit with them in counsel by myself. Then, go back inside and deal with the rough decisions that you’re never, ever feeling that it’s one hundred percent the correct thing to do, ‘cause it’s complex decisions, and then working on. I always say this with a lot of humility, but huge respect for my colleagues. That was an amazing group of trustees. Diane Plotts was a land developer that built all these big hotels with Chris Hemmeter, which is not my thing that I would ever do. I thought, We are gonna have a rough time coming to find a place of common ground. But Diane in the end, she was really almost the spiritual grounding of the board, because she had such solid values that she went back to. And so, I’d go pester her and ask her, you know, Where do you come up with these decisions? It always went back to her growing up on a farm.

 

And having a center.

 

Where are values taught? Where do you learn them? How? When? Who? So, Diane in the end was really my guidance at the level on which, you know, she would look at me in the boardroom and say, Nainoa, vote. Vote. But no matter what position I ever took, even though it was contrary to her, she respected it. I love that lady.

 

And no Hawaiian blood in her at all.

 

No Hawaiian blood. But she is of the culture of values, she is one of the navigators. If there was some way to accurately measure Kamehameha’s influence on what’s happened in the last four years, it would be profound. Look around in the professional fields at how many are graduates. And the interesting thing about Kamehameha is that the graduates come home. You know, there’s a sense of place, there’s a sense of kuleana, and they’re making a huge difference. And if you think the last forty years was amazing; wait ‘til the next forty. I mean, they’re just everywhere. On our voyaging canoes, out of the twelve navigators that we have, eight are Kamehameha Schools graduates. The new ones, the young ones, the best ones. And so, I mean, their influence on voyaging is huge.

 

Nainoa Thompson says that as new generations of voyagers have been raised up over the years, so has their desire to undertake new challenges and achieve new goals.

 

Lacy Veach back in 1992, he and my dad, right down the road, he was telling my dad, and my dad was agreeing; We should take Hokulea around the world, the world needs to see Hokulea, Hokulea needs to learn about the Earth, we need to protect it. This was Lacy. And my dad was raising the question; Are we at the point where the Hawaiian community is ready to engage the rest of the Earth as a vibrant, strong, powerful culture and build relationships around the right kinds of values? That’s in 1992. We lose both of our great navigators; my father and Lacy. But it wasn’t until 2007 when we were … not me, it was Chad Paishon and Chad Baybayan were sitting exhausted on the Fukuoka dock in Japan when we sailed to Micronesia, to Mau’s island to honor him, then we went up to Japan to honor Yoshi and the many Yoshi’s that had voyaged to Hawaii. It’s two o’clock in the morning. These two poor navigators are exhausted, and they’re saying, Man, there’s gonna be two thousand people down here tomorrow morning at dawn, and they’re gonna want to touch Hokulea. So, you’re in a country that doesn’t know Hokulea, you’re in a country that speaks a different language, with a different history. They’re oceanic people, they’re amazing ocean people, but they don’t know this canoe. And yet, why would two thousand people be there? And they’re gonna be there. And then, they said, Why don’t we go around the world. And so, we voted on April 1, 2008 to do this. But there were a whole bunch of issues. Could you keep it safe, could you get enough crewmembers to do this, could you raise the funding? Could you build the community? And so, that was when we reached out to stuff like organizations that were just designed for this. And that was the East West Center. I mean, they’re designed for this, to help us create the ability to sail the voyage. ‘Cause we needed to earn the voyage; right? We needed to make sure that all these issues, safety and leadership, and crew strength that as borne from the idea, but we had to be responsible for the idea.

 

There are so many moving parts, like even fundraising and strategic planning.

 

Hokulea took eighteen months of dry dock. We made the promise that the canoe needed to be better than ever, that it can go around the world. We’re gonna take all rot and all damage off the canoe. Right now, the only thing left on Hokulea that’s from 1976 is one inch of the hulls, that go around the hulls. And everything else, by that decision, had to be changed. But the thing about community, we had twelve hundred volunteers that put in thirty-two thousand volunteer man hours. If we didn’t have that pool, we could never get Hokulea ready to go. But fundamentally, these are twelve hundred people who don’t know each other, that come together around an idea, and to get Hokulea ready. I mean, enormous; enormous human effort. You don’t lead that. You know what leads it? It’s the idea.

 

But the idea has to be shaped and nourished, and grown. At what point do you come in and feed it?

 

I come in, in the beginning. You know, I’m there to be responsible for the nurturing of the idea, and to measure it. And I guess my biggest leadership decision is whether we did earn the right to go. And during the voyage, I have the very difficult situation about saying whether it’s still worth it. Are you gonna call it off? Are you gonna ship Hokulea home? Are you gonna fail the mission? That would be my responsibility. And so, I do have to make that final call. But what I’ve learned over the years, and it’s through those great teachers, is that fear is best friend. You know, it’s the one that reminds you that you’re not ready. It’s the one that keeps you honest and tells you that the things you didn’t take care of. And fear, I find it in a number of ways, but I find it in my dreams. And I will wake up and just have these horrendous dreams of irresponsibility, not following through, danger, risk, the things that are really bothering me, they come to me. ‘Cause what you do is, your day is so busy and it’s so complicated that you can push this all behind you. But when you’re sleeping, you can’t do that. But then, I also find it in exhaustion. I get sick sometimes, I get more colds, I start to create that old kinda childhood excuses for not having to take responsibility. It never goes away. It’s still there. But what the voyaging has helped me do, which has been huge, it’s like there’s this door of fear that it’s like the Kamehameha Schools door, it’s like that golden handle that you don’t want to open. ‘Cause if you open it, you gotta be honest about all your inadequacies, all the things that make you less than perfect. But what I’ve learned through the voyaging—that’s why I love cloudy days. I love getting lost now. And I love taking my students. I hope they get like the worst doldrums, ever.

 

 

 

Because it’s in the blackness, it’s in the cloudiness, it’s in the times that aren’t easy, that you grow, that you become the best. And what I’ve learned, and primarily from—my primary teacher is Eddie. Eddie said, Open the door.

 

When Hokulea was rebuilt, the original deck was salvaged and remade into this table that sits on the lanai of Nainoa Thompson’s parents’ house in Niu Valley in East Honolulu. In May 2014, Hokulea left for Tahiti, the first stop outside Hawaii on the Malama Honua Worldwide Voyage, a journey dedicated to increasing awareness for the importance of taking care of our island Earth. Everywhere Hokulea travels, the canoe is joining with global communities to bridge traditional and new technologies to share the message of living sustainably.

 

The oceans matter. So, the Worldwide Voyage says that the greatest environmental challenge of our time is protecting the world’s oceans, because the oceans protect the world’s life. I mean, the next four breaths you take, three come from the ocean. Don’t mess with plankton. And so, when we look at the oceans and we look at the state they’re in, we need to be very concerned, because that’s gonna be the measurable defined environmental issue about what’s gonna happen to our next two generations. So, if that’s our story, if that’s our idea, then you make the connection with places that don’t know the canoe, but they connect to your values. So, when we look at sustainability, we talk about stuff that’s not really the solution. But when you think about what the Hawaiians did in this land, with their system of tenure, their sets of values, how they developed things like the ahupuaa system and how they learned how to manage resources on the islands, it’s so critical today, ‘cause embedded in that two thousand years was an enormous amount of very hard learning that took place to be able to find some sense of balance. And in the balance is where we find hope. And so, you have all these things emerging. You have leadership emerging, you have highly educated Native Hawaiians that are coming into the workforce, coming into professionalism, namely go into medicine, go into the doctorates programs, go into economics, go into education. It’s growing. What’s gonna happen in the next twenty years, there’s gonna be this merger between that history, that culture of living well on these islands, and with the professionalism which is required to make the adaptation for the way that we lived before, we’ll figure out a way for the second half of this 21st century. I think it’s vital. And you know, of course, it’s hard.

 

Since he attained the rare distinction of master navigator, Nainoa Thompson’s courage to open the door and walk through has been inspiring communities not just in Hawaii, but around the world, to achieve their dreams. Mahalo to Nainoa Thompson of Ahupuaa O Niu, for your community building on a vast scale, and for sharing your stories with us. And thank you, for joining us. For PBS Hawaii and Long Story Short, I’m Leslie Wilcox. Aloha, a hui hou.

 

For audio and written transcripts of all episodes of Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox, visit PBSHawaii.org. To download free podcasts of Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox, go to the Apple iTunes Store or visit PBSHawaii.org.

 

I don’t know about that. But the ones I listen to the most today are my two little children. When I add up the signs and what we know about traditional knowledge and indigenous knowledge about what’s going on, when I know that my two little children understand the Worldwide Voyage and the values and the beliefs in the context of their six-year-old world, when I know that they allow their father to go ‘cause they know that he believes it’s the right thing to do, but at the same time that this voyage is for them. At the same time, I don’t have to have their picture on the wall, because I can see them on a daily basis. I can touch them and feel them. So, it’s that beautiful world that I live in that has this legacy and this journey, and this history of extraordinary leaders that are defining your ultimate permission. And then at the same time, you can be at home and see your children, and making sure that they are believing with you too. And so, I’m not a leader, but I’m in an amazing place, and been on a lifelong journey of extraordinary leaders, and that’s that.

 

[END]



LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Jimmy Lee

 

Jimmy Lee was only 11 years old on December 7, 1941, the day Pearl Harbor was attacked. Watching from his family’s farm as the bombs dropped, Jimmy couldn’t begin to imagine how his world would change, or what his simple childhood would become after Hawai‘i declared martial law.

 

This program will be rebroadcast on Wednesday, May 10, at 11:00 pm and Sunday, May 14, at 4:00 pm.

 

Jimmy Lee Audio

 

Download the Transcript

 

Transcript

 

We had no radios or TV, and things like that; we didn’t. But let me tell you; from that moment on, when we were told that this was war, that’s it. My life, I thought, I changed. It was not fun anymore. And I think this is when I got to be a little bit—I think I grew up overnight. And because there was fear; from then on, it was fear. And so, you know, this is really something, you know, for a young kid just changing like that with all this. Never experienced, and it was not fun anymore.

 

Jimmy Lee was eleven years old on December 7, 1941, the day Pearl Harbor was attacked. He was outside, feeding his family’s pigs, when he heard the planes overhead. He watched from less than a mile away, as they dropped their bombs on ships in Pearl Harbor. Jimmy Lee, next, on Long Story Short.

 

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

 

Aloha mai kakou. I’m Leslie Wilcox. James Hoy Sau Lee, better known as Jimmy, was raised on a farm in an area known as Kalauao. Just upland of Pearl Harbor’s east loch, Kalauao was famous in ancient times for its freshwater springs and fishponds. Today, the name is gone, and the land is covered with buildings and roadways, but in 1930 when Jimmy was born, the stream still flowed and supported the family farms in the area.

 

You know, my parents were born here, but their parents were born in China. And of course, my father at the younger age went back to China, and lived there for a short while. But anyway, they came back here and they were rice farmers, long time ago. And then, they gave up rice and got a farm; pigs and cattle, chickens, ducks and things. It’s really not for commercial type, it was just for home use. Well, anyway, that’s what we had there in the little place called Kalauao.

 

Which is where?

 

It’s located between Aiea and Pearl City right now. And I must say it’s no longer on the map anymore.

 

What’s there now?

 

Well, right now, it’s all full of warehouses, apartment buildings, and stores, and commercial area. The whole area has been filled. Even the fishpond that was there before; it’s all filled up, it’s all warehouses there now.

 

So, this is on the Pearl Harbor side of Kamehameha Highway in Aiea side?

 

That’s correct. Yes; that’s right.

 

Oh …

 

And you could never recognize the place before, because it was so rural, our neighbors were not just next door. I mean, they were maybe about half mile away. We were all friends, but you know, that’s what it is; just local rural area.

 

So, your farm was for subsistence.

 

Yes, for subsistence; yes. M-hm.

 

And where did you go to school?

 

I was going to school in Aiea, maybe about mile or two away up on the hillside.

 

You had many siblings.

 

Oh, yes. Well, you see, my father was married to this woman. And of course, she had four kids. And then, when one of the older brothers was born, she died. Through some way, you know, they met my mother, and they got married. And of course, she cared for the four kids like her own, and then, of course, she had six. I’m number six in that family.

 

Birth order is important; right? What does that mean your responsibilities were?

 

Well, me and my brothers, you know, we had to take care of more or less the animals. The rough stuff. You know, and of course, the sisters were there to help my mother, you know, whatever. But we had to take care of the hard stuff, like the cows, milking the cows and feeding the pigs, and picking up garbage, and walking in the pond, catching ducks and chickens, and things like that. My parents were very strict. You had to stay home and do your work; feed the pigs, and you know. And that took up lot of our time during the day. Yes, we had other neighbors. They may have had some pigs or some chickens, but not like we did. And of course, they mind their own business. We were never enemies, but we were all friends, but you know, they had their own little thing. But again, you know, they were not right next door. But we did get together once in a while, more than just to say hello.

 

And what was your personality like as a boy?

 

You know, my older sister told me that I was a rascal little kid, full of mischief.

 

And you know nothing about this; right?

 

And I know nothing. And, you know, but we’re just playing. I mean, whenever we had spare time, we would do that. And, you know, we had our pigs, and you know, our pigs were our pets. You know, we would jump in and play with the pigs, and things like that, because you know, that was what it was. But we were a bunch of rascals and did a lot of things. When I was eight years old, I broke my leg. And I was in the hospital, in Shriner’s Hospital for six months. Because I would just play, run through the fields, the cane fields, running all over the place, playing with the dog or playing with the cows, you know. Running, running, just running all over the place.

 

Lots of energy.

 

Lots of energy.

 

So, your idea of mischief is just really having tons of energy and running around.

 

That’s right. And again, typical country boy.

 

Did you see a lot of activity at Pearl Harbor? You know, you must have watched the ships. Oh, no, you were a mile away, so you couldn’t see it.

 

Oh, no; no.

 

You could see it?

 

Oh, in the inner side of the harbor, there were so many ships. So many ships anchored in there. And of course, this was closer to my home. As I mentioned, about a mile away, but this was maybe a quarter or half a mile, all anchored there, from what I could remember. There were a lot of ships.

 

On December 7, 1941, Jimmy Lee started the day the same way he began every other morning of his young life, doing chores. It was the last time his life would be so uncomplicated.

 

Your life changed one day when you were just eleven.

 

Oh, yes. Well, I can say it really changed. Well, not for that very moment. Because it was so exciting when everything was happening that it was fun. I never saw anything like that in my life. And although I was feeding the pigs that morning, when I saw all of these things happening, wow, what is it?

 

What did you see?

 

Well, feeding the pigs, and all of a sudden, all at treetop level, here come these planes. I could hear the roar of the planes, with gunfire, canon fire, and looking up, and I saw the bombs on the plane and the big red circle. And so low that you could see the pilot. But as I looked, wow, there were planes all over the place. And curious as I was, I ran down to the railroad track and boy, I tell you, I never saw so much.

 

You ran to the action, rather than away from it.

 

Yes. Down the railroad track, and sat on the railroad track just like sitting on the front row of a theater to watch a show.

 

And didn’t think of calling anybody.

 

Didn’t call; my parents didn’t know where in the world I was. I could see all the way in Wahiawa, over the airport, which is, I could say, at least ten miles. Planes all over the place. And you know, for a youngster, I’d never seen anything like that. All the sounds, the explosions, the planes coming in, the gunfire, the smoke, the fire; it was really a sight. And was I scared? No. I don’t remember ever being scared.

 

Did any of the bombs come close to you?

 

The bombs didn’t come close at all. And in close to our home, there were many ships in the harbor that day. But none of them were being even harmed. But way out there, what I saw near the island, that’s where all the fire and smoke was. But you know, what’s happening to this? Everything was there, not in front of me. And so, you know, there was not a shot or anything like that fired my way. I didn’t feel in danger at all. So, I was just seeing all of those things, the torpedo planes being blown out of the sky, the explosions. I didn’t know that was the Arizona at that time, but you know, the explosions, something I’ll never forget. And yet at the same time, up in the sky, the planes are flying, all the gunfire, none of the planes are shot down. But none of those shrapnel, those shells ever fell on us, either. And that was really a show. And then, the other most exciting, as I mentioned, was the Nevada. I didn’t know that was the Nevada, but that was a ship coming in, burning and smoking. And seeing the dive bombers coming in, dropping the bombs, blowing up on the ship. And the ship don’t sink. And then, here comes the planes coming by strafing, and the ship still don’t sink. It just keeps moving, and it’s burning and smoking, and it finally disappears.

 

Oh …

 

You know what happened. And then, you know, finally … you know, time went by so fast. But it was finally announced that, Hey, we’re at war. Through loudspeakers or something; We’re at war, we’re being bombed by the Japanese, the Japanese troops have landed. And let me tell you, when that happened, that’s when fear came in. Oh, it was not fun anymore. We were so scared. So scared, didn’t know what to do. My parents finally found me, and we got on the jalopy, took off into the hills up in the valley.

 

Just to while time?

 

Just to get away. Yes.

 

Okay.

 

And to hide out in the caves over there. And you know, they had banana fields, and you know, we’re in the caves, we could see the planes up here, we could hear the bombs, we could hear the firing, but we could not see the attack. And then, it was over after a while. A very short while, it was over. There wasn’t any more planes in the sky anymore. So, we went home to get more supplies and everything. We went there, no more planes, the attack was over. But at the same time, all the fire, the flames, the boats. And I think one of the most, I guess, sights that was very sickening to me was seeing the boats going around and around. You know, fireboats, you know, trying to put out the flames. But later, we learned that they were picking up dead bodies and survivors.

 

Oh, I see.

 

You know, seeing something like that, and it’s something that you’ll always remember. And of course, all of that, the explosions going by. You know, when I saw one of the ships on the other side of the island, the first one to get hit; wow, what is this? But again, always thought it was a game. But it looked so real. And I can tell you honestly, I watched these torpedo planes come in, dropping their torpedoes, and of course, not knowing what it was. It was the Oklahoma that was being hit. But what was most exciting was when the planes came in and was hit by gunfire, seeing the flames coming out, the smoke, and it blows up in the sky. I was cheering. I remember jumping up and down. Wow, they shot down another plane. Not knowing what it was. But it was impressive, you know, for a young kid. But let me tell you, from that moment on, when we were told that this was war, that’s it. My life, I thought, I changed. It was not fun anymore.

 

On the afternoon of December 7, 1941, the Territorial Government of Hawaiʻi surrendered its authority to the U.S. military. The new military governor issued laws that severely restricted the freedom of residents of Hawaiʻi, instituting blackouts, curfews, and food and gas rationing. Soldiers enforced the restrictions.

 

When we came back down, there were soldiers all over the place. And this is when, later on we came under martial law, when the military was under control. And that’s where they told us, You folks will obey, you will follow our rules. And so, this is what it is, so we were scared of them. You know, these young soldiers, things like that. And I, for one, was scared of the military. But at the same time, we were very happy; we felt safe with them. You know, I can tell you that military really shaped me up. Because, you know, I was arrested so many times for doing things wrong, which to me, I mean, it’s nothing wrong at all, because I’ve been doing this all the time. Like going into the water, catching crabs, catching fish, and digging clams. Because that’s our food. But when martial law came, you could not step into the water.

 

Pearl Harbor.

 

That’s right; Pearl Harbor. And for myself, I know, I’ve been in there, I got arrested many, many times for violating, for trespassing. But because I was a little youngster, they let me go. But don’t do it again. Yes, okay. So, they turned their back. We were in there, we had to eat. That’s it. But martial law was very strict, and we lived in fear. You know, it was about three years that we had that. But I’m gonna tell you, I think the one that scared the daylights out of me, and I still remember this. You know, my job was to milk the cows in the morning. Hey, you know, we had to eat, so we had to milk the cows. And we had curfews. And cows don’t believe in curfews.

 

You know, I remember taking the cow out of the bushes that one morning before curfew time, and you know, you’re walking through the bushes and you hear a noise. And you know, a soldier met me with a bayonet.

 

Wow.

 

Sticking at my throat. Boy, I tell you. A tall soldier, and I think I was maybe only two or three feet high, with a cow, with a rope. And a soldier to meet you with a rifle, with a bayonet sticking at your throat. That young soldier told me he was so scared; he didn’t know whether I was friend or foe. And I looked different. You know. And he was so scared. And at the same time, he said, you know, with all the talk about the Japanese troops, and he thought I was one of them.

 

M-hm. So, he was sort of apologizing to you.

 

Well, yes, in a way. And I said, but you know, they’re small, but they’re not that small.

 

You said that, as a kid?

 

That’s right. I tell you, I remember saying that. And you know, maybe not exactly, you know, but basically that’s what it is. But I was so scared. But you know, he got to be our friends. And you know, because you know, their camp was right next to our property. But later on, when we got to know him and, you know, as the war progressed, they kinda looked the other way. You know. But that was very interesting. But that’s something I will never forget. You know, as an eleven-year-old kid, with a bayonet sticking at his throat.

 

Wow.

 

But you know, with the soldiers over there, we felt safe. And then at the same time, you know, they kinda let us into the camp. They knew who we were, and they could trust us. They knew we were not enemies or anything. So, they kinda bend backwards a little bit for us. And you know, for myself, I really liked the soldiers after a while. You know, and they were real nice to us.   And you know, that’s what it amounts to.

 

They just happened to be camping right next to you, too.

 

Yes; right next. You see, at one time, they used to have what we call barrage balloons, you know, up in the sky with cables dangling on it to prevent, to deter Japanese planes from diving, you know, from dive bombing. And the whole perimeter of Pearl Harbor used to have that. But that’s what it amounts to.

 

Right.

 

You know, and so this were the little detachments they had. And you know, I can say one of the things that they had was that we used to go out there and dig clams, and crab, and we taught them how to eat. And we had rationing. And they used to have lot of chickens and steaks. You know, and boy, we would kinda envy them. But at the same time, because of our pigs, they let us pick up the garbage from them. And you know, many times in the garbage, we had steak and chickens, wrapped up pretty well.

 

Oh …

 

And boy, I tell you, we ate ‘em. We ate lot of steak and chicken. They couldn’t give it to us outright. I think they hid it in the garbage. But we ate lot of chicken and lot of steak. But we were friends. We were friends.

 

Were they friends with everybody in the area?

 

They were; they were, in the area. And again, one of the things I do want to mention, though. You know, our neighbors were a little far apart, but when we had martial law, everybody came together to help each other. I didn’t realize we could even do that, but you know, we had to dig bomb shelters. They were out there to help us dig bomb shelters. They made sure that everybody was being cared for. You know, we shared things. I tell you, the community came together and really helped out. And the soldiers were there. And again, they were there as protectors, but then at the same time, you know, they were friends. You know. And so, that’s one of the big things, one of the changes that really got me, is how the community got together. You know, the Hawaiians, the Puerto Ricans one side; the Hawaiians, the Filipinos on this side. They were just great.

 

Jimmy Lee’s boundless energy continued to get him into trouble with the law. His parents came up with a solution.

 

My parents always said that I needed to have discipline. And because I was getting arrested and getting into problems all the time, you know, they sent me to ʻIolani School.

 

That was your prison?

 

Yes.

 

Oh, my goodness.

 

Because it was an all-boys school. You know, all boys.

 

But it was far away.

 

It was far away; yes.

 

And transportation was probably an issue; right?

 

Yeah; it was transportation. But you see, my sister married an alumni from ʻIolani. And through some maybe pull or recommendation, I was able to go to ʻIolani.

 

And did you live in town?

 

Yes; she lived in town, in the Chinatown area. You see.

 

And your parents paid the freight for you to go to ʻIolani?

 

Well, I think because my brother-in-law, you know, he was a photographer. And his father was a minister. I think they footed everything, because my father could not do that.

 

Did they knock that rascal spirit right out of you?

 

It sure did. It sure did, because again I say, martial law was still there. And this is where the teachers—you know, during the years at ʻIolani, it was all boys, and they were strict. You know, and the families that we hadi, the kids were not like me. They were not like me. They were you know, I think little more refined, I think, where I had to behave.

 

They probably never had taken care of pigs or anything.

 

That’s right; they never did.

 

I wonder if your parents, after having seen you arrested by the military, and you would go back and do the same thing again, even though it wasn’t a terrible crime, they probably were afraid that you’d really run afoul of the military.

 

Oh, yes. And you see, when they first sent me out there, my aunt lived next to Oahu Prison. And they were always saying, We’re keeping you close to the prison because you’re gonna end up in there.

 

And yet, when you think about it, you know, your crimes were not terribly serious.

 

That’s right; they were not.

 

Even though martial law ended three years later, Jimmy Lee stayed at ʻIolani, where he graduated and went on to the University of Hawaiʻi at Manoa. He was drafted into the Army, and eventually made the civilian branch of the military his career. Throughout much of Jimmy’s life, there was a mystery that he kept trying to solve. On the day of the attack, his best boyhood friend, Toshi Yamamoto, had disappeared.

 

When I came back that morning, December 7th, you know, this was around midday already. And I went and ran out by the plum tree, yelling out, Toshi, Toshi, where are you? There was no answer. I ran under the house where we played Hide-and-Seek. Toshi, where are you? None. I ran up to the house, where I used to sleep. The house was empty. From that day on, December 7th again, never saw him. During all those years when I was in school, even when I was in the military, I used to write little notes. You know, Where are you? Hoping that someday, you know, he would come back, and maybe an old man like me would come up and say, Hey, I’m Toshi. But that never did happen. And when I spoke about him over the radio on December 7, 2012, that’s when his son called and said, You’re talking about my dad. Oh, I tell you, that really struck me. I could not even say a word anymore; I was speechless. When I finally met his son, that’s when the son told me a little bit more about his father. And that they were at gunpoint forced to leave, they lost everything, but they were never imprisoned, and never threatened. You know, and he was allowed to work, and things like that. But you know, one of the things about this for myself, you know, when it started like that, it was not only you know, the feeling, of witnessing the attack, but I lost my friend, my best friend. I asked him, Where is your father? Buried in Kaneohe. So, on December 14th, I went out searching for the grave, and I finally did, sure enough. But I tell you, one of the things I had to do was just that I had to stand over the grave, and that was him. And I tell you, you know, it was raining. I don’t know whether it was rain coming in my eyes or not, but as far as I’m concerned, I had tears in my eyes. Well, I finally had to say, Toshi, after seventy-one years, I finally found you. You know, and so long, and goodbye.

 

At the time of our conversation just before the seventy-fifty anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attack, Jimmy Lee was getting ready to mark his eighty-sixth birthday. Mahalo to Jimmy, a Kaneʻohe resident, for sharing stories that we hope will live on in commemoration of many lives; lives that were lost, and lives that continued but were changed forever. And mahalo to you, for joining us. For PBS Hawaiʻi and Long Story Short, I’m Leslie Wilcox. Aloha, a hui hou.

 

For audio and written transcripts of all episodes of Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox, visit PBSHawaii.org. To download free podcasts of Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox, go to the Apple iTunes Store or visit PBSHawaii.org.

 

His son tell me that his dad worked hard. And one of the most remarkable thing about this is that the son, he’s with the community college in Ewa right now, and he’s never gone back to the old house before. So, on December 20th, I took him and all the grandkids, and sat them down, and told them the story. And the kids, ages nine to fourteen, all wanted to hear the story about what it is. And sitting on the seawall, I was able to point out where their grandpa and I played, in the trap where we used to catch fish. That’s where we used to go out in the mudflats, you know, digging clams and things. And with that, I tell you, I was very, very happy to be doing this.
[END]

 

 


LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Shep Gordon

 

Shep Gordon’s career as a talent manager may have started by chance, but his knack for creatively developing and promoting his client’s signature image has earned him a reputation distinctly his own. Throughout his career, Gordon has cultivated close relationships with rock stars, Hollywood actors and culinary legends founded on trust and compassion. However, navigating the often tragic world of fame took a toll. He found solace on Maui, where he has spent the past 40 years embracing the culture and helping to shape Hawai‘i’s unique fusion cuisine.

 

This program will be rebroadcast on Wednesday, April 19, at 11:00 pm and Sunday, April 23, at 4:00 pm.

 

Shep Gordon Audio

 

Download the Transcript

 

Transcript

 

I read about Colonel Parker, who managed Elvis Presley, coming to Hawaii and renting some beach houses in some story. A journalist had done a story. And I had a good friend here, Uncle Tom Moffatt, who I called and said, Do you know those houses? And he said, Oh, yeah, I rented it for him ‘cause I did the show.   So, it was at a time when I was smoking two or three packs of cigarettes a day, and I had a fairly large office, and I offered anyone who wanted in my office to quit smoking to come with me to Hawaii. And I rented on Kahala Beach the houses that the Colonel had rented. And … we all landed, we threw our cigarettes out the window. I’m sorry to say, we weren’t that environmentally conscious at the time. And … I ran into the wrong crowd in Honolulu. It was like being back in Hollywood; it was all the same, for me, from my view. I ended up going to the Imperial Hotel every night to a dive bar in the bottom room where … who knows what was going on. And I told Tom; I said, You know, I want to try another island. And he had, I think, Kalapana playing in Maui. And in those days, it was a hydrofoil. So, I said, Can I come? And he said, Sure, I’ll let you sell tee-shirts. So, him and his son Troy and I went over to sell tee-shirts. Hydrofoil landed in Maalaea Harbor, I put one foot on the dock, and I turned around to Uncle Tom and Joe Gannon, who has also ended up living on Maui and owns Hailiimaile General Store and Joe’s Bar & Grill, and I said, I’m living here the rest of my life, I just found my home.

 

Shep Gordon has called Maui home since landing in 1974. That didn’t keep him from becoming one of the best-known names in Hollywood as a successful talent manager, film agent, and producer. Shep Gordon, 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. Shep Gordon built his career on managing legendary music artists, while becoming one of Hollywood’s most successful agents. Throughout his career, he has built a reputation as being friendly and compassionate, qualities that he attributes to his father and the unusual circumstances he endured at home, growing up in the 1940s and 50s. At the time, he thought it seemed normal, until he wrote his memoir, They Call Me Supermensch, based on a documentary film that was made about his life. Writing this book opened the door to a deeper understanding of his parents.

 

I started in Queens, New York, which was a suburb of Manhattan. And it was an immigrant town, mostly Eastern European, lot of Jewish, lot of Italian, some Latino. And for the most part … very little English spoken. You’d hear Italian on the streets, you’d hear Yiddish, you’d hear Russian, languages that I didn’t quite understand. And then, we moved from there in the first wave of suburbia. It was a moment in time; it was a place called Levittown. It was the first real middleclass suburban community built outside of New York City. And it set the model for a lot of communities, where people who had been used to living in apartments were starting, normally first generation, sons and daughters of immigrants who were in the middleclass and starting to make some money, and could move their families to a place that had a backyard, good schools, and could start to take advantage of everything America had to give.

 

Did your family feel like they were really moving ahead?

 

Oh; it was an amazing time. Really an amazing time. I mean, it’s all the things that you hear about America and about the dream of America, and what America can do. This was the embodiment of that. These were proud people who were so happy that they were in America, taking advantage of what America could give you. And for most families, it was their first home, it was their first car. It was the first time that a kid took a bus to school instead of walked.

 

Your dad was a bookkeeper who didn’t speak much.

 

Right.

 

Your mom was a rigid woman who allowed a dog to attacked you to have the run of the house.

 

Uh-huh. I think, you know, in the Jewish community, remembering where they came from, remembering their heritage; these were all people who were affected by the Holocaust. So, things were very black and white. Even though my parents weren’t affected, their parents were. Then they had a depression. So, these were people who had to live through serious consequences, their actions had serious consequences. And I think she just viewed the world differently. And I know a lot of my friends who were Jewish, it wasn’t dissimilar, that their mothers were very strict, you lived in their vision of life, or you didn’t really exist, almost. I never thought that she hated me. It was her path. And I had a brother who ended up being a veterinarian, who loved animals, and wanted to be a vet, and had a dog that I couldn’t get along with. And … too bad.

 

And you lived mostly in your bedroom, because the dog was running around.

 

Yeah; yeah. Which in some ways ended up, I think, being a huge advantage to my life. At least, I tend to make it that way. I was scared to death to leave the room, ‘cause the dog would bite me. So, I spent a lot of time alone. I had to entertain myself, I had to be comfortable with myself, and I had to create my own world that I could live in. And that’s really, I think, how I ended up making my living, which is creating a world. That’s what I did for my artists.

 

Did you listen to music?

 

I didn’t really listen to music.

 

You didn’t have digital devices at that time.

 

I didn’t have a TV. No; it was a lot of reading. And a lot of being in my brain to fantasize. And there wasn’t that much time at home. I’d go to school, and then I’d play basketball ‘til it was dark. And then, I’d come home.

 

Did you eat with your family?

 

Very rarely. Just ‘cause I was scared of the dog getting loose.

 

What about your dad; what did he have to say?

 

My dad was the provider for the family. And he was always very compassionate with me; lot of love. And I would say to him once in a while, Why would you let Mom do this? Why would you pick a dog over me for freedom in the house? And he would say, Would you like me to leave, and leave you alone? I’m not gonna do that unless you want me to. So, we just move on, make it work. I don’t want to paint a picture of depression, ‘cause it wasn’t. It just was the way it was. I didn’t know any other life. This was the life I knew, and I didn’t really think about it until after I left home. And I always said, you know, my first day of college was the first day of my life. Because then, I could live my life in a free way.

 

I know you’ve described your dad as compassionate. And then, when it came to the way you did business later, you talked about a compassionate form of doing business.

 

Right.

 

Is that because of your dad?

 

I think so. When I was writing the book, I had never really thought about it. I had always thought that I’d lived in reaction against my mother. And when I wrote the book, I realized that, in fact, my whole life was really following in my father’s footsteps.

 

How was he compassionate?

 

He stayed; took care of us. Never heard him say a bad word about anybody. Helped anybody he could. I would hear stories from his friends when I’d meet them about who he was as a young man. Just was always kind to everybody, always had a good word. Just very compassionate in a very simple way; not in a big way. But the choices he made at every turn were always compassionate.

 

When Shep Gordon left home for college, he never looked back. He chose the life path that took him directly to the heart of the 1960s American Cultural Revolution.

 

So, you would go from a pretty regimented, strict lifestyle to pretty much hedonism.

 

Oh, completely; Animal House.

 

What was that transition like? You finished, you went to college.

 

Yeah. College is where I really started to develop a personality. I went to the University of Buffalo, and started to have social interaction with people, started to find a path and way that I could support myself. Started to realize what my skills were and weren’t, and started to find a way to get through life.

 

And I turns out, you had a lot of social skills, but they hadn’t really been cultivated in your childhood.

 

I think maybe part of it was that I didn’t have a social life as a child, so I tried so hard to get one and was so excited by it. And didn’t bring maybe the selfishness that develops if it’s just part of your life. So, I was so grateful, and worked very hard to try and be included. Which showed itself in service.

 

And you’re a product of the time, which meant sex, drugs, and rock ‘n roll.

 

Sex, drugs, and rock ‘n roll. And some social consciousness. You know, it was the Vietnam days, so I participated in burning draft cards in ROTC buildings, and doing all those things. And then, Kennedy died, which was a very powerful moment. I remember I was a freshman at the University of Buffalo.

 

Did you feel your future was limitless? Did you have that sense of, this is a new game, and I can be anything I want to be?

 

Absolutely. Yeah. I think that period in American history was an amazing time period. Not only you could be what you wanted to be, but you could say what you wanted to say, you could act out your feelings. I lived during the generation where if we didn’t like something, we protested against it, we took action. I went to New School for Social Research, and dropped out after a few months. But I went for sociology. And at The New School, a recruiter came from the probation department in California, and I was a sociology major, which qualified me. I had my bachelor in sociology, which qualified me for the job. And I always wanted to go to California; I was a Hippie. And there was that song, Wear flowers in your hair in San Francisco. I said, That’s gonna be me.

 

Although, it seems like an odd choice for a Hippie to be a probation officer.

 

It fit into being on a white horse, saving the day. Social liberal. It was the same thread for me as burning your draft card. And in those days, Reagan was the governor of California, and had a reputation for being very oppressive to Hippies. Which I was one of. And I thought I would go out, you know, on my white horse, save the kids in the probation department.

 

But you had a tough time in that job, and it didn’t last.

 

It didn’t quite work. Yeah.

 

And then came an accidental choice of a place to stay on the road that changed your life.

 

Luckiest day of my life. I had about three or four hundred dollars left in my pocket, and I drove into Hollywood. And there was a vacancy sign at a motel, and I checked in. It was late at night. And in those days, I lived a drug-induced life at many times. So, I took a drug at that time, and sitting out on my balcony of this little room, thinking about how horrible my life is, and oh, my god, I just got beat up in the probation department. And I heard someone screaming down at the pool, what sounded to me like screaming. And I get down there, and I separate the two people. And the girl punches me in the mouth. And they were making love. And goes crazy, you know, like, Get outa here, who do you think you are? And I go back up and now, I know my life is ruined. I’ve been beat up twice the first day in LA. And when I went down to the pool in the morning, the girl turned out to be Janis Joplin.

 

Wow.

 

She was sitting around the pool.

 

With?

 

This amazing collection of like, Mount Rushmore rock stars. There was Jimi Hendrix, the Chambers Brothers. During the course of the next few days, Jim Morrison showed up, Bob Dylan’s road manager, Credence Clearwater Revival.

 

So, this was a hangout for the rock set.

 

This was a hangout. It ended up being where Janis actually died a couple of years later. And I started selling drugs, which was the only way I could support myself. Not my proudest moment, but it’s what I did. And one day, Jimi Hendrix said—who was customer. Thank you, Jimi.   And he said, What else do you do for a living? And I said, Well, you know, I don’t really know what I’m gonna do. And he said, Well, you know, if the police come and ask where you got the money to pay the rent, what are you gonna tell ‘em? And I said, You know, where I come from, the police don’t ask. And he said, Where I come from, if you wear a new watch, you’d better be able to tell the police where you got the watch. And he said, Are you Jewish? And I said, Yes. And he said, You should be a manager. I said, Okay, who do I manage? And Alice Cooper was living in the Chambers Brothers’ basement at the time. He wasn’t called Alice Cooper; he was called the Nazz. And they said, I think I know this guy. So, Alice tells the story of Jimi coming in and saying, I found a Jew to manage you.  And forty-three years later, I’m still managing him.

 

Shep Gordon’s success with Alice Cooper opened new doors for him. His genius for understanding how to market and promote his clients led them to superstardom. But that wasn’t always a good thing for either him, or the people he was managing.

 

You know, you were a manager, which by definition means you were, you know, watching out for things. But during this time, you were drugging and drinking, and had long nights with sex with strangers.

 

Yeah.

 

How did you manage?

 

Probably would have been much more effective if I hadn’t been. So, I did as well as I could do, given my lifestyle. But I didn’t really have a personal life. So, this was my life. And parts of it were attractive to artists. I was different than other managers. I sort of lived in their genre more than other managers did. I always thought that my job was to try and understand what the connection was between an artist and his audience. And if I could understand that connection, then to try and create a historical moment that really reinforced that connection. In Alice’s case, the common thread of his audience was, parents hated Alice. These were kids going through a period of rebellion, which every kid goes through. We wanted Alice to be that focal point of rebellion, to be that badge. The parents saying, You can’t go to the Alice concert, and the kid going, I’m going, he’s my favorite artist.

 

And everything the others thought was reprehensible and horrible was wonderful business.

 

Oh; my god. It was the greatest thing for us.

 

You once said you probably knew more celebrities than celebrities do.

 

Yeah. I was very, very lucky that way. I think part of me is a groupie, so I get attracted to the celebrities.

 

And yet, you came to a place where you saw that the fame that you created was toxic.

 

Yeah, yeah; very obvious. It became very obvious, very fast. It was a strange crossroad to be in. I had gotten to the point where I was very successful at what I did, it was giving me an amazing lifestyle, it was giving me a life that I had never even dreamed I could approach. You know, I was meeting presidents, I was driving in Rolls Royces. So, to give it up was something I really didn’t want to do. At the same time, I became aware that the better the job I did, or the bigger the celebrity was that I knew, the harder they fell. And it was very tough. The way that I dealt with it was to try and be honest. So, I would tell my clients when they’d come in, and all of them thought I was crazy, they’d all laugh, never had one who took it serious. But I would tell them; I would say, You know, if I do my job perfectly, I could kill you. Luckily for you, I’m probably not gonna be perfect, but I’m really good, so you’re gonna get maimed.

 

And that was all about fame?

 

All about fame. And they all got maimed.

 

So, there’s nobody that you represented who could handle the fame and the attention.

 

You know, I don’t want to paint this dark picture of suicidal, ‘cause I don’t mean that. You know. But you lose your life with fame. It’s so hard to stay on your path. There’s so many things pulling you, and celebrity becomes so important. It takes you off your journey. And it’s very hard to stay on your journey and stay positive, and stay happy. You start to dehumanize yourself for your career. And those are tough. There’s nobody who really survives. You learn how to adjust to it, but it takes you off your path. You know, for some, it’s drugs and liquor, which lead to, you know, horrible stuff. For some, it’s isolation. And the higher it gets, the harder it is. You know, I watch Alice, who I think has handled it as good as anyone I’ve ever seen, and he’s just found a way to get through it, but he’s nice to everyone.

 

But he’s had a serious drinking problem.

 

Oh, there’s nobody who hasn’t hit the wall, that I know.

 

Who’s famous, in your experience.

 

Yeah. I don’t know anyone who hasn’t had a crisis moment. For Alice, it was rehab, which didn’t work, and then it was losing everything. And usually, it is losing everything.

 

Shep Gordon’s life started to change when he met a famous French chef named Roger Verge. Shep’s new interest in food and cooking gave him the idea of creating Celebrity Television Chefs, and his new chef clients started becoming stars as national interest in cooking shows took off. In the meantime, Shep Gordon’s chef friends on Maui were not getting any of the benefits of the new culinary trends.

 

You’re credited with inventing the celebrity chef concept.

 

That’s my proudest moment, probably. I had started representing chefs, and signed most of the great chefs in the world, ‘cause no one else did it.

 

Did you think of, Bam!, Emeril Lagasse?

 

We worked a lot together. Yeah; yeah. The chefs weren’t friends. I lived in Maui, so I knew the guys, but they were acquaintances. The Hawaiian chefs were friends. Mark Gelman was one of my best friends, Peter Merriman was a great friend, Roy Yamaguchi. These are the guys that I cooked with, laughed with, you know, gloated about how lucky we were to be in Hawaii. And I knew, although no one ever busted me, here I was representing all these great chefs, but yet having dinner at my house for the local chefs, and I wasn’t representing any of them. And the question, How come not us? … although never said, permeated the room. And I realized I had to try and do something.

 

That’s just a Hawaii thing. It’s not spoken, but it’s there.

 

But it’s there; yeah. And they were all so gracious; nobody ever even made a sarcastic comment about it.

 

Yeah; there’s not a feeling of entitlement.

 

Yeah; at all.

 

But there’s a fairness question.

 

Exactly. And I felt it very strongly. So, I spent a little time in my Jacuzzi, and you know, my aloneness thinking, How do I do something that isn’t just a show? What can I do that can really help ‘em? Three of the chefs that I represented started movements. Mr. Verge had started nouveau cuisine, which was the first real culinary movement. And Dean Fearing and Robert Del Grande had started Southwest cuisine. And these were culinary waves that went across the world. So, I called up the guys and I said, Listen, I want to try and do something with you. I have this idea that maybe we can start a movement. I don’t know what it is, but I think Mr. Verge will come in, I think Dean will come in, and they’ll tell us how they started a movement, and maybe we can figure out how to do something with all of you, and the weight of everybody. And they came and lectured, and out of it came Hawaiian Regional Cuisine, which was pretty phenomenal.

 

Wow. So, do you spend a lot of time at restaurants on Maui today?

 

Yeah; oh, yeah. I love going to restaurants. I think one of the things to me is so exciting, is to see this new generation of chefs who were trained on Hawaiian Regional Cuisine.

 

You have a very nice home to this day.

 

I’m in the same house. Yeah; yeah. And I love it more every day. And my blood pressure on Maui is twenty-five, thirty points lower than it is on the mainland.

 

And you’ve done some hard living.

 

I’ve done some hard living.

 

And you’re healthy?

 

I am; yeah. Thank you, doctors.

 

And thank you, Maui.

 

And thank you, Maui.

 

Musician manager, Hollywood agent, and culinary enthusiast, Shep Gordon has done it all, while living on Maui. Mahalo to Shep Gordon of Kihei, Maui for sharing your life stories with us. And thank you, for joining us. For PBS Hawaii and Long Story Short, I’m Leslie Wilcox. Aloha, a hui hou.

 

For audio and written transcripts of all episodes of Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox, visit PBSHawaii.org. To download free podcasts of Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox, go to the Apple iTunes Store or visit PBSHawaii.org.

 

When you look back at a very successful life in many ways, do you have regrets?

 

Yeah; I would have liked to have my own children. I wish I had maybe spent more time on myself. I think when I look back at my business career, I think there are things that I would do differently. I never had contracts with any of my artists, which meant my revenue stopped when I stopped working with them. Which I also was a white knight on a horse. You know, I don’t need it. I’m doing it for other reasons. And in the days I was doing it, I never had a consciousness that in my older years my resources could really help people that needed it, instead of it being squandered by maybe some artists at the time. So, I think that, I would have done differently. I would have kept the revenue flow that I could have used for good stuff. But for the most part, no, I think my life evolved the way it was supposed to evolve, in whatever way that is.

 

[END]

 


LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Jim Burns: A Local Boy

 

In honor of the late Jim Burns, PBS Hawai‘i presents an in-memoriam encore of this episode recorded in June 2014.

 

Jim Burns’ father, John A. Burns, always thought of himself as a local boy. Jim, who grew up in Kailua and could easily break into Pidgin English, saw himself the same way. As Jim was growing up, he saw the respect that his father had for Hawai‘i’s immigrants, and learned that being a local boy was about more than just speaking Pidgin.

 

This program will be rebroadcast on Wednesday, April 5, at 11:00 pm and Sunday, April 9, at 4:00 pm.

 

Transcript

 

I’m told that your law clerks, when you were looking for a new one, of course, you checked all aspects of their background, but it was really important to you to find out where they went to high school.

 

Yeah; I started with that. You know, that gives me a picture of, you know, where they lived and who they are. And then, from there, I’d ask them other questions. But, yes. I think that’s true of all the people who lived—local boys, back in the old days. You know, Where you went high school? And if they said Kamehameha; okay, you got a picture of them. They said St. Louis, they said Punahou, they said Iolani, they said Farrington, Kaimuki, you’d get sort of a picture or flavor.

 

So, what did it say about you, that you went to St. Louis?

 

Well … that during school, I had to wear a tie.

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

You know, that it was a little stricter operation than other places, little more controlled. That it was all boys, so you don’t know anything about girls.

 

Jim Burns has always called himself just a local boy. This, despite the lofty trappings of his career, rising to Chief Judge of the State Intermediate Court of Appeals. And he’s the son of one of the most consequential political leaders in Hawai‘i’s modern history, Governor John Burns. Jim Burns, next on Long Story Short.

 

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

 

Aloha mai kakou. I’m Leslie Wilcox. James Stanton Seishiro Burns, better known as Jim Burns, retired Chief Judge of the Hawai‘i Intermediate Court of Appeals, was born in Honolulu in 1937 to a father who was a police officer and a mother who was partially paralyzed by polio two years before Jim was conceived. It wasn’t until much later that Jim’s father, the late Governor John A. Burns, became a politician and the driving force that brought Democratic Party to power, changing Hawai‘i’s political landscape forever. It was apparent in Jim’s young life that there was something exception about his parents.

 

When people talk about when they were born, it’s you know, just a fact. I was born on this date. But your story of birth is huge. I mean, I’ve never heard such a dramatic birth story as yours. I’d love to hear it from you.

 

Well, I don’t remember it.

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

I only know what they told me. Interesting story. My mother had two children, and then while she was pregnant with the third during the seventh month, she got polio. Then called infantile paralysis. And so, the baby was born, my brother, but he didn’t live long. And so, she was paralyzed at that time, from the neck, down, and real bad.

 

Now, this was 1935. But subsequently in 1936, she became pregnant with me., while she was paralyzed. And you know, I don’t know how much of the upper body then was paralyzed, but definitely from the lower body, she was paralyzed. And so, all the doctors told her to abort. And they said they wouldn’t treat her if she refused. And she said, No, I’m not going to abort. And so really, nobody wanted to treat her.

 

So, was she personally at risk? Is that why they wanted her to abort?

 

Yes; both of us were at risk. Yes. And she said, No, I won’t. Fortunately, my father knew a guy, a Japanese body expert, I think you’d call him. He was a jujitsu, judo master, and so, my father found him. And of course, the doctors didn’t want him to touch my mother, said he would kill her, you know, with what he was going to do. But no, my father went with him, and he took care of my mother during the pregnancy; all during the pregnancy. You know, she said, dunked her into bathwater. What was it … seaweed water and et cetera. Massaged her, stretched her. My mother said, It almost killed me, but every time I would scream, he’d say, Go ahead, scream some more.

 

Now, she was paralyzed. It’s indicating that she’s feeling pain, but would she feel pain?

 

Oh, yes.

 

Oh, she did feel pain?

 

Oh, gosh; yes. Yes. She just couldn’t move her body. But she could feel pain. Yes.

 

I see.

 

I never talked to my father about it, but I did talk to her about it. You know, why would you get pregnant while you were paralyzed? And she said, I wanted to show that I could continue to be a wife, you know, that I could be together with him. And being good Catholics, it happened.

 

And you were born perfect?

 

I was born healthy, almost eight pounds, full-term pregnancy. And delivered by a friend who didn’t deliver babies, because there was no doctor to deliver me. He was a doctor, but he was not a doctor who specialized in that particular business.

 

So, I notice that you have a Japanese middle name.

 

Yes, I do.

 

Is that because of the man who helped your mom deliver?

 

Yes. His name was Henry Seishiro Okazaki. Quite famous in the community. And after I was born, you know, my father talked to him, I guess, about, Hey, what can I do for you? I’ve gotta pay you whatever. And the man said, You call him Seishiro. And that’s all my father ever called me.

 

Jim Burns’ brother and sister were only a few years older than him, but by the time Jim came along, the family had gone through many changes. Jim’s father had become a police officer, and he had moved his family from Kalihi to the Windward side, Kailua, where Jim grew up.

 

So, you were the favored child, right, because you were the youngest, who’d come through so miraculously.

 

Well, that’s what my sister says. I’m not sure it’s true, but I guess I had a better life than she did, or my older brother did.

 

Was your father, who was known as very strict and sometimes punitive—

 

Yes.

 

You had it easier than the older kids?

 

Well, I don’t know how they had it, but I know that I had some whacks; some pretty good ones. So, he was very strict with me, also. But I think because I’m younger, he mellowed over the course of time. So, I think they caught it more than me, before he mellowed.

 

You know, when your father was governor, people said—and this was sometimes quoted in the papers—his nickname could be The Great Stone Face; he was very impassive and stern.

 

Yes.

 

What was he like as a father?

 

Same. Exactly. Yes; very. Not too many jokes.

 

They both sound like very strong people. I mean, did you feel like you had room to breathe around them?

 

Oh, yes. Oh, yes. Well, you know, depending on what part of my life you’re talking about, I didn’t see him that often. I saw my mother much more than him, and my mother was much easier to deal with than he was.

 

And even your mother went away for a while for treatment; right?

 

When I was two years old, she went to the mainland for treatment, and she was there until Christmas of ’42. Actually should not have come back; she came back sooner than she should have. But she was so homesick.

 

Wow. And your dad was often gone as well.

 

Yes. So, I didn’t see her. You know, I wasn’t conscious of her when I was two years old, and I didn’t see her until I was four and a half.

 

Wow.

 

Or actually, let’s see. Christmas—I’m sorry; five and a half.

 

Five and a half.

 

Five and a half years old.

 

Do you remember seeing her at five and a half?

 

Well, I know that she came home. And we had been writing to her while she was gone. You know. I mean, I’m sure my penmanship was not so good in those days.

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

But I would write notes to her.

 

Who took care of you?

 

Well, that’s a good question. I recall a lady from down the street, a good family friend, who used to take care of all of us. My father’s mother lived next door. But, lots of kids she took care of, and I remember her. And then, when we got older, I know my father got some gals from the detention home, the girls’ home, and they came and babysat. So, it was just whoever. And then, it was wartime.

 

Tell me about Pearl Harbor.

 

Okay. Well, let’s go back a ways. My father’s a policeman, and prior to the war, he’s in charge of espionage. He’s the chief of espionage in the police department. And I think the United States knew that it was going to get into a war with Japan. It had to, to get into the war in Europe. And so, I think about ’39, the chief asked my father to put together him and four guys, to go check with the Japanese community and find any signs of disloyalty. So, my father gathered together four other guys from the police department, three of whom were Japanese, and one was Hawaiian.

 

Did your dad get to pick?

 

Yes; he got to pick. So, he picked the four. And … interesting story. I always tell this story, and it’s true. Five people … remember Hawaii Five-O?

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

That’s where the five comes from. You know, that investigative unit. But anyway, so the five went out and checked all over the place, and came back and said, No, no signs of disloyalty whatsoever within the community.

 

We were at church Sunday morning, December 7th, 7:00 a.m. Church was finished, and we were just gonna start going to home. And we saw this … blast, explosions at what was then the Kaneohe Naval Air Station, which is now the Kaneohe Marine Station. And we could see planes and bombs, and et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. And you know, I’m young, I’m only four and a half years old, and all I know is that there’s a ruckus going on. But he knew what was going on. So, he rushed home, ran into the house, picked up the phone, called, and all I heard him was say, Oh, four-letter word. And out the door he went, and I didn’t see him for a long time. We didn’t see him for a long time.

 

Long time, meaning how long?

 

You know, I recall two, three weeks. But he was gone. And now, we were at home, we didn’t have my mother. You know, just had whoever was looking after us, and thinking that we’re going to be invaded. And then martial law came, and et cetera. We lived under that. And right next door, there was a military camp that they set up in the ironwood pine trees, which was interesting. So, part of my growing up was working with the soldiers, being with the soldiers. They were nice to us.

 

So, very unconventional entry to the world, and very unconventional upbringing.

 

M-hm; yeah. I would say so.

 

How do you think it affected you?

 

Well, it made me very independent; that’s for sure. You know, I didn’t have a lot of social contact, other than my brother, sister, and whoever else was around. So, I learned how to do my own thing.

 

I know you went to St. Louis. I think it was called college at the time.

 

St. Louis College.

 

And you lived in Kailua.

 

Yes.

 

So, Pali Road was there.

 

But it was the Old Pali Road.

 

So, it wasn’t that hairpin …

 

It was the Old Pali Road.

 

With the hairpin turn?

 

Yes.

 

How did you get to school?

 

That way. In the mornings, somebody took us. Either my father, or somebody. Lots of kids went to St. Louis, Sacred Hearts in those days from Kailua. So, somebody, whoever it was, took us to St. Louis.

 

How’d you get home?

 

Well, when I was younger, you know, somebody would pick us up; my father or somebody he got to pick us up. But as I got older, the bus went to Nuuanu, dropped us off. Those days, the buses had electrical lines, wires.

 

That’s right. They were trolleys.

 

Yes; trolleys.

 

More like trolleys.

 

So, Nuuanu was as far as they got.

 

And then, how did you get home from there?

 

Hitchhike.

 

Did you always find somebody to take you?

 

Yes. Yes.

 

Who was it usually? What kind of person?

 

You know, all kinds of people; neighbors, friends, or just people. You know, Kailua was a small town, country town, and everybody kind of knew each other, friendly with each other. Different kinds of people. But there was one man; an interesting story. A guy named Charley Asada, and he drove the kerosene truck. And people say, Kerosene truck?

 

Yeah.

 

Well, in those days, the farmers between the Pali and Kailua, talking along the Koolaus, lots of Japanese farmers. And they didn’t have electricity, so their source of power was kerosene.

 

Oh …

 

And so, he would drive his kerosene truck, and he’d go fill up the tanks for all of these people. You know, different places, different days. And so, I went with him. And people say, Why did you do that? And I say, Well, number one, he was fun to be with; he was very educational, entertaining, et cetera. But number two, while he was filling up the tanks, guess what we were doing? We were eating. I mean, those people had good food.

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

And so, by the time I got home, I was full.

 

There was a time when your father left the police force to become a fulltime politician. And your mom started running a liquor store.

 

Well, yeah. Initially, he ran it. So, he bought a liquor store, and he was running it in Kailua. But then, he got so involved in politics. Now, we’re talking about ’46, ’47. And then, he ran in’48. And so then, my mother started running it. And we lived five blocks away, so we’re talking a lady in a wheelchair going to the liquor store. And sometimes somebody took her, sometimes she wheeled herself, and sometimes I pushed her.

 

And she basically took charge of the purchases and the ordering, and …

 

She was there all day. You know, I don’t know how she did it, but she did. And when I could, I went and helped. As I got older, I did more and more help. But, you know, we had shelves, and she couldn’t reach. So, the customer would just reach and take whatever they wanted, and … you know, then they would make their purchase.

 

I thought that was an interesting choice of a type of business, because hadn’t your father previously had a problem with alcohol, and he’d stopped? But then, he bought a liquor store.

 

Well, his father was an alcoholic, and then deserted the family. And so, he was a very angry man. I think my father grew up very, very angry and bothered. So, he was incorrigible when he was young. And in fact, so much so their mother couldn’t handle him, sent him off to Fort Leavenworth to live with an uncle. And when he came back, he bounced around and finally became a policeman. But while he was a policeman initially, in the 30s, he got into an accident and had liquor on his breath. Now, nobody said he was drunk, but he had liquor on his breath, and apparently, policemen weren’t supposed to do that. So, he was sanctioned for it. And I guess his mother sat him down, and eventually, he promised, Okay, I’m not gonna drink anymore.

 

And he did; he quit cold turkey at some point.

 

I never saw the man drink.

 

Amazing.

 

No.

 

And could handle the liquor store, no problem.

 

Yes. But he drank coffee [CHUCKLE] constantly. But, yes. And then, as I say, my mother ran the store, and they ran ‘til the early 50s. And then, Piggly Wiggly came to Kailua, and ran us out of business.

 

The old Piggly Wiggly. It was during Jim Burns’ high school years that his father, John Burns, started becoming politically active. It would be many years before John Burns would win an election, but through his organizing activities, the elder Burns was laying the groundwork for what would become major social change in Hawaii.

 

When you were a kid, here you are with a Japanese middle name. You’re going to St. Louis. And I bet you there weren’t many Caucasian boys at St. Louis.

 

Well, Caucasian; if you include Portuguese, there were plenty.

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

[CHUCKLE] Yes. So, I don’t think they knew whether I was Portagee or Haole. I was just one of the local boys. I spoke Pidgin, and I associated with everybody.

 

Yeah; that’s true. If I hear you, and you’re talking with your St. Louis buddies, I would never know what race you are.

 

Yes; yes. So, yeah. No; we just mixed, and nobody ever said, Eh, you one Haole. The only difficulty I had was, my father was a loser as a politician.

 

In the beginning.

 

He lost from ’46 to ’56; ten years. I went to college before he won an election. So, it was all during my grade school and high school, he was a loser. And I used to catch heck for that.

 

Why did people mind that your dad was losing political battles?

 

Well, because he’d run for office, and he’d lose. And they would say, What the hell is your father doing, running for office? You know, losing. And in fact, even worse, they used to call him names. And I went home one time and I said, Daddy, what‘s a Communist? And he said, Why are you asking me that kind of question? I said, Well, that’s what my classmates say you are. And he never really answered the question. I had to go find out by myself.

 

So, all those years, his political aspirations and the ability he had in bringing people together, that was not a plus for you?

 

I wasn’t involved. No. All I knew is, he was involved with running for office or organizing the Democratic Party. And I think he was on the other side of most of the kids that I was hanging around with, and you know, they were all on the other side of the track. And so, he was sort of an outsider and everybody’s wondering, What’s he doing? Why is he over there? You know.

 

What do you mean, other side of the track?

 

Well, the Republicans were totally in charge. So, anybody who wasn’t Republican was on the other side of the track.

 

And it’s true; at that time, the leaders in Hawaii tended to be Republican and Caucasian. But your dad was Caucasian, but from Kalihi, and the son of a single mom who eked out an existence, and like you said, he was an angry young man who, I guess, knew something about street gangs growing up.

 

Well, yes. Number one, he grew up in Hawaii. Grew up in Kalihi; he was very much a local boy. Again, he went to St. Louis. So, I don’t think you would call him a Haole. Same as me.

 

Would he consider that fighting words?

 

Probably. Yes.

 

So, your dad really had a way different profile than any of the others. He was on the Democratic side.

 

Yes.

 

And he was from an impoverished background. 

 

From the streets. Yes; yes.

 

I know he wasn’t a man to sit you down for father-son talks. But did you get the sense of his passion for equal opportunity for everybody in a place that marginalized many ethnicities?

 

Oh, yes. I mean, I’d sit and listen when he had conversations with other people, and you know, I could get the sense of what he was talking about. And so, I didn’t have any difficulty understanding what was happening. I didn’t know that the Haole was in charge of everything, you know, but I did know that we couldn’t be members of Oahu Country Club. You know, there were certain things that I knew that they had, but we didn’t have. And I knew the difference between Punahou and St. Louis.

 

What is the difference?

 

Well, in those days, it was more the Haoles than St. Louis, which was more of the local people. I knew that difference.

 

So, you grew up with that sense of the local people are getting a bad shake, bad rap.

 

I don’t think I really realized it, other than through my father. You know. Why is this man so committed to doing what he’s doing? Why isn’t he out there working for the family, kind of thing. Other than that, I don’t think I thought about it.

 

And you knew it wasn’t getting him any traction while you were growing up, because he wasn’t winning elections.

 

Right; right. So, you know, I didn’t think about too much, but still, you’re wondering, Hm, why is he doing what he’s doing?

 

When your friends at school or anybody would criticize your dad or say things about him, did you feel proprietary and defensive, or how did that make you feel?

 

Just made me wonder. That’s all. I didn’t think they were fighting words. At St. Louis, every word was a fighting word, if you took it that way, you know, if you were insulted. Everybody talks stink about everybody, so I sort of got used to it, and I got to be pretty good at it myself. I think during the course of his growing up, and especially as a policeman, he got to realize what kind of society Hawaii was. And he got to realize that this bunch of White folks were totally in charge of this place, and nobody else had an opportunity or chance to do anything. He was at the police department one time, and this businessman, one of the Big Five people in control, picked up the phone and said, Governor, come to my office. And my father said, That’s kind of backwards. You know; Governor, come to my office? Isn’t the governor supposed to say, You come to—you know. But that’s the way it was; who was in charge, who was in control. And you know, and I guess he could see the prejudice against the local people; Filipinos, Japanese, Chinese, Koreans. And he just eventually said, No, no, I’m gonna do something to change this. And he totally committed himself. So, he quit the police department. Which was sad, because he loved the police department. I say this to people; all his life, he was truly a cop. In his heart, he was a policeman. He loved it. And that’s part of the problem with his family. You know, policemen—it’s very tough on the family, because they go to work and they get to see what’s going on, then they come home and say, I don’t want you to be like that. You know, so they’re very strict on you.

 

And did you ever talk to your mom about your father’s political aspirations, and what was he doing?

 

Well, no, but I knew she was getting frustrated.

 

Because she was working at the liquor store, while he was organizing?

 

She knew that he was doing what he wanted to do, and she knew he was doing the right thing. So, I think she supported him in that way. But on the other hand, I’m sure she said, Hm, I wish I had a little more family life.

 

And so did you, no doubt?

 

Yeah; sort of. But, you know, I saw my father more, I think, than others. I used to caddy for him, and you know, I spent time with him in the car, listening to him, or time when he was running the liquor store. So, you know, I associated with him.

 

And your mom looked at his time away from the family as something that he just had to do, and she accepted it?

 

Yes. That was the kind of person she was. You know, same way she handled her paralysis; it was, That’s the deck of cards that they dealt me, and that’s what I’m gonna deal with. You know, and I’m not gonna agonize over it or worry about it.

 

And your dad was busy trying to change the world.

 

Yes. That, he was doing, and my mother put up with it.

 

Jim Burns was in college on the mainland by the time his father was finally elected to office as Hawaii’s Delegate to Congress in 1956. During his term, Hawaii became a State, and John Burns came home to run for Governor. He lost his first two tries, but finally won in 1962, well after Jim had finished college and law school. Mahalo to Jim Burns for sharing his childhood memories with us and what it was like to grow up with a father who sacrificed so much, including time with his family, for his social and political ideals for Hawaii. And mahalo to you for joining us. For PBS Hawaii and Long Story Short, I’m Leslie Wilcox. A hui hou.

 

For audio and written transcripts of all episodes of Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox, visit PBSHawaii.org. To download free podcasts of Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox, go to the Apple iTunes Store or visit PBSHawaii.org.

 

You noted that that’s you here.

 

Yes.

 

Cut off from view.

 

Yes.

 

And then, there’s another picture where you’re also cut off, and you’re wheeling your mom, and in a very important occasion.

 

That’s my day off from basic training to go attend the inauguration. And I’m in my uniform, and I’m behind her, and pushing her. And nobody had a clue who I was. They just thought I was a soldier pushing Mrs. Burns. The local paper said: Unidentified Soldier. They didn’t know that I was related to them.

 

 

1 2 3 8