Stacy Sproat-Beck


At the age of twelve, Stacy Sproat left her home on the north shore of Kauai to attend Kamehameha Schools in Honolulu and subsequently, the University of Southern California. But she always wanted to come home. As a child, she’d worked on the family farm, swam in the mountain streams, surfed the waves at Kalihiwai and lived with people who took care of each other.  So as an adult, Stacy Sproat-Beck decided that her place in life would be caring for the land and the values that she had grown up with.


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One of the values and one the stories that I grew up with was, you know, if you think things are hard right now, you know, try losing everything that you’ve had twice in tsunamis. And coming back from that, there’s a story of resilience, really, of being able to come back from losing everything. And also, they use that to teach us how, you know, it’s material things that aren’t what’s important; it’s your family and your relationships. And they’re very uh, religious, you know, and it’s God that’s important. So, I feel like those are woven into the stories a lot.


Stacy Sproat-Beck was raised in a community on Kauai, where everybody knew each other. She grew up working alongside her extended family, fishing, farming, and raising cattle. This may not have been unusual in the early 1900s, but this was in the 1970s. Stacy Sproat-Beck, 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. Stacy Melela‘i o kalani Sproat-Beck is the executive director of the Waipa Foundation, a Native Hawaiian cultural learning center on the north shore of Kauai. It’s not far from Kalihiwai, a small village between Kilauea and Princeville, where Stacy was raised. During the 1970s, while much of Hawaii was undergoing a construction boom, life in Stacy’s little community was still untouched.


My mom was from Kalihiwai, and my dad grew up here in Hauula. And his family is originally from Kohala, so he spent time there as well. But he grew up in Hauula, then he really fell in love with Kalihiwai, and I think he fell in love with my mom at the same time. And I was born here, and then we moved back to Kalihiwai three weeks after I was born.


To a family property?


Yeah. Actually, to the same street that I live on today. And we grew up in a house that they built right there, across the street from my grandparents, and up the hill from my uncle. And we’re surrounded by family there, because it’s where my mom’s family came from.


And that is a place just beautiful beyond description. I mean Kalihiwai is just gorgeous. Mountain, stream, ocean.


It’s pretty idyllic. It’s beautiful.


Does everybody know each other?


Definitely back then. There were certain families that lived there, and everybody knew each other. And still, even today, many of the old families are still there where we live up in the hill. Because originally, all the families lived in the valley, and then after their homes got wiped out by the tsunami, my grandparents were able to facilitate purchase for them of properties up on the hill.


What tsunami was that? ‘Cause there have been several that have hit; right?


Yeah; they got wiped out by both ’46 and ’57. And so, I think after losing everything they had twice—well, not everything, almost everything they had twice, they were able to get land up on the hill. And so, most of the old families live up there today.


Do they still have the land below as well?


M-hm. Yeah; we do. I know; that seems like somehow it was a good deal. [CHUCKLE]


What was daily life like for the family?


When I was little? [CHUCKLE]


M-hm. You know, when you were growing up in the 70s. And you know, you grew up in the 70s, and that was the second decade of Hawaii as a state. Your background seems like it came from an earlier era, but you know, this was the 70s. You stayed pretty much in the same small area where you lived.


Yeah. And I tend to think that maybe the rural communities in Hawaii were like that, in that they modernized, they became modern more slowly. You know, it just took longer for things to reach us, and it probably still does. But we definitely grew up in an older style, and maybe it’s because our family was still sort of practicing fishing, and living off the land, and farming, that our other values were like that, in that you didn’t just go down to Hanalei, because that was somebody else’s fishing place. You know, you didn’t go down to Haena, because there were other families that that was their place. And you know, if you have business there, then you go there. I mean, Haena is only fifteen miles away today, and we go down there to go to the beach all the time. But back when I was a kid, the only time we would go to Haena was for the Mahuikis’ Christmas party.


When you were invited.


Right; when we were invited to go to their Christmas party. Or unless, we were, you know, rounding up cattle or something. We had cattle together. So, it was only when there was really a specific thing to go for, when we’d go out to these places. And we wouldn’t just go surf in Hanalei. I mean, I think, you know, I boogie boarded when was starting in middle school, and Kalihiwai was the only place that I ever rode waves until after I graduated from high school. My uncle said, Eh, let’s go to Hanalei. And I thought, Wow, we’re went to Hanalei. And that was the first time I’d ever actually been there and been surfing somewhere outside of little Kalihiwai. So, I think it was just really growing up in a rural community with a family that had old style values, you know.


And there may be another reason you didn’t venture too far away. You had so much to take care of, even as kids.


[CHUCKLE] Yeah. Yeah; we worked on the farm, and we fished, and it was all really fun.


It wasn’t fishing for fun, necessarily. It was subsistence fishing.


Yeah; subsistence and commercial. You know, the akule would come in, in the summertime, huge schools of akule. And actually, just yesterday, my dad and some of the other folks from Kalihiwai, they surrounded a school of akule. So, they still come in, not as much as before. But before, there would just be huge schools of fish that would come in, in the summertime, and that was a really busy time for our family, because that was the hukilau season. And so, everybody was on alert when the fish was in.


You did this by boat; right?




Hukilau nets by boat?


Yeah. It was all rowing the boat out to surround the fish, you know, and then netting the fish, and dragging them in to shore. And then, from shore, there would be like big scoop nets sort of that we would scoop the fish out, put ‘em in big ice boxes, and then everybody would go home with a mahele, a share, all the community folks that helped. And there was fish for everybody. And we would ship a lot of the fish here to Honolulu, to sell.


And that was just a part of tradition that had been happening for a long time?


Yeah; multiple generations in our family were marine resource managers. My great- grandfather, who I didn’t really know, ‘cause he passed away maybe when I was one, or something, he was the konohiki of these fisheries in these particular areas around where I grew up. And then, it passed down to my grandfather, who was his oldest son.


In the 1970s, there was a konohiki?


Well, the konohikis actually officially ended in the 50s. But people still respected our family as the resource managers. Our family was still doing most of the fishing and the resource management in these areas through the 70s, really. And it was only in the 1980s—I mean, I remember it distinctly, when other families started fishing and going out and catching the fish, and it was really a difficult thing for us, I think, for our family. And like, with my grandpa being the konohiki, and I feel like when people realized it and started catching all the hee where they used to sort of regulate the hee catch on the reef, he really saw the populations decline. And I feel like in his later years, he was really sad because of that. Because where once there was abundance on the reef, they wouldn’t catch hee, you know, smaller than two pounds, now there’s nothing.


Fishing was not Stacy Sproat-Beck’s family’s only means of support. Her parents held regular jobs, and the family had other businesses as well that were closely tied to the land.


You were also involved in all kinds of other natural businesses.


Yes. I feel like my family’s been in resource management for years. Even though we fished a lot when I was a kid, we eventually moved into farming. And it seems like more of my memories through the 80s, the late 70s and 80s were actually working on the farm. We farmed papayas and cucumbers, and flowers, and all kinds of things. Now, I’m not really a fisherman nowadays. My brother-in-law is a fisherman, my dad still fishes, but I’m a farmer. And I think maybe those were more of the influential years for me, was farming.


You mentioned you were chasing down cattle with horses.


[CHUCKLE] Well, when I was in school, and probably through high school, maybe a little in college, like I was saying, our family did just so many things, you know, and just a lot of exciting things. We had a cattle ranch, we had about fifty head of cattle, we farmed, we had a papaya farm, and we fished, and we had pigs, and we had prawns.


And your parents both had fulltime jobs.


They did.


A fireman and teacher.




And they did all this too, your parents?


Well, we lived with our extended family too; right? So there were my grandparents that were there. And my grandpa was really active working on the farm until his later years. And then, my uncle, my mom’s brother lived there with us, and his wife. And so, it was like a family business, basically, or family businesses. But we were all pretty busy, and there was always something to do, you know.


Nobody really directed you all the time; you were always looking for what was off kilter or what needed to be done.


Well, they were always telling us, you know, yeah, see what needs to be done, and do it, and dragging us off to do different things, like feeding the cows or fixing fence. My sister and I have memories of being dragged off into the bushes in the middle of the night to fix fence, because the cops had called and there were cows on the road. And so, somebody had to go and put the cows back in, and fix the fence. And my dad would take us up there, because he had three daughters and he didn’t have sons. So, we would get dragged off to do that. Or sometimes, my dad was at work, and so, it was my mom and us and my grandpa that would have to go up there. And he’d take us up there sometimes, and you know, there would be a hole in the fence in the middle of the jungle, and take us and drop us off, and say, Wait here. And it’s dark, in the middle of the night. Stay here, and I’m gonna go over there and look for the cows, and I’ll come back. But, you know, if cows come, don’t let come through the fence. [CHUCKLE] And we’re little kids standing there, like … I’m in the bushes by myself at night. You know. And it wasn’t so much worrying about other people that might find you; it’s just thinking about, you know, the cows coming and you trying to stop them, or other things that might be, you know, out there in the night that you can’t see.


Did it make you braver, do you think, about other things?


[SIGH] I think it made us paranoid for a while. I think. We were always like, thinking about—


Don’t come for me in the middle of the night.


–ghosts or something that might be out there. I don’t know. But now; I think it was good. And I think, now that I’m raising my own kids, you know, thinking about all of these lessons that we’ve been taught along the way, and trying to transmit them to the kids nowadays, and just really the grit of being told no, I’m gonna put there in the bushes, and it’s dark, yes it is, it’s the middle of the night, but you stay there and you watch for cows. And then, going off. I can’t imagine my kids doing that today.


It sounds like you didn’t need any toys; you always had something interesting to do.


Yeah; yeah. I think that’s what it was, really, was being outside and finding things to entertain yourself. I know that we always were making forts outside. We did a lot of fort making when I was a kid, both at the beach, and outside our house. My cousins would come up in the summertime from Honolulu, and we’d all be on the beach all day, and making forts in the bushes. And you know, there were streams running down; we’d always be making our little landscapes with the ponds and the rivers that were coming out, and damming them up to play different things.


So, no Legos, no staying inside with technology.




Stacy Sproat-Beck’s country lifestyle came to an abrupt halt when she turned twelve. Following family tradition, she was sent to Oahu to attend Kamehameha Schools Kapalama.


My family is a legacy at Kamehameha, and so, I was told that that was what was gonna happen, and that was really the best option for me. And so, it was something that I actually accepted early on.


And you boarded there?


Yeah. It was pretty hard, definitely, because I came from such a close family, you know. And being in the dorm with all the kids, it was really different, and it was really difficult being separated from family. And I think, you know, in seventh grade, it’s about a year of homesickness, you know, and then you kind of eventually get over it. But it was never really an option with my family to quit and to come home. It was just never an option.


You stayed there and you watched for the cattle; right? [CHUCKLE]


Yeah. You stay there, and you get good grades. [CHUCKLE]


So, basically, it was always about what had to be done, and you stayed and you did it.


Yeah; yeah. And there was always that expectation. And I feel like that came from all of my family, especially my maternal grandmother. She was Chinese-Hawaiian, but she seemed like more on the Chinese side, my Chinese grandmother, and she was just very driven, and a driven person that knew what needed to be done and was always there.


She wanted you to succeed.


Yeah. Yeah. And I feel like she’s definitely one of the people that pushed us. And when it came down to whether there were options or not, it was like, No, you’re gonna do this.


And you listened.


Yeah. Yup.


You went to USC, a very fine business school. I mean, there are a lot of wealthy scions, you know, sons and daughters of magnates.


It was kind of a culture shock. You know, not so much being in a city that size, or in a school that size, because you know, I’d lived here for six years in Honolulu and gone to Kamehameha, and this is a big city too. But definitely, USC was kind of a culture shock for me. And I didn’t fit in that well. And sort of one of the things I think of those years is, I actually didn’t have any friends. [CHUCKLE]


Did you not? Really?


Through most of my college years, I didn’t have friends, until I went on a study abroad program halfway through, and I made some really good friends on this trip to France. And I came back with a couple of really good friends for the last couple of years.


But before that, you just gritted your way through classes without friendship and companionship?


Yeah. And you know, now that I think about it, it didn’t bother me that much. And later on, I realized that it was actually a really good thing, because I ended up graduating with straight A’s. I graduated like, magna cum laude, which you know, by the time I graduated, I was like, Really? Wow, how’d I do that? [CHUCKLE] And it was ‘cause I didn’t have any friends. So, it actually worked out perfectly. But now, I do have a couple of really dear friends that are back in L.A. that come to visit now and then.


Did you know what kind of business you were going to do, or were you thinking of extrapolating it to Kalihiwai?


I definitely was thinking about family business the whole time. Yeah. And when I was in business school, I’d ask my instructors—because it was a big business school, and it was always about big business, and you know, how you were gonna make the most money possible. And you know, I’d raise my hand go, Well, what about family business? And they’d go, Oh, no, no, no; don’t talk about that. You know, family business is really hard. And I’d go, Oh, what about nonprofits? And they’d go, Nonprofits? You know, maybe we’ll bring somebody in to talk about nonprofits, but nonprofits aren’t really where the money is. And so, it was kind of a different thing for me. But I still feel like I gained a lot of knowledge and important skills from going there, definitely. It was an amazing education.


What did you do after USC business school?


So, I actually at the time, for some reason, even though, like I said, I always knew I wanted to come home to Kalihiwai, it was just this deep longing in me wanting to come home, I wasn’t really decided when I was approaching graduation at USC. I didn’t have a plan of what I was gonna do. And you know, one of the things you do when you’re a senior is, you just interview with firms. And so, I was interviewing with firms up there, and nothing was really sounding that interesting, and I was kind of not exactly sure what I was gonna do. And then, just a few weeks before my graduation were the Rodney King riots. And every shopping center around school got burned down, and you know, L.A. was in a shambles. And it was crazy. And that was definitely one of the things that made me go, I’m outta here, I’m going home. It’s too crazy up here.


When you came home, I think you were aware of what was going on, but weren’t there for a lot of the fireworks. There was a lot of militance about the way land was going on the North Shore, the push for resort development, and the move away from a rural lifestyle.


On Kauai?




Yeah. It seems like that was happening throughout our childhood and youth. I forget what year it was that Kilauea Sugar went out, but that’s when sort of the sugar company transitioned out, and then there was development that was coming in, in the 70s and 80s, and the desire to develop all those former sugar lands, and then all along Hanalei and Princeville there. And my parents were really active, and my family was really active in fighting development and wanting to manage it, really, and not just let it get out of hand.


And in fact, they were fighting Kamehameha Schools, where you’d attended, owner of Waipa.


Yeah; in the early 80s. Yes, Kamehameha became one of the entities that wanted to develop their landholdings there on the North Shore. They were in development mode, and so, their plans for Waipa and Lumahai were golf courses, resort communities. Back then, it was all about developing the land so they could make money to support the school at Kapalama and the estate. And you know, families from the community, led by Auntie LaFrance Kapaka-Arboleda, who was an activist that came in and really sort of catalyzed community members, especially Hawaiian families in the community, and especially alumni families in the community, they got together and fought Kamehameha on their desire to develop. And eventually, after four years of activism and negotiation, and the default of the developer, the potential developer, they were able to obtain a lease from Kamehameha for the sixteen-hundred-acre ahupuaa of Waipa, which is an intact watershed. It’s amazing. I moved home in ’92, and I really started helping at Waipa in ’94. And it was really just difficult. There were a lot of different challenges and issues, there were different ideas of management, of administration. They were having to fundraise. They were a for-profit at the time, because Kamehameha refused to lease to a nonprofit, because what they really wanted was money, and they didn’t want to lease to a bunch of activists. So, it was a for-profit, so they weren’t getting as much grant support as they could have. But they didn’t say we couldn’t have a nonprofit, so we started a nonprofit. We started the Waipa Foundation, and we kind of just ran the two entities side-by-side.


And you were doing this as a volunteer?


Yeah; yeah. I was kinda like living my parents’ life, maybe. [CHUCKLE] Well, farming with my husband on the side, helping manage Waipa on a volunteer basis, and then also, I think I was doing promotions for a boat company to actually make money to pay my bills. When Kamehameha went to strategic planning in 2000, 2001, they changed their whole viewpoint on land management and revenue-generating lands versus lands for culture and education, and also kind of right around that same time, all of these other difficulties that we had just sort of went away. Things have really just grown like crazy since then, and gone in an amazing direction. I feel like the lessons learned from those really hard times are kind of what maybe grounds me and the organization in sort of humility and remembering that things don’t always come easy.


What do you do on the sixteen-hundred-acre property?


My dad guys envisioned it, the original founders, it was to be a land base for the practice and perpetuation of Hawaiian culture. And so, that was their vision. And so, we continue to perpetuate that today by doing programs for kids that connect them with the land, and also, you know, we do enrichment programs and leadership, and cultural programs, and they’re in the garden and harvesting, and also just swimming in the streams, and maybe doing a lot of the things that I did as a kid, that we all did. I feel like what that does today is, it connects us back to the earth when a lot of us are just busy living somewhat urban lives, that it’s helping them to make the connection. So, we do programs for kids. We do resource management. You know, we manage learning sites and sites that we’re restoring. We have a fishpond that we’re restoring along the coast, and then we’ve got loi, taro fields and gardens, and a native plants nursery. And then, up in the valley, we’re doing reforestation. And then, sort of teaching and learning through all of that. We do so many things; festivals and gatherings, and farmers’ markets, and we make poi and feed the community. I think being out there, too, and just having the opportunity to hike, and observe, yeah, and explore. And even another thing that’s really amazing to us is that we’ve planted a lot of fruit trees lately, orchards of fruit trees, everything from, you know, longan and lychee to mango, and oranges, and avocado, and ulu, star fruit. And really, to be able to created abundance, lots of food, because we know the importance of having lots of food there, both to feed ourselves and you know, to share with community, and then to market, too. But also being able to take the kids out. Oh, and mountain apples too; that’s a big one. Being able to take the kids out and let them pick their own snacks off the trees. I mean, we grew up with that, but kids nowadays—


They look for a box. [CHUCKLE]


It blows their mind when they go out, you know, and are able to pick mountain apples and eat them. It’s just the most amazing experience for them. And for us, I think that should be so basic, you know.


And all along, you were thinking of running a family business at Kalihiwai, not run a nonprofit out of Waipa, nine miles down the road.


Yeah; I kind of had an inkling I might end up doing that. Because I remember asking that question when I was in college. You know, what about a nonprofit? Because I knew it was there, and it was really an amazing opportunity, you know, to be able to grow this entity that is really for the community, and to take care of the land, and to teach people.


What’s the goal for Waipa Foundation now in the ahupuaa?


Well, our sort of vision is a thriving and abundant ahupuaa, and a healthy community that’s connected to their resources. And so, it’s both. Yeah, exactly that. Just thriving and abundant with land and resources being healthy, and feeding us in many ways, both physically, spiritually, and then also community that is connected to the place, that helps to take care of it, and is nourished by it, and also actively manages and takes care of the land. And I think that’s our vision, specifically for Waipa, but also, it’s a larger vision. You know, Waipa could be just a microcosm of the state or the island, or the world, where everybody is directly connected to the resources that feed them and take care of them. And they manage and take care of the land, and it takes care of you.


Stacy Sproat-Beck of Kalihiwai, Kauai grew up learning from her family and working hard. She continues to live the lifestyle that she was raised in, close to the land, and is doing what she can at Waipa to set an example for the rest of the world to follow. Mahalo to Stacy Sproat-Beck for sharing her stories with us, 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 To download free podcasts of Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox, go to the Apple iTunes Store, or visit


Your children are eight and twelve now. And twelve is when you went away to Kamehameha on Oahu.




And you mentioned a legacy, the legacy of the school in your family. What’s the plan for the kids?


Oh, the plan, the big question. [CHUCKLE] You know, I look back on the way Kamehameha was presented to me when I was young, and it was never a choice. And I’m glad that that was my path. And today, it’s so hard to force them into things that are not their choice; right? And we always want what’s best for our kids. We’re not pushing them into it, but if they want to, then we’ll definitely do our best to make that our option.






Kitty (Lagareta) Yannone


If you think you know Kitty (Lagareta) Yannone – business owner, public relations professional, University of Hawai‘i Regent – you’ll be surprised at the second career she almost had, how she got into public relations in the first place, and what she can do on a skateboard.


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You said you got in trouble a lot. Was that a trend that would continue later in your life?


Well, I really try not to, but I tend to be a little bit outspoken, and I tend to have opinions about things, and I tend to get involved. And I think when you do all that, sometimes it looks like you’re causing trouble.


When you raise a question, or when you are outspoken, is it with the intent to shake things up?


No; it really isn’t. Sometimes it’s just a question, or sometimes it’s just wanting to delve a little deeper into understanding something. I’m kind of an introvert, actually, in my private time. I’m not looking to cause trouble.


Kitty (Lagareta) Yannone is not one to back down from a challenge or hesitate to go against the grain. Honolulu business owner and operator, Kitty (Lagareta) Yannone, 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. Katherine (Lagareta) Yannone, better known as Kitty, joined the public relations firm Communications Pacific in 1986 as a junior account executive. Nine years later, she became its president and CEO. Kitty has always been a risk-taker, having grown up with teenaged parents who gave their children lots of independence.


In small kid time, I grew up in the Mojave Desert in California. I was there from about the time I was eleven, twelve. And my parents still live there, so it’s a place I go back to as home. And in those days, it was about five thousand people in this vast desert, and it was an amazing place to grow up.


What did you for playtime in the desert?


You know, rode motorcycles. I love motorcycles. I hardly wear dresses, ‘cause I have all these motorcycle burns on my legs from falling on the tailpipe. But rode motorcycles, and chased lizards all the time. I can’t even believe I did that, but we chased lizards and we caught things, and looked at ‘em. And we played hide-and-seek on this vast desert. It’s amazing to me how much time as kids we had, unstructured, alone, to explore or hang out with friends, where parents weren’t hovering over us. Some of the best adventures are the ones that were misadventures.


You lived in a place that may be considered more dangerous than others, because of the climate, where you could get lost, and there’s too much heat in the desert.


Yeah. You know, way out in the desert, you never know who’s out there. And honestly, I was a very protective mom. My kids were born and raised here. I was a very protective mom, and I thought, You know, this would have never flown when I was a kid. But you know, it’s the way it was, and I’m grateful for it.


Were your parents people who explicitly gave you life lessons, or did they teach you by example?


They always tried. My parents were very young; my parent were sixteen. My mother was sixteen when I was born, and so, it was kinda like … there were times in my childhood where it was, which of us is raising which one? But I have wonderful parents; I adore them. They were very responsible parents, they were great parents. But no, they were not overprotective parents at all.


And what of life did you grasp from them?


You know, they always made me feel like I could do anything. You know, it was like, they gave me the freedom to make mistakes, take risks, do things that maybe were different or new, like ride motorcycles when you’re twelve, thirteen years old on the desert. They kinda gave you the sense that the world may not be a perfectly safe place, but you can handle.


And what were they like individually?


They both came from sort of broken homes at a young age, and my dad grew up in Pennsylvania. When he was eleven, his dad left, and he has a much younger sister and his brother was an infant. And he kind of became the man of the house then. Very responsible, great values. He ended up going to trade school to become an engineer and had a very wonderful career, did very well over the years with that kind of vocational education. And when I was a kid, he was managing cement plants by then. That’s why we were in the desert, because there was a large cement plant there that he managed. And then my mom, you know, had my sister two years later when she was eighteen, and then we adopted my two brothers, one when I was about twelve, thirteen, and one when I was about fifteen.


So, no sibling rivalry there; they’re so far apart in age.


But think about it; she had toddlers and she had teenagers at the same time. That’s got to have been a very difficult thing. And she was kind of a 50s, 60s mom. And she hadn’t finished high school, ‘cause she had me. And basically, she got me into college when I was sixteen on this special program, ‘cause she was so determined I would go to college as her oldest. And in the course of being counseled and all of that about my education, the counselor said to her, Where did you go to school? And she said, very embarrassed, I didn’t finish high school. And that counselor, I think my mom is grateful to her, but I had to love that woman. I don’t even know her anymore. She got my mom to start taking classes, take the GED test, and my mom got her master’s in psychology. It took her a number of years, ‘cause she went to a few classes at a time, but she had a great career as a clinical psychologist. And I’m really proud of her.


Is that right?




When did you leave the desert?


You know, the first time I left was, one summer I thought I was gonna go to school in Santa Barbara. That was the summer that they burned the bank, and then I went down to the beach. My apartment was on Sabado Tarde Road, this little road, and I loved this town. And everybody was playing naked volleyball, and so all it took was my Italian Catholic parents to come down and it was, You are out of here, you are so out of here. So then, I went back up to the community college, and met a boy from Hawai‘i. Grown up in Hawai‘i, not originally from Hawai‘i. And I had started college young; I had two years by the time I was eighteen. And he was a couple years older, and he was from Ewa Beach. And we got married when I was like, nineteen, and came here shortly thereafter.


That’s what brought you to Hawai‘i.


Yeah; that’s what brought me to Hawai‘i. The marriage lasted about thirteen years. We have two great sons from that marriage. And I think a lot of people thought after I got divorced, I would probably leave.


Did you ever consider it?


No; no. My kids’ father and I wanted to have them in the same place together with us, so even though we were not together, it never occurred to me to go anywhere else. And I love this place; I felt at home here from almost the first moment. My first husband was kind of a hanai family member with Al Harrington and his family, and Al was a big entertainer when we first came over here, and he worked for him. So, we immediately kind of got into cultural things with him, a lot of the people in his show, native Hawaiian, a lot of the people were Samoan, Tongan. And we hung out with them a lot in those early years, and so, I kind of got exposed to different cultures almost immediately, and I loved it.


Did you finish college at the University here?


I did; I went back. I took a couple of years to just kinda get settled here, and then I had my second son, and then I went back to school. And then, he got spinal meningitis when he was eleven months old, and that took me on a journey. I thought I was gonna go to law school; that was my big goal, was to go to law school. And I was like, vice president of the pre-law society, and all of that. And after his hospitalization, I heard about the Ronald McDonald House and some people here were starting one, McDonald’s and some community people. And that took my life in a whole different direction.


Your second child had spinal meningitis, or bacterial …


Yeah; bacterial spinal meningitis. He was born very, very healthy, big huge healthy baby, and I was one of those all natural childbirth and breast feed, and all that kinda stuff. So, when he got sick, we almost lost him, and he was in the pediatric intensive care for weeks at Kapiolani Hospital. And I really credit them, because the care was so good. There was another child with something similar, older child who died in the bed next to him. He was in a coma for almost a week, and it was a very scary, scary thing. He lost his hearing pretty much as a result, but that’s not stopped him in any way.


I can’t imagine the fear of having your child in a hospital bed next to someone who passes away from the same thing.


Yeah; it’s terrible. It was like moment-by-moment, and you get through it with your child. That was absolutely the most horrendous, scary thing I’ve ever gone through in my life.


How long did you go through it?


It was several weeks. And then, he had a long recovery.


And that’s when you came across the concept of Ronald McDonald House?


What happened was, there was a mom there from the Big Island, and she was a single mom, and they’d flown her over on a medvac. And I got to know her over a period of the first week or two. And I noticed she didn’t have any clothes, she was kinda living on whatever she got at the vending machine. And as we got to talk, I realized she didn’t have a place to stay. And then I kinda looked around, and I realized that a lot of neighbor island families, they rent a car and get an ice chest, ‘cause they want to be real close to their kids. They were essentially living in the parking garage and kinda using the facilities at the hospital, but that was it. ‘Cause you can’t afford a hotel if your baby’s in neonatal intensive care for months, or your child’s in the hospital for weeks. Nobody can, and nobody wants to be that far away. So, I was concerned about it, and I went down and talked to the hospital administrator. He was very kind; he said, You know, we can’t take care of all the parents; we’ll try. If there’s somebody special you think needs our assistance, we’ll send up our social worker. But we use all our resources to take care of the kids. So, he remembered me, I guess, because a year later, he called me up and said, You know, you were so concerned about that; well, these people are having a meeting here, some people from McDonald’s and some people from the community, and I think they want some parents who had kids in the hospital. And I think you should come down for this meeting. And I said, Okay.


That meeting was the beginning of a new journey that took Kitty (Lagareta) Yannone into the world of fundraising. The efforts of the group were successful, and after the Ronald McDonald House opened, Kitty became its first staff member. While this experience eventually led to her future career in public relations, she pursued another interest; one that pushed the limits of risk-taking. She became a standup comic.


Some friends of mine were auditioning for a comedy troupe that Rap Reiplinger was putting together. So, in the middle of that for a couple years, I did standup comedy with this group called Hats. And I was working on Ronald McDonald House during the day, and at night we would perform, and in between somewhere I would write stuff. It was a great adventure.


What kind of comedy did you do?


You know, it’s very common now. You see a lot of kind of feminist comediennes, and they do some pretty risqué stuff. And that’s exactly what I was. You know, I grew up as a tomboy and I cussed a lot. I didn’t cuss in my monologue. I finally have tried to wean that out of my vocabulary. But it was edgy stuff. I did a whole thing on masturbation; a whole monologue on masturbation.


Personal subjects, and then to go in front of a whole bunch of people … didn’t it frighten you?


Well, for me, it was a weird plaything. It was, Do women do it, or not? We only hear about men. Is that because they have language to describe it, and we don’t have any? And so, the whole thing was about what kind of language women should have to even talk about it, if they did it. And it kind of … you had to be there.




And it got laughs, good laughs?


It would bring the house down, once I especially got my rhythm. Rap loved it. And I remember my proudest moment, ‘cause it was a very short career, was when we had a big review by Wayne Harada. And he said—I thought it was kind of a play on words; She talks about some very touchy subjects, but it’s a display of astonishing wit. And I said, Okay, maybe this is something I can really do, because he said that.


And you wrote your own lines.


I wrote my own.


It wasn’t improv; it was something you wrote.


We did some improv, Rap wrote some skits, but we were all responsible for our own monologues, and we wrote our own stuff.


They say that’s one of the scariest things to do, public speaking, especially when you’re mining for laughs and people may not find it funny. You don’t know.


I think because Rap was there, and Rap was so brilliantly funny, and when we were trying out something new and it didn’t quite click, he would mentor us and say, You know, that’s actually a good piece. And he did that with all of us; there were eight of us. But here’s what’s not working; here’s what would really make it work. Try this. And so, that gave us kind of a safety net, and he was almost every time right; but I wouldn’t say he was right every time. And you’d go out there, and people would howl, and that was the most exhilarating feeling, ever.


I bet. At what point did law school go off the table?


Law school kinda went off my radar screen when I discovered that side of me that like to be creative. You know, I really think I would have loved to do comedy forever, but other things intervened, and living out here in Hawai‘i, it was kind of a small market for it. Rap kept trying to get us all to go to the mainland, and we actually had a couple of chances to do that. But it just never was the right time to do that.


Did you think you’d found your profession at the Ronald McDonald House?


I did. And the fundraising part of it is a skill I learned, that I use a lot still today in things I do, and the communications part. I was terrified; I was the client of the PR firm I now own, and I was terrified.


What a switcheroo. I mean, you were the client of the public relations company you now own.




And you hadn’t gone to school for public relations or marketing.


No; even though I guess I was doing a lot of it. I like to write, we did a million presentations.


And you were an advocate.


And an advocate. And the PR firm was supporting; I was the client again. When they offered me a job, ‘cause the House went into a phase where they were looking for somebody to be there that was more social work background and all of that once it opened, and I totally understood that. And they offered me a job, and I said, So, what exactly do PR people do? And it was kinda like, Well, you’ve been doing it.


I see. 


I was like thirty-two, and I started at a very junior account exec level. Usually, most of the people that age were vice presidents in the company, so I kinda started at square one, so it gave me time to learn everything.


You got immersed almost immediately in meeting with people who were decision makers and influencers.


When I look back on Ronald McDonald House, I was such a newbie to any of that kind of thing. And that experience, I always tell people, volunteering if you have a passion, even when you go into it [INDISTINCT] yourself, you have amazing experiences. And I sat in a room; Sully Sullivan was our fundraising chair, and I think he was probably about eighty then, or late seventies. And there was like Sheridan Ing, and Bill Wall, and Bobby Pfeiffer, and we’d all meet once a week for breakfast, and I was like the fly on the wall note-taker. And they’d do their fundraising reports really quick, and then they would stay around. And they always said, Oh, stay around, kid. And I’d listen to them talk about business stuff, and I don’t even know if I fully appreciated it at the time, but years later, so many of the things that I heard by being in that group for a year or two, just fundamental stuff about business and the way people think, the way those types of people think, was brilliant. And I use it every day, I think.


And it’s an incredible memory when I think about it. That came through Ronald McDonald House. So, that was an experience.


It’s so interesting that you’re not an MBA.




And yet, it all sort of evolved naturally. You know, these things happened, you took advantage, you thought about it, and you made it work. You were Pacific Business News’ first Businesswoman of the Year.


I know; can you believe that? You can learn every day from people. If you go in thinking, I don’t know it all, it’s amazing what you can pick up. And I think my whole life has sort of been that way, especially starting with Ronald McDonald House and just feeling like I didn’t know what I needed to know, but I would find out, I would figure it out, I would learn from people around me. And my first client was Dr. Richard Kelley; he was probably in his early fifties, and he was the CEO of Outrigger Hotels. And because I had fundraising background, and he was trying to put together the Hawai‘i Convention Park Council to raise money to lobby for a convention center, that was my first project for almost the first two full years.


Well, that was an auspicious first client; Dr. Kelley.


Yeah; yeah. And you know, I still do a lot of writing for him, and work with him, and I admire him fiercely, and his family. They are some of the hardest-working people I know, and most down-to-earth people I know. And he was just a very dear mentor to me.


Communications Pacific had downsized considerably by the time Kitty (Lagareta) Yannone bought it and became its president and CEO in 1995. Under her leadership, the company started growing again, and revenues reached new highs. Then, in 1998, she was given an opportunity that many people in her position would probably have turned down.


A lot of times, public relations companies will not take on politicians, because it’s a good way to find yourself a couple years later looking around and saying, Where’s our business?, because the other side one. A lot of people stay away from it like the plague, but you didn’t.


Yeah; no. Well, people always give me a lot of grief. You know, that was a switch for me, and I think because I had become very disillusioned with a lot of things in Hawai‘i, and I’d actually been offered a job to run the Fleishman Hillard office in L.A., and it was after my kids had just kind of grown up and they were out the door to college and everything. And I was seriously thinking about it, because Hawai‘i wasn’t a place that I liked so much anymore.




I kept volunteering, and trying to change things at the not-for-profit level, and it started to feel like it was political. It was around that time when a number of legislators went to jail. You know, I’m thinking of the Milton Holts and others, City Council members going to jail. And I thought, You know, I just don’t know if I want to live in a place like that, and it felt like it was sort of inbred politically. And I thought, I don’t know if I want to deal with that. And I went and explored this job and thought, I can’t live in L.A. I came back and I thought, You know, maybe I should pay more attention to politics, and maybe I should get involved there. And I looked around, and I’d met Linda Lingle when she was mayor of Maui through some volunteer work with high school students that we’d gone over there to do, and I didn’t know her very well at all. And she called one day and wanted to meet with me. She was thinking about running for governor in a couple years, and I knew nothing about politics. And she said, That’s okay, we’ll figure it out; it’s a big race, I need a communications person, I think you’re kind of a smart person. So, I started helping her in ’98, and I immediately got calls from a lot of people around town, friends, my parents and kids. You know, if you’re gonna do politics this time, it’s really kinda stupid to get involved with the party that has no power. [CHUCKLE] And I said, Yeah, but I like this candidate, and I really want to do this. And I didn’t lose any clients; no clients said, I’m gonna quit. They just, I think, were kind of bemused. And Linda came within five thousand votes, and it was a huge learning and a wonderful experience for me, except for the losing part. But we all took it harder than she did. And before we had even let the dust settle, she was saying, We’re gonna do this again in 2002. And I remember thinking, Ee, I don’t know. But of course, I was onboard for 2002.


You weren’t following the playbook of most public relations executives. You were following your mind and, to some extent, your heart.


Yeah. You know, I believe in that, because I think a lot of executives, if they can, they do that. And I just feel even when it’s a learning experience, having the experience makes me better overall. And that was a learning experience. And oh, gosh, in 2002, we pulled it off, and that was interesting. And that was the other thing, kind of still in naïveté, not having been in politics, it was like, Okay, we’re done, I can go back to my life. And I remember Linda called and she said, You know, I think you would be one of the people I want to recommend for Board of Regents. And I remember saying, Oh, why that? I mean, you know, I don’t know.


Talk about political. [CHUCKLE]


She had to talk me into it. And it was my alma mater, it was something that sounded interesting. And that was another journey. But I thought we were done. So, that was the first lesson; you’re not done when you get somebody elected.


That was such an interesting chapter in your life. For those of watching as well. I remember thinking, you know, what you got into was a mire with the president of the University, Evan Dobelle.




And a very slippery situation. And your expertise is public relations, but it was very hard to manage it.


Yeah; and it’s hard to be in it and manage something. I know that.


And as the chair of the Board of Regents.




I mean, I think there was a perception at some time that you were bungling it.


Yeah; yeah. I actually thought it was. I knew it was bungled, but I also had the perspective of there was a whole bunch of stuff. You know, it was an employee-employer relationship between the Board and Evan. And there are certain laws you have to follow, confidentiality and things. So, we were not in a position to say, Hey, we tried this, we did this. And I think the employee can say whatever they want pretty much, really. And you see that over and over. So, that was a disadvantage, and it was hard. The other part was, you know, you will never know the effort we made to do it carefully. And the sense, I think, that was there was that, I have this contract, no way you’re gonna get me out of it, and I’m not going anywhere. And as time went on, I think it became clear the University was suffering, and we had to do something. And in fact, our creditors told us that. And it felt very bungled. It felt like there were lots of pieces that you couldn’t control. It was horrible watching the public perception of it, and knowing there was another story, but you can’t be the one to tell it. You’re the employer.


I recall the Kaleo O University.


Kitty Litter, or whatever.


Their banner headline, the student newspaper said, Bad Kitty.


Yeah, yeah. Yeah; yeah.


So, that had to be a low point in general when people were saying, What are they doing over there, can’t they get their act together on the Board of Regents?


It was a low point in terms of not being able to do anything about it.


Especially since you were used to the other party, in your view, bungling it. And then now, you’re perceived that way.


Yeah; absolutely. That was really rugged; that was really rugged, I think for all of us. And yet, I found the decision we made to be the right one. I’ve never regretted that decision. How it unfolded and what it looked like on the outside; yeah, there was a lot of regret about that, but not the decision. And I don’t think any of us did.


So, the right outcome. 


The right outcome; and it really was. You know, that’s the decision. I mean, there were regents who quit because they didn’t want to go down. They knew what needed to be done, but they didn’t want to be in the middle of all that. And there were some amazing people who stuck around and said, This needs to be done for the good of our university. And I think there is some vindication in what happened at Westfield College.


Many times, especially over politics, you felt, no doubt, uncomfortable.


You know, I’ve never found discomfort to be an inhibiting factor.


I’m sure you had some sleepless nights over the regents matter.


Many; I think I didn’t sleep for like a whole year. I think that’s what you call political courage. I call it that when I see it in other people. And when you’re in it, it doesn’t feel like any kind of courage; it feels like a nightmare. But in the end, if something good came out or a group of people were able to come together to make something happen that was right or needed to happen, or bigger than they could do on their own.


What if it fails?


Yeah; it does. I failed in ’98. Do you know how many people wouldn’t even talk to me after ’98? She’s the one who went to the other side, you know. I lived through it.


It sounds like you’ve been able to do what you want to, what you feel strongly about, and not really suffer too much for it in business or personally.


I mean, I don’t know if somebody may be out there trying to get me, but I’m still here, and I’m probably not even aware of most of the time. And what I am aware of is that I have a whole lot of folks in the community I love working with, I have fabulous clients and a team that I work with day-to-day. I pretty much wake up enthusiastic and say, I want to go make this happen today. And so far, nobody’s stopped me. [CHUCKLE]


From riding motorcycles, to fighting for her child’s life, to risking her reputation, to making difficult decisions, Kitty (Lagareta) Yannone has shown herself to be a risk-taker and a fighter. Mahalo to Kitty (Lagareta) Yannone of Honolulu, 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 To download free podcasts of Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox, go to the Apple iTunes store, or visit


I started skateboarding when I was nine with those little metal wheels, and I thought it was the most exhilarating thing ever, and I just loved it. And I continued doing it past my first child being born, and then I used to skateboard with my sons. I remember we were at Manoa Elementary School, and there was a big driveway down to the school, and we were going down it, and it had a lot of loose gravel. And I was about forty-three and my sons were, you know, older. Anyway, I hit the bottom, and I was so excited that I’d made it down that I put my foot down, and I went sliding across the gravel, and just took all the skin off. And I had to go to the doctor to get cleaned up. He goes, You know, a woman in her forties has no business skateboarding. And so, I kinda took that to heart, but when I turned fifty, I started again.


[CHUCKLE] Do you remember saying this? There’s nothing quite like rolling along with the wind blowing by, not sure if you’re going to crash.


Yeah; that’s sort of my motto, my life experience, yes. Yeah. There’s something about kind of pushing the edge. I think if you can keep that feeling you had as a kid in some of your life day-to-day, those are things that felt good then, and they still feel good.





Loretta Ables Sayre


Part 1

Original air date: Tues., Sept. 28, 2009



Part 2


Since the age of three, California-born and Hawaii-raised Loretta Ables Sayre knew that all she wanted to be in life was a singer. She made her Broadway musical debut 47 years later in the plum role of Bloody Mary in the revival of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s South Pacific and received a Tony Award nomination. Everything in her life experience seemed to lead to the moment she was given that dream role. Part One of a two-part interview covers Loretta Ables Sayre’s life before South Pacific.


Loretta Ables Sayre Audio


Download the Transcript




Aloha mai kakou. I’m Leslie Wilcox. Welcome to Long Story Short. In the Diamond Head Theater production of Lee Cataluna and Keola Beamer’s “You Somebody”, Loretta Ables Sayre played Pua Lusa, a local diva whose ultimate goal in life was to be recognized by three-dot columnist Wayne Harada. Little did Loretta know that this story of destiny, family devotion, and dreams would turn out to be her own.


You know her as one of Hawaii’s most talented jazz vocalists who’s performed for the likes of Neil Sedaka, Dick Clark, and Karen Carpenter. She’s an actor with roles in Magnum PI, Birds of Paradise, North Shore, and Bay Watch Hawaii, and she’s appeared in many local commercials, most notably playing the role of Loretta in the Bank of Hawaii, Harry and Myra spot. But you might be surprised to know that Loretta Ables Sayre, well versed in Pidgin English, able to play the role of Auntie in so many television shows, and who can forget Pua Lusa in “You Somebody”, was not born in Hawaii.


No, I was born in Stockton, California. And my stepfather was in the Navy, and we got transferred over here when I was uh, just beginning second grade. Um, and it was Pearl Harbor Elementary that I went to, but it was close enough to Aliamanu [chuckle] to have to learn how to speak Pidgin. I really did, you know, and you have to—uh, I remember the first day of school, we went home, and we were telling uh, my mom, The—the kids talk funny over here, they—and they don’t wear shoes. ‘Cause back then, we didn’t have to wear shoes to school. They—uh, they—we didn’t even have to wear slippers. And I was from, like I said, California, where everybody dressed up on the first day of school. And um, within a month or two, you know, it was, li’ dat, and dakine, with everybody else. An—and that—that put me in an interesting place too. Because uh, I was a military child being raised in Pearl Harbor, but looking the way that I look; I looked just like the local kids. So at that early age, I think I kinda learned how to straddle, you know, the different worlds an—and tried to be a part of both of them, much like I do in—in my life now, still.


Well, tell me—uh, y—you talked about your stepfather, but uh, what about your uh, birth father?


My birth father um, was—oh, boy, where do you start with him? He uh, is from the Philippines, and he only had a sixth grade education. He ha—uh, he became uh, a fisherman to help raise um, his siblings and help his family out, and then he joined the Army in the Philippines, an—and fought uh, with the US during World War II, and decided to come to America to have a better life, and he moved to um, Stockton, California. He was a field laborer. And he worked his way up, eventually, to be a bookkeeper. Um, but he went through—I mean, he was in there with the farmers, and uh, was run over at a—with a tractor at one point, and um, so he really had a—a dream to have a better life in America, much better life than he had.


He married a much younger woman.




Your mom.


My mom. Um, my father was forty, and was um … uh, working as a field laborer for—for one of the fields that my mother’s father uh, ran. And she grew up in a very, very abusive household. Um … extremely so, where—where um, at a certain point in her life, she really—many poi—many times, but as she got older, she really thought that each beating was going to be the end of her life. And the only way that her father, her parents um, but especially her father would end that beating of the kids, which was a daily occurrence, was when the other girls—when the older girls got married. And my mom knew the only way that she was gonna stay alive is—is—is if she were to get married. And she had met my father, they really didn’t have a romance, but he was aware of the situation, and he proposed to her one day. And she … uh, acted as though she were going to go to school, and he um, picked her up, and they went to San Francisco, I think it was, and they got married. He was—




—forty, and she was fifteen.


So in effect, he was taking her out of an abusive—




—situation. That was the—


And the—


—the plan.


–beatings ended then. Because at that point, if you were married, then you were the responsibility of someone else. And—and her father uh, would stop that. It—the beatings went on for all the younger kids. But it was the only way that she could get out of—of her situation.


And did they get along after that?


They—well, as much as you possibly could. I mean, you have to—I’m sure she was grateful that he saved her life, you know, an—and got her out of that. But at the same time, she never really had a childhood, so she was in a crash course to become an adult. Uh, they got married at fifteen, she had my older sister when she was sixteen, and um, uh … three or four years later, had my brother, and about four years later uh, had me. And um, at that time, you’re talkingabout living in a small town. This is um … late 40s, um … 1950, around there. So the fact that she was alive um, she had a husband uh, who was working, she had these three kids, she of course was a housewife. But she yearned to do something else, she yearned to travel, and she always yearned to live in Hawaii.




That had been her ch—her childhood dream; she had always wanted to come to Hawaii. Um, an so they made the marriage work as much as they could, but there was such uh, uh, a vast age difference between them that it did eventually take its toll, and they got a divorce, and she married my stepfather a couple of years later, and they had two more kids. And he, um … well, it was time for him to get transferred, and he asked her where she wanted to go. He had three choices, and she—he said, What are your three choices? And she said, Hawaii, Hawaii, Hawaii.


And was that a love match?


Yes; very much so. Very much so. And I’m really fortunate, ‘cause I had uh, a father who was incredibly loving. Um, I think now on how hard that must have been for uh, him to stay in California, and to have his three kids taken to Hawaii at a time where there wasn’t money for us to travel back and forth to see him. But like I said, we always had the communication, we always um, uh, had this wonderful bond and love. But I’m always really fortunate, because my stepfather was very loving too; took us right in, without question—without question of race. Now we’re talking um, early 60s. My stepfather was younger than my mother, he was in the Navy. And he married uh, a divorcee who was um … seven years his senior, had three children. He was Haole, German, from St. Louis. My mother uh, is predominantly uh, Filipino-Spanish-French, Chinese also. And um, married her and took us in as we were his own children, and … never treated us in any other way than that; totally, completely accepted us as—as his children.


Did you have a continuing relationship with your father?


Yes, yes; very, very much so. Um, well, I didn’t go and see him again, I think, until I was um, in high school. I was probably in tenth grade before we went back again. And it was—we used to write him all the time. Back then, long distance phone calls were very expensive, so we didn’t do a lot of that; but we did write all the time. And—and I smile when I think of that, because I still have letters of his that he wrote uh, when I was growing up, and I have the very last letter he ever wrote to me. And my father had impeccable uh, penmanship; impeccable. And I remember one year, my sister and I stayed up—we were visiting him, and we stayed up until, oh, probably one o’clock, two o’clock in the morning, interviewing him. Because when you live in Hawaii, an—and he’s in California, there’s so much that you don’t know. An—and so we knew the only way that we were gonna find out was to ask him all of these questions. So we wrote down uh, all these questions, and we wrote his answers down. And we were surprised to find out that the village that he grew up in was so poor that they didn’t even have paper and pencil in his school, that—which was in a hut. The teacher had on the board one of those uh, penmanship charts that we all grew up with, with those two solid lines and the dotted line in the middle, and all the dotted lines that showed uh, the capital A in script, and then that dotted line with the small A. Sh—the kids would have to draw hose lines in the dirt, and they were given uh, a bowl of rice grains, and they would have to make these letters in penmanship with grains of rice. So until the day he died, he had the most beautiful penmanship. And I remember reading those letters when I was young, and just marveling in the way that he wrote.


What did you want to be when you grew up? I mean, uh, every kid gets asked that, every kid has to consider it, and most kids go through a whole laundry list of things that they have to discard along the way. What happened—




–with you?


Uh, the only thing I ever wanted to be was a singer. I—I wanted to act also, but… I mean, the only thing I ever wanted to be … to the point of … existence; it’s the only thing that I … ever could do. [chuckle] I mean, really. I was never much of a typist or anything like that. You know, and you go back to when I was growing up, the—the 60s and the 70s, um, the goal for—for women and for female children was not to aspire to be the doctor, but to be the nurse; or uh, was not to be the president or the CEO of the company, but to be the secretary. You know, if you got a job doing that, that was really something. Um… and all I ever wanted to be was a singer. Uh, when my family would go to bed at night, I would sneak down into the living and put albums on the stereo and put the headphones on, and listen to music until the sun came up. It was that—my private time. If they were gone from the house, I would put these records and sing. And there was something about that … catharsis of singing that … that, when music goes into your body and gets filtered through your soul, and comes out of you, and it releases all of these emotions, it was so right. My— my soul was singing when I was three years old, four years old. It’s just all I ever wanted to do.


So it wasn’t the sound that—that—it—it wasn’t the sound that appealed to you that you made, it was how it made you feel inside.


Right. Exactly; exactly. And then I realized that the sound is important [chuckle] somewhere along the line. It gets important, so you want to work on that. But always, for me, it was um … it was about … not necessarily the performance; it was just the—the release that my soul had, to express these things. I didn’t—I didn’t know what heartbreak was at four years old, I didn’t know what—what that was. Or maybe—maybe I did. But um, of course, I had not gone through those emotions, but there was something about these songs that touched my soul, that moved me so much.


What kind of songs were they?


Oh, gosh. When I was growing up, we listened to a myriad of music. Really kind of very well rounded in that we had classical music, we had uh, um … uh, theatrical uh, productions. My stepfather listened to country and western, we listened to um … R & B and pop, and rock, and the Beatles, and Motown. And—but the real love for me was listening to jazz standards, to listen to my mom’s collection of Dinah Washington, Ella Fitzgerald, Sara Vaughan, and to sing along with those records. And um … uh, I remember this one particular record that my mom had, a Dinah Washington album; and she had a song on it called “Where Are You”. And there’s no intro to the song, except for her voice, just ringing out from silence. This … [SINGS] Where are you, where have you gone without me. And I just would sing that, and feel that. I didn’t know what it was, and I guess now the best way that I can say—uh, put it into words is the passion. That even then, there was that passion inside of me that connected to what they were singing, and I always knew that that was the kind of music that, as much as I loved all the different styles of music, that was the kind of music that I wanted to sing.


And did you say that you have never received professional voice training?


No, I haven’t. Uh, when I was in high school, I did take two lessons, and the teacher um, was very … classic—uh, wer—her background was classical training. And that really wasn’t the kind of music that I had wanted to do, and it just didn’t feel right, and so I didn’t go back. Plus, we didn’t really have the money when I was growing up to go to uh, voice lessons either. There were five of us kids, and my uh, mom worked fulltime, and my stepdad was in the Navy, and it was enough putting food and clothes, you know, out for all five of us kids. So—


Well, would you say you were a natural, or would you say you trained yourself?


[chuckle] I—I think … training myself and through um … observing, I think, is probably the best way. Uh, and I have learned that that’s what a lot of actors do after all of their training, their formal training. It’s really just sitting back and observing people, and really watching them and listening to them. And I think I did that musically and theatrically.


You—you did the listening throughout your childhood.


Right; exactly. That’s how I learned to sing, an—and learned—I didn’t know how to do it technically, but I could hear the sound that was being produced, and you just kind of try to learn how to do the same thing, and try to make that same kind of quality, um … uh, in your own style, but that same kind of quality come out in—in singing.


Now, you went to Pearl Harbor Elementary.




And then?


And then Aliamanu Intermediate, and then Radford High School. And I never went to college after that, because um, I just started singing. I just started working.


You were able to make a living in singing out of high school?


Isn’t that crazy? Actually, I worked for a short time at uh, the Navy Exchange as a sales clerk. Um, I worked as a cashier at the—the Trattoria Restaurant on Kalia Road. Uh, but all that time, singing anywhere that I possibly could. And um, interestingly ni—interestingly enough, I had a drama teacher at Radford, Patrick Dickson, who um … I did all the school productions that—that he would put on. And he always encouraged me to sing; always. And he would tell me um … you know, there’s less than ten percent of people that go into this business are gonna make a living out of it; less than ten percent. And probably ten percent of that ten percent, maybe, will become successful at it or will have careers at it. And I would say, I know. And he would say, But I think you should continue doing this, because I think you could be part of that percentage. And halways encouraged me in it. And just before I got out of high school, he started performing professionally; he was working at Benihana’s uh, Tokyo in the Hilton Hawaiian Village. He was playing the piano there and singing here, and he was doing quite well. And he used to have me come down and sing with him. And eventually, he was offered the job to be Keola and Kapono Beamer’s uh, musical director for their show that they were gonna be doing at the Ocean Showroom. And he said, They’re looking for somebody to seat people and, you know, all of that; are you interested in doing that? And of course, it meant—if it meant peripherally working in the business where I was gonna be surrounded by music, I was in, I was there. So I was working these unbelievable hours, from you know, eight o’clock in the morning until one o’clock in the morning, two o’clock in the morning. I’d go home and sleep, change my clothes, and be heading out again. I would do sales for them during the day, and then seat people that came to the show. And uh, they had shows all during the week, but on Fridays and Saturdays they had two shows at nine and eleven. Andy Bumatai, who was their warm-up act, had a show at one o’clock in the morning. And … that’s when people used to stay up ‘til one o’clock in the morning. [chuckle] And uh, uh, he asked me one night if I would come up and sing, and it just so happened that Keola and Kapono finished their show, and they stayed and watched his show that night. And uh, my teacher, who was now my good friend, um, Patrick Dickson, played the piano, and I got up and sang. And Keola called me up the next day and said, um, We’ve never done this before, but we would like to offer you the position as uh, a featured female vocalist in our show. And …


So it was Andy Bumatai who in effect discovered—


Really. He was the one that discovered—


The—the person who was already employed by the Beamers.


Yes; yes. Isn’t that crazy? And then eventually, Andy left their show, and went to the Royal Hawaiian. And he took me with him, and I was his opening act. So it’s just been an—this interesting—the way things weave together, um, all along. Um, and then somehow … uh, I’ve been able to continue doing that.


You have, in—in fact, um, been a featured singer at some of the classiest hotels in Hawaii, and for long periods of time.




Now, given that there is a lot of talent in Hawaii, how did you manage that?


Uh, boy. By … trying to not take it for granted, first of all. Because you’re absolutely right; there are in—incredible singers in town, and I know that any one of them would be able to do what uh, what I was doing there. What I tried to do was be as professional as I possibly could, be true to myself as a performer, and do music that was true to me, and not try to water it down to appeal to everyone. You know, there’s a lot of singers that do something really well, but they think, Well, gee, uh, reggae music is really big, and I think I’ll add some of that in. And then they mix it in, and they kinda lose focus on who they are. I think I knew … who … my demographic was as far as the people that would come and listen to my kind of music, and try to maintain my standards as a performer, as a human being, as a singer, um, and do my best to represent the places that I worked also in the same way. And be as consistent in that professionalism um, as much as I possibly could, and really not take the job for granted. I—you know, I don’t know how—uh, a lot of people seem to do that nowadays, and I’m just—I think I’ve always been grateful to have the job. And I try to give the audience and my employer the same respect that I would hope that they would give, you know, back to uh, my fellow musicians and myself.


You know, you’ve—you’ve been associated with these very classy settings and evening—


Shocking, isn’t it?


–[INDISTINCT] and piano.




But everyone says about you, you’re so humble, and you’re so good fun.




What happened to diva temperament?


[chuckle] Um, divas don’t work a whole lot.




So, I mean, you know, that’s the truth of the matter, is um … when there is such uh, a … grand group of singers that these top hotels could choose from, if you want to put up a little diva attack, uh, they don’t have the time to put up with that. Because there’s a dozen more singers behind you that are willing to do just as good of a job, if not better, and be more professional. And I just never … took my work for granted in that way. Um, I really wanted to keep—like I said, keep up the standards for myself, as well as my fellow musicians, and as well as my employers. Because—


Had—had you seen people blow opportunities?


Oh, absolutely. Absolutely. I mean, uh, it—it wouldn’t be good to name names, but uh, definitely, I have seen um, singers, male and female, who … just wouldn’t show up for work. And that’s shocking to me. I mean, no matter where you work; no matter where you work. And especially nowadays, you think of—of uh, how many people that are out of jobs. You have to really make sure that you do your very best. And … you know, there—there are a lot of performers that think that you have to have this diva attitude for people to respect you. And I think it actually works against you. Because this really is—it— it’s an island, and … everybody knows everybody, an—as well as the people that come to see you perform, as well as the—your employers. And they all talk. And you—you build up and you maintain the kind of reputation, um, that you want. And if you’re gonna have that kind of diva attitude, they don’t have to keep you.


Is it hard to meld the two skills when you’re in a musical, and you’ve gotta act and sing?


Um … it probably isn’t difficult if you’re good at both of them. [chuckle] I, of course, am much more comfortable with the singing part than I was with—with the acting. And so it helped that we have, uh … uh, this incredible director, Bartlett Sher, who directed South Pacific, who um, knows how to bring those things out.


How did he bring that out in you, what he wanted from you?


You know, that’s one of the wonderful things about living here in Hawaii, is that um … it’s sounds so cliché, but we are … so mixed. All of the races are mixed, and—and like, we’ve all grown up kidding each other because of—of the different racial backgrounds we are, but at the same time, you never know … what that other person, what their mix is, they don’t know what yours is, so it has to be in good fun. You can’t go through life hating everybody, and you know, holding things against them. But at the same time, you get to uh, observe your Chinese friend’s grandma, and your uh, your Samoan friend’s mother, and all these different mixes and … somehow, you kind of glean from all them, and they all become part of you. So it does help in that acting, because um, uh, you have to pull out these little characters. In fact, that’s one of the things that got me in the role that I’m doing now, is uh, the director is um … was raised in Seattle, lived in Seattle, but his mother had married a local boy. And uh, they— during his teenage years, he had come over here, and he had extended family here, so he knew Chinese aunties, and Japanese aunties. And so when I was auditioning for this role, he was saying, Tell me about these women; you know, show me characters or characteristics of these women. It was—that was very easy to tap into, ‘cause you have aunties of every color, and every voicesound, and you have the low ones like this, and you have the ones with that shrill voice that’s—




–cut right through you, and … they’re all part of you.


And why not look in the Pacific for … someone to star in South Pacific.


And how grateful I am that they did. [chuckle]


This is just Part 1 of our conversation with Loretta Ables Sayre. In Part 2, we’ll find out how she met the love of her life, her husband David. And she’ll tell us how, despite her doubts and fears, she stepped onto the biggest stage and actor could ever dream of, Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts. It’s a story that could itself be a Broadway play. Thank you for spending this time with us. For Long Story Short and PBS Hawaii, I’m Leslie Wilcox. A hui hou kakou.


Video clip with production credits:

I remember when I was anchoring a morning show where I think the audio uh, check was at 4:30 a.m., and you were a guest one Aloha Friday morning.



And you came in, and you were in a great mood, and on time, and um, and you did a wonderful job, as you always do.




And then I don’t know if you remember this; this was years before you met your husband, David.




At the very end, I think I asked you, So anything else? And you said, Yes, uh … if you’d like to—you addressed the camera and you said, If you’d like to date a pudgy Filipino—




–give me a call. And so we just laughed, and the show went off the air. And I said, That was funny. And you said, I’m serious.


[chuckle] Yeah; exactly. Boy, you gotta be—you know, you just seize that opportunity when it’s there.


Part 2 of Loretta Ables Sayre


Loretta Ables Sayre has gone from singing backup for Keola and Kapono Beamer to performing jazz standards at some of Hawaii’s classiest nightclubs. As an actor, Loretta has been Auntie in numerous television shows, and she’s played the role of Pua Lusa in “You Somebody” as no one else can. And now, she’s on the world’s biggest stage.


Aloha mai kakou. I’m Leslie Wilcox. Welcome to Long Story Short. You know, most times in life, we get to choose our own path; whom we marry, what our career is. But sometimes, destiny takes over. Just when you thought your life was what it is, what it always will be, you meet someone; and that someone affects your life in a way that you never imagined. This is the story of Loretta Ables Sayre, and destiny.


So at some point, David Sayre came into your life.




How did that happen?


Oh, my gosh. Um … by the grace of God, really. I—I uh, was singing at the Halekulani, and had some friends tha—uh, couple of girlfriends that uh, worked with this guy, and um, they were hap—they happened to be coming in to see me that night at work. As it happened, uh, they were bringing in a young girl uh, a cousin of—of one of them who was graduating from college. Anyway, I was working; I was sitting down talking with them, and I got up to do a set. And so it was this couple—husband and wife, and this girl sitting at the table. And while I was working, this guy came in and joined them, s—who I assumed was her husband. And um, I s—walked up to the table when I went on break, and I was a little sassy that night. I know, shocking again.




Uh, and I walked–You? [chuckle] Who’d have thunk? I walked up to the table where he was sitting, and um … sh—my friend said, By the way Loretta, this is David. And I said, Hi, David, you’re sitting in my chair. And he kinda looked at me; and I said, It’s okay, I’m an—I’m a Filipino in an evening gown, I can get my own chair, don’t worry about it. And I went over and grabbed this heavy teak chair and dragged it across the room. And he let me.




And I dragged it over, and I sat down. And we picked up the conversation where we had been talking before, and he was funny and sweet, and he was making me laugh. And I remember thinking, fleetingly in my head, um … having this little conversation with God really quickly, that you know what, she is so lucky. She—if I could meet somebody like this, this would—[WHISPERS] God, you know, this guy, somebody like him. And by the end of that night, it was very clear that he didn’t even know her name, and he … handed me his business card, and I didn’t what to do with his business card. Uh, it said, PR. I said, What do I do, call you if I need PR? And he said, Or you can just give a call. Oh …which I would never do. And um, and he left, and I just couldn’t get this guy out of my head. And I had a very dear friend that was visiting town who said to me, You know what, you’re gonna call that number on that card, and just say hello to him. And I said, Why? And he said, ‘Cause I don’t want to hear uh, six months from now, I wonder whatever happened to that guy? So I uh, was shaking, and I called this number, his business number, and I said, It was really nice meeting you, I hope you come and see us at the club, we’re every there— we’re there every night except for Sunday, Monday. And I hung up. And got that out of the way. And he called back. And um, met my friend and I for uh, um, cocktails on my night off. And I was so afraid that he was going to be y—yet another …


Dead end.


Yes. [chuckle]


Had you talked to your girlfriend? Was she doing some communicating —




–with the both of you?


–no, actually—uh, no, she wasn’t. She wasn’t at this point, ‘cause this happened very, very quickly. In fact, I think I did call her the next day and leave a message for her saying, I need more information about him. Um, ‘cause wedidn’t have Google back then. [chuckle]




And—and uh, as it was, on uh, our next—I believe it was eight dates, we dated for two months before we even kissed. And every time he called me up to ask me out to dinner, I would bring a chaperone along. I would make an excuse that I have a girlfriend—


What’s with you? Why?


Well, because at this point, I was thirty-nine years old, and I had been through the dating thing, and just wasn’t interested in going there again. If they were gonna come into my life, I wanted to know exactly who they were. No more the stupid, cutesy, flirting thing. Who are you as a human being, an—and what’s important to you? So every time he would call me up, I would have this friend. Because if you have a friend there, you can’t be stupid. And we would talk about everything that was important in life; we talked about politics, uh, the things you’re not supposed to talk about; politics, and uh, abortion, and religion, and all of those things. And by the time we finally did have our kiss, I knew who he was, and I knew his soul.


What was he thinking all this time? Did he think, Wow, does she like me or not?




Why do we always have to have a chaperone?


Well, I’m sure he was thinking that; I’m sure he was thinking that. Um, he actually says that he knew from the first night that we met.




That we would be married, that I was the one. In fact, I just asked him that question again the other night, and he sticks by it. He says that he just knew.


So you make a happy match at age—uh, in your forties.




And you become a Broadway star at age fifty.


God is good. It’s incredible; it’s incredible.


Well, you say God is good.




Some might say, God was a little late.


[chuckle] No, God’s timing is perfect. Because uh, you know, if it had happened at any other time in my life, I probably would not have been prepared for it. And uh, for this role to come into my life when it did, uh, I could not have been twenty-five years old; they were looking for um, a Polynesian woman, um, from the South Pacific, who was in her uh, between forties to fifties, who could be the mother of a daughter somewhere between seventeen and twenty-two years old. She … had to have—uh, she had to have this … life experience behind her where she knew how to go toe-to-toe with men in the 1940s, when women didn’t do that. Um, they were just looking for all of these things, and I was at a place in my life where uh, I knew who she was inside. And then the opportunity came around, and—


Which you almost passed up.


Which I almost passed up, were it not for my husband, who kept insisting that I go. And I thought it—um, it was a wonderful opportunity that was coming this way, but I really thought that I would be making a fool of myself by going to this. Because I have not studied acting; I’ve never studied acting. In fact, for that matter, I’ve never really studied singing professionally either; I just kinda did it. And this opportunity came, and I really didn’t think that I was prepared, and up until the last half hour before I was supposed to be there. So my husband said to me, I’ll drive you down there, and you sing the songs, and you work on it, an— and just do your best. And uh, Donald Yap had made uh, a cassette tape for me uh, of the musical accompaniment for Bali Hai. ‘Cause we had to sing that at the audition. And we put this in the car, and I’m singing along with this at the top of my lungs, and I’m trying to memorize the—the sides of the—the script. And um—but I was just thinking, you know, all these other incredibly talented women from Hawaii are gonna be at this audition. And when I got into the theater to sign up, there was Marlene Sai sitting there, who … is only an icon, you know, in—in—


She was auditioning as well?


She was auditioning as well. And she had just played this role um, with um, Hawaii Opera Theater, and so of course, she knew the character much more than I did. I had done the music for the show in conventions many years ago, but had never portrayed the role in a stage production. And so she was there. Uh, I heard that Karen Keawehawaii had also been called, Sonya Mendez was there. Um, there were all these wonderful, wonderful performers. And so to put my name on that list, I was just thinking, [WHISPERS] What am I doing here? Why am I signing this list? And I really didn’t think that I had a chance at all. And we get called into the room to audition one at a time. And when I walked in, I said to them, I have not had the time to memorize this, may I use the script? And they said, Yes. And I just thought, At this point, all I can do is just give them what I can, ‘cause I—I—I don’t have this memorized, and … I went through this whole so—the—through all the scenes. I did Bali Hai. I’m thinking to myself, This is the one chance for a casting director to hear me, I’d better belt this last note. So I belted the last note. An—and as I left, the guy that was videotaping said to me, You did a really wonderful job. An—and that made me feel very good.




But I walked out of the room; there was a trash can, and I had this packet, and I thought, I’ll never hear from them. And I almost threw all of the stuff in the trash can. And then I thought, No, I’m gonna hold onto it just in case. And I went up to the stage, and started my rehearsal for “You Somebody” there at—at Diamond Head. And I was just relieved to be finished with it. And I thought, You know, it was a chance that came, it was an opportunity. I was glad David talked me into it, I was glad I did it. But now I’m glad I’m over it, so that I can get back to rehearsal for this show. And two days later, my phone rang, and—


Two days?


Two days later, my phone rang, and uh, it was this casting agent. And he said, I just want to let you know that you have been selected by the director um, Bart Sher, for a call back audition in New York for a principal role in a Broadway show. And he knew how important it was to me that he said that, and he spoke it that slowly, and I still—I couldn’t re—I didn’t respond to him. And he said, Are you there? And I said, Yes. And he repeated it again. He said, You’ve been hand selected, you’ve got a call back. And I could not believe the words that … I—I … was gonna be seen in New York; it was so overwhelming to me. And I said, Who else got a call back? And he said, No one. Um, you—you got the call back from Hawaii. And I just [SILENT SCREAM] burst into tears. Because … I know how talented these women are here, and … I know that they are just as talented and ready for an opportunity like this. And that it would be given to me, that it was my responsibility for myself, and for them, to do the very best that I possibly could. Just because, how often do any of us from Hawaii get an opportunity like this? So um, I cried my eyes out, and I called my husband, and I think somewhere between the sobs he understood what was going on. [SNIFF] But as I was talking on—uh, to this—uh, the casting agent, I was taking all this information down on a scrap piece of paper, ‘cause I wasn’t home when he called. And um, a couple months ago, my husband found that piece of paper, and he framed it.




So we have that receipt at home, where I have the casting agent’s name, and the dates when they were flying me there. And um, so I got there to—to Lincoln Center. Never did I think that I would ever be called to audition there, that they would even … think that—to hire me for a role to perform there. So to stand on those … hallowed grounds for—for performers, because um, it is the home of the New York City Ballet, the Metropolitan Opera, Avery Fisher. All the greatest musicians and performers in the world have aspired to um, perform there, and have performed there. And uh, I held David’s hand, and we cried and cried before I even went to this audition. Uh, so we—I went downstairs, and it was like a scene from Flash Dance, in her audition where’s these huge tables and there’s four people sitting behind the tables, and they have uh, legal pads in front of them, and they ask you to come into the room. And basically, the director said, Hi, I’m Bart Sher. Uh, are you ready? Let’s start with a song; sing Bali Hai for us. And it was one of the most stressful things that I had ever been through in my life. Um, they were taking notes, and I could barely sing. I had all the classic signs of panic; you ca—can’t breathe, uh, your mouth goes dry and you’re supposed to have your big audition and sign. And uh, it was—I really thought I did horrible. They asked me to sit outside for ten minutes, and then they called me back in and they said, Your big um, uh, call back audition—which I didn’t know there was a big one, I thought this was the only one—was supposed to be on Friday. This, I believe, was on a Wednesday when I was there. It was supposed to be on Friday, but there has been a conflict of—of uh, schedules; we would like you to come back on Monday. And I said, That’s fine. And the director said, Well, since you’re gonna be here, can you come back tomorrow, and we’ll just work on this, an—and we’ll work with the musical director um, on the song, and we’ll just kinda play around with this? And I said, Sure. But I really thought that I had just—they were just trying to utilize my time. And I left the theater, and I thought I had done so poorly that David came to pick me up, and I couldn’t talk about it. Uh, for hours, I couldn’t talk about it. And we went to dinner that night, and I finally tried to tell him about how horribly I had done, and I cried all the way through dinner. Because I—I really brought all the insecurities that you bring as a performer with you, uh, when you don’t have any formal training in this. I didn’t have anything to fall back on. And um, and then I realized in talking this out with him that, you know what, I can only be who I am, and bring the experiences that I have in my life with me to this audition. They didn’t ask if I was a Julliard graduate; they didn’t ask who my acting coach was.


It was all about performance.


Exactly. And so I went back the next day, and this—our director, Bart Sher, said, Let’s just try it from different angles. So I had the scenes memorized, and he said, Let’s make her happy. I want you to do all of these scenes, but make her happy. Nothing gets her down; nothing. I want you to just make her joyful and gleeful through the whole thing. So I went through all th—this material, making her just sizzling with excitement. And then he would listen to it, and he’d say, Okay, now let’s do the change; I want you to make her as angry as you can possibly make her. I want you to swear at me; the words aren’t there, but I want you to swear. Use every word that you can think of.


What words did you use?


All the ones that we’re not supposed to use on television. [chuckle] Um, because there are scenes that Bloody Mary battles—you know, has these verbal battles with uh, sailors. And he said, If she’s really tough, if she’s gonna be tough, uh, what are the words that she’s gonna use? They—she’s been hanging out with sailors and—and with all these soldiers; what do you think they’ve taught her? So he said, I want you to use it that way. But she doesn’t mess around with them. Don’t make it cute; I want it angry. So then I would have to turn it one-eighty and just go as angry and seething as I possibly could. And then he wanted to do it vulnerable. And we worked two days, three days in a row where he stretched like putty. And that’s—this is answering your question. He want—he wanted—Bring out uh, your Asian aunties, your—the Polynesian aunties, the—you know, how—how—how did they treat their kids when they were growing up? Were they—were they all sweet? You know, I guess—


He wanted a multidimensional person—




–rather than the cartoonish Bloody—




–Mary that we’d seen before.


Exactly. And she’s normally been portrayed a kinda goofy, and um … you know, kind of voodoo mama-ish. But he wanted her as a real desperate mother. And I see now in the way that he has directed it, she is all of those things that he had us work on. So I had worked with uh, Bart Sher, our director, I had worked with Ted Sperling, our musical director. Um, we had pretty much honed in on what he was looking for in this character. And um, they tell me on Monday, You have two auditions; you have an eleven o’clock with Andre. Um, and because I was so overwhelmed, I didn’t want to ask them who Andre was, because I thought um, They’ll think I’m an idiot, so—


Andre the Giant?


Exactly; exactly. And they said, You have an eleven o’clock with Andre, and then at three o’clock you have—uh, four o’clock, you have your audition for R & H. But my first concern was this uh, call back audition for Andre. And I get in there, and it’s all these people. It’s, you know, uh, a long table; there are more people at this table, uh, along with the director and musical director, and director of musical theater—producer of musical theater at Lincoln Center, um, the casting agent. There are all these people. And then there was this older, very distinguished man, and there was no other younger guy; that was the same guy that was reading to me. And so Bart says to me, Okay, this is Andre, and I want you—so I said, Hello. And I—




He said, I want you to go through the whole audition as we worked it. So I took a deep breath, and I started out, and I did this whole audition. And this man, Andre, was sitting behind all the others, and he nodded his head, and then afterwards he came up to me and he said, um, You know, that was lovely, and I want you to do the same thing this afternoon. And he shook my hand, and— and he gave me one—one of the highest compliments I’ve ever been paid. And I—I’m not accepting this only for myself, but as a performer. Um … uh, he said to me, This is my favorite musical of my entire life, and he said, But this is the first time in my life I ever understood what the words to Happy Talk meant, and what they meant in the story; the song never made sense to me before. And it—that is—if I got that kind of reaction from him, it was because of Bart Sher, of his direction. Because he was so brilliant. He was able to bring all of this information out in the song that I’ve never seen performed before either.


And who is Andre?


Andre Bishop is the uh, artistic director of all of Lincoln Center. He’s basically … the boss, big boss, the …


Larger than life boss.


Yes; exactly. And um, one of the humblest, kindest, gentlest uh, men I have ever met in my life. Just wonderful. And so um … I’ll—I’ll make a really long story short. The—the big call back then was at four o’clock. He said to me, Go and rest; I want you to lay down and rest, and then be here for this, an—and just do the same thing you did for me, do that for them. So I get to the theater, and I realize—I get there about a half an hour before, and they have a room for me to warm up in. Um … when I left Diamond Head Theater, Bri—uh, um … oh, gosh; his name just left my head ni—right now. Um, uh … one of the prop guys made a shrunken head for me, um, because my character brings a shrunken head in. And the last night at um, at “You Somebody”, everyone that was in the show came by my room, and I nicknamed him Harry, and they blew kisses on Harry an—and aloha, and good juju, and all of these things. And I brought Harry to New York with me. So uh, I pulled him out in my—in my rehearsal space, and I brought into the room with me everybody that was there, ‘cause I knew this was the moment that everything that I have ever done in my life, everyone from my father meeting to my mother, to ever—to everything, uh, to my—my mom marrying my stepdad and getting transferred to Hawaii, everything that has ever happened in my life has brought me to this moment. And I wanted to bring all of these people into the room with me. So I brought Harry out, and I was thinking about all my friends and my family, I was thinking about my parents, my grandparents, my family; everyone. Um … and I felt them. I—this roo—my—the room that I was in was swirling with angels. And I became calm all of a sudden, and I—and I thought, I’m gonna do the very best that I can, ‘cause that’s all that I can do. I can’t be anything else but that. And I looked at my watch, and it was five minutes to four. There was a knock at the door, and it was the casting agent, Bernie Telsey, who said, you know, We’re ready. And they brought me into this room, and there were probably about eighteen—at least eighteen people that were all in there. No introductions were made; they just said, This is Loretta, she’s auditioning for Bloody Mary. Uh, Are you ready? And I said, Yes. And I took a deep breath and just went into the scenes, and did everything that I could, and—and it just felt absolutely … right and good. And even if I didn’t get this role, the fact that I was seen for this, that I had this chance, was just right for me. And … when I finished with my audition, they applauded, and the director was trying to stop them from applauding. I don’t know if that’s a proper thing to do or not. And they asked me to sit outside, and I was sitting waiting. David, in the meantime, was outside by the fountain, and um—


You know, that’s the first time in the audition process where you felt good about it.


Right; right. Because I really—it was that calm that came over me from feeling these angels. Like I said, it was the first time that I just felt like it really didn’t matter if they gave me this or not; the fact that was seen, the fact that—that I was—I was flown to New York and I was seen at Lincoln Center. I didn’t have to be given the job; it meant so much to me just to have had that happen. And they asked me to sit outside, and they called me back in a few minutes later. And everyone was still sitting there, and they pulled up a chair for me. And Bart Sher said, Well, we just wanted to let you know that, you know, we all talked in here, and um, we decided that we wanted—because you’re gonna be going home, uh, we all wanted to be in the same room with you to tell you … and he just paused. And it was that … soap opera pause. [chuckle] And I was waiting,and I was really hoping. At this point, I had decided, if they offered me the role of—of understudy, I would lose my mind, because it meant I had a job in New York. And he said, Offer you uh … so to let you know … that you got the part. And I was thinking, He didn’t say understudy. And he said, Did you understand me? And he—and he said—




–You got the role …




Will you be our Bloody Mary? And they burst into applause, and I j—remember thinking … This is the greatest moment of my life; this is the greatest moment of my life. And I burst into tears, and I tried to … compose myself to talk to them. And he said, Do you have anything to say? And I said … I just want to take you all home and feed you. [chuckle]




Exactly. And he said, I want to introduce you to some of the people that are here. And he said, um, This is Mary Rodgers, daughter of Richard Rodgers.




And this is Alice Hammerstein, daughter of Oscar and ha—Oscar Hammerstein. And I realize … realized um, that … these were the daughters of the two men who … wrote and created uh, American musical theater as we know it.


Are you glad you didn’t know that before you sang?


I am so glad; I’m so glad.


These—this is the legacy.


Right; exactly. And um … to get their approval, uh, just meant everything, everything in the world to me. And um, they’ve both become dear friends; wonderful, wonderful women. Um … and uh, I still—there’s still that child in me th—that just thinks … when I see them, I see their fathers’ names in the sheet music that I looked at all of my life, of songs that I’ve sung all of my life. And um… it was just the gre—greatest moment of my life. And to make it all more perfect, when we called David to tell him, uh, to come and meet me and uh, uh, um … make the announcement that I got the part, he said to me, I have to tell you, he said, I was sitting outside and I knew it was time for you audition, and he said, I just started praying, and I prayed through all of our angels and, you know, for everybody to thank them for this moment. And he said, I just got the feeling that everything was right, that everything was perfect, and there were angels everywhere. And he said, I remember, ‘cause I looked at my watch, and it was five minutes to four.


Fairytales and dreams; they can come true. Sometimes, it’s just destiny. For Long Story Short and PBS Hawaii, , I’m Leslie Wilcox. A hui hou kakou.


Video clip with production credits:

One of the nicest things uh, ever, was I got um … uh, a note from Tom Hanks; he and his wife, Rita Wilson, had come to the show. And uh, I didn’t get to meet him that night, but I got back to my dressing room the next day, and there was this note that had my name on it, and on the back—back it said, From TH and RW. And I was thinking, Who is—I don’t know who this person is. And I opened it, and it was this beautiful, beautiful letter talking about how much he had loved the show, and uh, and he complimented me on my performance. And I think he said something in there, he referred to me—to me as his peer. And I thought, How great is that? How great it that, that … and I will treasure that. I am—I’m going to frame that, and—and I will treasure that, the rest of my life.



Amy Agbayani


Original air date: Tues., Nov. 10, 2010


Encouraging Diversity at the University of Hawaii
In this edition of Long Story Short, Leslie Wilcox introduces us to Amy Agbayani, who oversees the University of Hawaii’s diversity programs. Dr. Agbayani came to Hawaii from her native Philippines to study at the East-West Center in the turbulent 1960’s. The antiwar protests of the era helped set the stage for Agbayani’s lifetime fight for civil rights and social justice.


Agbayani first found her calling helping her fellow Filipino immigrants adjust to life in Hawaii through a group called Operation Manong, which she co-founded 40 years ago. She soon broadened her efforts on behalf of other immigrants, women, and almost anyone needing a voice, becoming the first chair of the Hawaii Civil Rights Commission.


Over the years, Agbayani’s office at UH has expanded into one of the most comprehensive university diversity programs in the nation. She now oversees more than 20 programs to recruit and assist students who are diverse in terms of culture, ethnicity, gender, age, disability, religion and sexual orientation.


Amy Agbayani Audio


Download the Transcript




I think people who don’t know me are really quite surprised when they do meet me, because I’m not frothing at the mouth. Because some of my statements might be outrageous, but on a personal level, I’m kind of mild, I think. But I do take strong positions on these issues.


Have you taken a position, where you really put yourself out there on the very edge?


Oh, yeah.


Amy Agbayani came to Hawaii in the turbulent 1960s to get a graduate education, and she stayed to shake things up with her activist approach and sense of social justice. She has spent the past forty-plus years, on campus and in the community, chipping away at the barriers holding back immigrants, women, gays, and other underrepresented groups. Her story is 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. In this edition of Long Story Short, we’ll get to know Amy Agbayani, a Hawaii civil right pioneer who’s built a career and a reputation fighting for the underdog. Her activist roots date back to the anti – Vietnam War protests in the 60s at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. Instead of returning to her native Philippines after graduate school, Dr. Agbayani found her calling in working to improve the lives of Filipino immigrants here in Hawaii.


Over the years, she expanded her efforts to include other minorities and almost anyone on the fringes of society. Known as a tireless advocate, Amy Agbayani picks her battles, and never gives up the fight.


I’ve always known you as Amy. But now, I learned that that’s not your legal name; it’s a nickname. What’s your real first name?


My father made it up, and it’s Amefil. And it stands for America, Philippines. I was born during the war. Some people say, Which war?




But I was born during World War II, in Manila. And so the Philippines and America were working together. And so that’s how I got my name.


Now, I believe your dad was a diplomat; wasn’t he?


Right. My father actually was a journalist, first, and a faculty member, actually. And he was with the Philippine group right after the Philippines got independence, to represent the Philippines as a diplomat. So he was the first crop of Filipinos to represent a new nation. And my father was assigned—his first assignment was to Sydney. And usually, diplomats are allowed to stay a few years, and then are asked to move on. But my father liked it, and we liked it, and it was good for our education, I guess, and so we stayed there for nine years. So when I was growing up and if you had talked to me on the telephone, I spoke like an Australian child.


And what did you speak at home?


We spoke English in our home, but because my mother and father speak two different Philippine languages.


One is Tagalog?



And what’s the other one?


Ilocano, which is eighty percent of the Filipinos here in Hawaii speak in Ilocano.


And you’re still proficient in both languages?


Oh, no; I’m not. Yeah. I left the Philippines when I was five, and so, English is really the language that I’m most comfortable with.


And no more Australian accent?


No, I dropped that in about two minutes, when I went back to the Philippines, ‘cause everyone, would laugh at me.


[CHUCKLE] And you lived other places too, right?


Yes. Actually, I graduated high school from Bangkok; Bangkok International School. It was a small, international school, and I think there were only ten of us as seniors. And then, I went to the University of the Philippines.


When you were growing up, and living in some different countries, and traveling too, was it hard to figure out who you were sometimes, because there weren’t other people like you right there?


I guess I didn’t notice it. I thought I was Australian for a long time.




But then, because of my parents, and they had to represent our country, it was clear that I was Filipino. And so I wasn’t confused about that, and I found it interesting, though, that with the exception of two or three friends, I really did grow up with non-Filipino classmates.


Amy Agbayani says she didn’t experience racial discrimination, thanks to her family’s diplomatic and educational status. And as the third child, her parents did not put undue pressure on her to excel.


Did your mother convey anything to you about people who get left out of the best of society?


She was always kind, and inclusive. So I think that’s what I got from both of them, is that there’s such a variety of people, and that there’s so much talent out there. And so she made friends with everybody, so I just sort of copied her. She was sort of into United Nations all the time. She would dress me up in my Filipino uniform, and I’d be selling United Nations buttons downtown. So I sort of had that international and multicultural sort of idea as a five-year-old.


The Philippines is known as a country of Haves and Have-nots. So you’re obviously a Have.


My parents were Haves, but through education rather than land or property. So my father and mother were very well educated.


And wanted you to be, as well?


It was just assumed [CHUCKLE] that we would be educated.


Did you get any direct advice from them on that?


Yes; I was supposed to be a doctor. I didn’t enjoy that. My first ambition was to be a tennis professional, tennis star. ‘Cause I grew up in Australia, and tennis was the important sport there. But I learned early on that I wasn’t going to survive or get hired as a tennis player. I was the alternate to the alternate on the tennis team, so I wasn’t really one of the best tennis players. And so I think because of that, I sort of understood that I’d better pay attention to school. The next profession was to be a lawyer. And so that’s where I got a degree in political science, and planned to go to the University of the Philippines Law School, which is excellent. But really, there was a very long line for registration, so I decided to go across the street, which is the graduate school. And I was starting a master’s in political science, and that’s when I met a professor from the University of Hawaii visiting the Philippines, Bob Stouffer. And that’s where I heard about the University of Hawaii, and the East West Center, and that’s how I got to Hawaii, as a East West Center scholar.


What was said to you, to get you so interested in giving up your plans, and moving to another country?


Well, the scholarship, to the East West Center and the University of Hawaii. I had no intention of staying in Hawaii. I was supposed to be an international foreign student, and actually required to go back to the Philippines for two years. But I got married, and stayed here, and those plans went out the door. But I had fully intended to go back to the Philippines and hopefully get a job at the University of the Philippines.


And then in Hawaii, you would become associated with a program that was for, expressly, Filipinos.


Yeah. I think it was interesting, because I came to Hawaii in a way, laterally, and it never occurred to me that Filipinos would be in such a disadvantaged position here. And so it was quite a shock when I learned about Hawaii’s history, and the situation of many Filipinos in Hawaii that it didn’t seem right or fair. And so it was an easy transition for me to work in the community.


So you’re at the East West Center, and you do complete not only your master ’s, but you get a PhD. Where did that take you?


Well, I was twenty-six when I got my PhD, and my first job was to work in Kalihi- Palama on a model cities program. And then, the 1965 immigration law was passed, and that brought along a lot of new immigrant Filipinos trickling into Hawaii. And so people like myself noticed that Filipino immigrants were really, really being picked on in the public schools, there was no bilingual education for them, they couldn’t be understood, and there were big fights. And so a group of us started Operation Manong. But I think the reason we were able to do that is because most of us were highly educated. All of us, Sheila Forman, Melinda Kerkvliet, we were PhD candidates, and we had haole last names, and with faculty husbands. And so I think we had a lot of self-confidence to just try anything out. And so, we did start that, and it was really simple. We asked Filipino students, Will you help tutor in the public schools, ‘cause the Filipino children need your help. And the day that week that we got there, we noticed there were Koreans, and there were Chinese, and others. And so we expanded Operation Manong from just Filipino to every immigrant community.


And this was a private nonprofit you started?


Well, we didn’t even have any organization at the time. It was sort of just a group. And then, later on, we got some church money, and then we were able to get a very large federal grant to hire our tutors to work in the public schools. I’m extremely proud of the students that we got. The first two included Robin Campaniano, and Emme Tomimbang. Both of them represent the kind of student that we wanted, who was good at getting through college, but at the same time, getting into a profession, and being community oriented.


I recall meeting you at that time. It was in the early 70s. And the immigrant Filipinos were being picked on by, who, but established Filipino kids.


Right. They wanted to distance themselves, and not be considered the bottom of the totem pole. So they did fight with each other. And so that was one of the things that we had to work on, is to change the paradigm.


How long did it take for things to shift?


Well, we’re still working on it. So every new generation, every new kid has to learn that. But at least, we’ve won the argument, I think, that the schools must— and also, the laws. And that’s one of the reasons why I think I entered or participate in politics, is to change the laws. And civil rights laws are better now, than they were then.


If you’re interested in civil rights, it’s pretty hard not to be politically minded, if

you want to get things done.




So you did enter politics.


And I helped lobby for the Hawaii Civil Rights Commission, and I was the first chair of the Civil Rights Commission.


Amy Agbayani’s involvement in academic and activist circles led her to become acquainted with some of Hawaii’s future Democratic powerbrokers, relationships that continue to this day.


So many times, when I see you covered by the press, or I see an announcement of some kind, you are the only Filipino person there. And during primary election night, on live television, the wife of the candidate Neil Abercrombie, was introducing you, and she said … she described you as, This little Filipino woman.


Well, she sees me as a mentor. Because I did introduce her to her husband, and actually, got her to uh, finish her college degree when she was a nontraditional student. And you’re right that there are very few Filipinos in a lot of places, and that’s one of the reasons why I am active in politics. It’s because I think that that is a venue for Filipinos to improve their status in the State of Hawaii. And, like, Neil Abercrombie and I do go back a long way, and he is a strong friend of Ben Cayetano also. And so I used to ask Neil Abercrombie to help us on Filipino immigrant issues. So he would.


And so, how did it come to be that you introduced Nancy Caraway to Neil Abercrombie, and they’ve been married for decades?


Well, she was a nontraditional student. She didn’t have a BA. I, at the time, had already gotten a PhD. And she attended a workshop for women returning to college, and I suggested that she interview Neil Abercrombie for her term paper. And they got to meet each other, and that’s history. And as I always tell everyone, I also helped them get their first apartment, which is even harder.


[CHUCKLE] And did you see that happening? Did you see sparks, or did you think that would happen?


No, I didn’t. I didn’t know Nancy that well, either. She was one of the women that I was getting to know. And of course, we have become good friends since then, but at the time, I didn’t know her that well.


In 2010, Amy Agbayani served as honorary co-chair for Neil Abercrombie’s successful campaign for Governor of Hawaii. He’s one of the politicians she has identified with, and supported, in campaign after campaign.


Sometimes it’s hard for me to picture you working in politics, just because there are so many aspects of it that you get your feet dirty sometimes, right? I mean, it’s not a pleasant business some of the time, because of the devil in the details, and the stuff that you have to navigate.


Well, that’s why I’m in politics, and not in a—I pick which things I will participate in. Some people think I should run for office. The only thing I do is run races, 10K or the marathon, but I didn’t personally want to run for office, because then, you have to do that a hundred percent. Whereas, I pick and choose, and so you know, I support this candidate, or that candidate, or I’m interested in this issue, or that or another issue, but it’s not a hundred percent. By the way, I have not won every battle, and I have supported people who have been beaten up and lost. For example, everyone thinks of Patsy Mink only of the successes she’s had, but I’ve helped Patsy Mink when she lost three to one, think, against Sparky Matsunaga. So I’ve been on the losing side on a number of issues. But I keep coming back to the Legislature.


So when people read a position you’ve taken, it comes across strong, and wow. And then, when they meet you, you’re mild mannered.


Well, I think I actually play the special role in Hawaii politics. And that is that I’m on the streets demonstrating on some issue, but at the same time, I have developed access to insiders in the Legislature, and even in corporate business, to try and make sure that we have access to those resources, too. We’re knocking at the door oftentimes, and so I do try to have friends on the other side, or people who are decision making. ‘Cause most of the groups that I am supporting are not at the table.


So you need to know people who have power, to partner with those who—


And some of the young students, they call me Manang Amy. They think that I’ve always had access. I said, Hey, no. I couldn’t even get to talk to the Superintendent of Public Schools before, when I was working in Operation Manong. He wouldn’t answer my phone calls. So we actually—one of the things we did was, we’d have press conferences, and he would say, Who is that? I said, I wouldn’t have had this press conference if you had answered my phone call.


You are still, in a sense, the head of OM, which used to stand for Operation Manong. But now, it stands for the Office of Multicultural—


Student Services. And that’s just one of many programs that I have at the University of Hawaii. I made up the office name; it’s called SEED, Student Equity, Excellence, and Diversity. And I sort of say, you can’t have one without of the other. You can’t have excellence, unless you also pay attention, or you should pay attention to diversity, and inclusiveness, and equity.


At the time of this conversation in 2010, Amy Agbayani oversees more than twenty programs addressing the needs of students from underrepresented groups, in terms of age, academic ability, ethnicity, disability, economic class, culture, gender, race, religion, and sexual orientation.


This group is just like any other support services I have for Hawaiians or Filipinos. We try to make sure that they get through college, that they know how to navigate the University system, that they feel comfortable, and that they are encouraged to fully participate in student government, or make presentations about their issues. So we have one program like that, and we’re one of the few in the country that has a tenured faculty member assisting gay and lesbian students. My whole program, by the way, used to be threatened all the time. For example, when there would be a one percent budget cut at the University, my program would be identified for a hundred percent cut. Me, Ethnic Studies, Women’s Studies; they would line us out. I said, Excuse me. But now at least, we’re on par with Physics and Math, and Geography, and so forth. And so that when they do come to deciding or allocating budgets, we hold our own.


Because we can point to the strategic plan; it’s included in the strategic plan. But we just have to make sure that we keep advocating, and that the leadership understands it really is to the self-interest of the University of Hawaii to have diversity.


So are you the go-to person on campus, and maybe well outside campus, when there’s an issue involving somebody’s rights being marginalized or disrespected?


Oftentimes. I think the newest civil rights battle is the same gender and civil unions battle for equality. And I’m very active in that. And some people wonder why I’m so active in it. And actually, for me, it’s just a no-brainer. I mean, I didn’t even think about, Oh, should I do this, or should I participate in that? I said, it’s so clear, and it’s like breathing, that you would see that as unequal and unfair.


Are you not getting married, out of a wish to support civil unions? If they don ’t get that, then I’m gonna—you know, the Brad Pitt line?


Well, I was married before to my professor, Bob Cahill. Some people may know him. He’s very progressive, liberal and he got me involved in my first campaign for Tom Gill, who ran for lieutenant governor. I have a partner; his name is Gus Gustavson. He’s haole. Swedish American, I think, from Boston. And he’s retired from the Department of Health. And he likes to run also, and I guess the first week he retired, he got addicted to golf. I was married before, and I felt that a relationship should be—you should be there, if you want to be there.


Well, it’s working.


Gus and I, we have been together now for over thirty-five years. We live in Kalihi Valley. It’s a wonderful place. We live in a small plantation home. I think it’s about six hundred and fifty square feet, but we have very large land, and we have bananas, and hundreds of heleconia.


Why did you pick Kalihi Valley?


Oh, well, we could afford it. But uh, um, and you know, it—lots of Filipinos there. Every house with a malunggay tree, we call that the Filipino flag. And I work in Kalihi a lot with the community, Kalihi, Waipahu. I also have programs for Native Hawaiians in Waianae and Nanakuli, so I’m not just in Kalihi. But it’s a nice location, and as I pointed out, I graduated from Bangkok International School, and everyone assumes I graduated from Farrington High School. So I tell everyone I’m a Farrington High School wannabe, and I have purchased a Farrington High School alumni shirt—




I think that’s a great school, and I have programs there, too. It’s sixty percent Filipino in Farrington High School.


Amy Agbayani worries about what happens to those students after high school, because too many do not go on to college.


Filipinos are severely underrepresented at the University of Hawaii, and that’s one of the areas I work on. We’re twenty-three percent in the public schools, and we’re only less than ten percent at Manoa, and we’re less than two percent on the faculty. And so, we’re also underrepresented in um … corporate boards, and we’re underrepresented in many areas. So we’re trying to change that. And we’re well represented, by the way, politically. For example, in the City Council, three out of nine of the council members are of Filipino ancestry. And we have the first Filipino American governor in the United States with Ben Cayetano, and we are actually well represented in politics. So I see education, politics, media, the culture and the arts; we have to make a dent in each of these areas. We’re doing well, by the way, I think, with the unions. We have good leadership, Filipino leadership in the unions. We are majority in the Hotel Workers’ Union, Local 5. I did get arrested just a couple of months ago, by the way. I joined the protest for Local 5, in Waikiki. We actually prepared to get arrested so that we would know how to handle ourselves. And it was actually just civil disobedience, to make a point, that workers should be given a fair contract. One of my criticism of the previous mayor was in his first term, there were no Filipinos on the Cabinet. That’s just totally unacceptable. My criticism of Governor Lingle, which was in the newspaper recently, was she has one woman on the Board of Regents, out of fifteen. And then, her nominees previously from the Bar to the udgeship, there were no women. In this day and age, you sort of say, Duh. It’s sort of a non-brainer, and you don’t have to convince people, just because it’s fair, but it’s because you actually get better decisions that way, if you utilize more the talents out there.


Did I hear you say a while back that innovation and excellence—




Those come together?


Yeah; and diversity. The person who’s going to solve cancer for Hawaii might be this little child in Molokai. Well, we have to make sure that the children on Molokai get educated, have access to higher education, and become our scientists, and our leaders. So to me, it’s sort of self-serving, and to everyone’s self interest, to really reach out and try and include people. Because that’s the reality. Diversity is the reality. What we have to do is, include that diversity.


What kind of a shift in public opinion in Hawaii have you seen since the 70s?


A lot; and I’m an eternal optimist. And it’s gonna—the best is yet to come.


What is it about you that allows that optimism to flow, even when you ’ve been defeated multiple times.


Yeah. I’ve figured out that as I said, you don’t have to be very brainy oftentimes. You have to be there. So persistence is much more important, I think, than intelligence or being articulate. Like, you don’t want me, but I’ll be here tomorrow.


Amy Agbayani intends to be a voice for fairness and justice in Hawaii’s academic, legislative, and political arenas, not only tomorrow, but the day after that, and in the weeks and years to come. Even after she retires from her job at the UH, Dr. Agbayani has no plans to abandon her life’s working, plugging away for the people and causes she cares about. Mahalo to Amy Agbayani for sharing her Long Story Short, and mahalo to you for tuning in. I’m Leslie Wilcox.


A hui hou kakou; until next time, aloha.


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


I think it takes sort of a fire to continue to do what you do. What keeps it burning?


Actually, I make no boundaries, in a sense, between my work, and my community work, or my professional career, or whatever. So it’s just an interest to me, and I identify with those things. And I guess, I get rewarded for doing these things, so it’s not really hard for me to do this.


Clyde Aikau


Part 1


Original air date: Tues., May 5, 2009



Part 2


Big Wave Surfing Champion


Leslie Wilcox talks with Clyde Aikau, big wave surfing champion, former North Shore life guard and younger brother of the late Eddie Aikau (of “Eddie Would Go” fame).


In part one of the conversation, Clyde talks about growing up in Chinese graveyard in Pauoa valley, surfing giant North Shore waves while approaching age 60, and his 15 year old son Ha’a’s approach to the sport.


In the concluding episode, Clyde speaks in-depth about the now-famous incident in which his older brother Eddie Aikau was lost at sea while trying to find help for the crew of the capsized Hokule’a in 1978. He also delivers a conciliatory message to the family of the late David Lyman, who was the captain of that ill-fated Hokule’a voyage, and speaks with pride about “living in the shadow” of his older brother Eddie.


Clyde Aikau Audio


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Next, meet a surfing legend. He’s a man who grew up in a Chinese cemetery, won big time surfing contests, sailed on the Polynesian voyaging canoe Hokulea, and saved lives as a Waimea Bay lifeguard. He’s a surfing legend. He’s Clyde Aikau, Eddie Aikau’s younger brother.


Aloha mai kakou, I’m Leslie Wilcox. Welcome to the first edition of a special two part series of “Long Story Short.” Many know of Eddie Aikau, a waterman who was the first lifeguard at Waimea Bay, a big wave surfer who was lost at sea while attempting to save the crew of the Hokulea in 1978. But in the world of surfing, his brother Clyde Aikau is also renowned. He has won at Makaha, at the old Duke event on the North Shore, and the Eddie Aikau at Waimea. The Duke Kahanamoku Foundation named him a “Waikiki surfing legend.” In the Spring of 2009, Clyde is 59, and he’s not slowing down. He stopped long enough to talk with me about big waves, family and living at the graveyard in Pauoa.


When we um, first had the opportunity to um, have a house in the—in the graveyard, um, the deal was that we have to clean … clean the graveyard and cut the grass, and maintain the entire um, graveyard. And um, in 1959, we had to cut the grass with sickles it’s kinda like a wooden handle so far, with a— with a—with a half-moon blade. And we had to cut five acres, all of us six kids, with the sickle, by hand. But, you know, us kids growing up, um, during—doing all of our chores, which included washing the car and doing the housework, and cleaning the graveyard, was always first. You know, if we wanted to go surfing, we had to do all of the chores first.


—when your family took the job, and the home, did they have second thoughts about um …




—what it was, any spooky thoughts, or any thoughts about, you know, how do we properly revere this land?


… my dad um … has always been a very spiritual person. You know. he’s always had that spiritual uh … connection with uh, things that you can’t explain. And um, us kids, knowing that, you know, we felt very comfortable from the very beginning that, you know, if there was so-called spirits or so-called ghosts, um, we would be okay, because Pops was so strong he was sitting down um, in our house, i—in—in the graveyard at night, when all of a sudden, a big wind came from up on the street, blew right through the graveyard, blew the door open, and there was a loud crying of a baby, just crying out loud. And at that moment, my father went to the um, phone and called the hospital. And they told him, How did you know your son’s child just gave birth?


And there are plenty of other stories like that?


Oh; yeah—


—you’re family was actually fr—from Maui originally, right?


Yes; yes. Um, I have uncles and aunties who live in Hana. If you drive by, you’ll—you’ll see their last name there, Aikau. So our roots actually go back to um, to Hana, where my grandfather was the sheriff of Hana.


So does that mean the family was very, very good?


—well, my uncle uh, was chief of police, and my cousins were all policemen too.


There you go.


We always uh, tried to do the right thing. But you know, we come from a family uh, that was really bred old school. You know. And from—with our family, it was um, if one of us did something wrong, all of us would get spanking. And the spanking was, bend over, drop your pants, and big belt or a big paddle would come and hit you.


Everybody got the same thing?


Everybody got the same thing. And it’s amazing when I tell this story, that five brothers and one sister, we never laid one hand on each other. And of course, I was the youngest of the family. Um … we never touched one another physically. We would say words that wasn’t so nice, but we never physically touched each other. Because they way we were brought up was, you know, take care of each other, watch for each other, and that when—when someone uh, was gonna do something wrong, we’d all kinda like, you know, go to his aid and, No, no, no, don’t—don’t do that, ‘cause it’s trouble. But you know, with—with our family, you know, with—with Pops, you know, uh, just his look would really uh, really back you up about ten feet. You know, he—he didn’t really have to say anything, but just his look and his—you know, his stare would just send chills uh, on—on your back.


Well, let’s—you know, when people say they visited your family home in the cemetery, they say they were just uh, enveloped in aloha, and they felt accepted, and they felt a sense of belonging.


Well, you know, my—my dad, my mom, uh, we always was brought up to—you know, you—you meet people and try to be—uh, try to um … bring them in, in the family, make them comfortable. Um, you know, if you have food, always share your food with them, you know, talk story. Uh, if you have knowledge that they can use, always—always share that. You know. And I think when people come down to the … you know, the graveyard, which is our—our home, um, uh, it’s—it’s—it’s the same way, although my mom and dad is not here anymore. Uh, my sister Myra, my brother Solomon, and me, always try to keep that going for the family.


What if they came over, and you didn’t have enough food? How’d you handle that?


Uh … we’d just give them our love and aloha. You know, and—and that uh, um … that was … more than enough for ninety-nine percent of the people who came down. You know, we used to go to the North Shore, and my mom and dad used to always bring a lot of food, you know. And at that time, there was a lot of surfers who … who was also from poor families, but they were great surfers, and you know, they were hungry. You know. So we had food, and we had extra food, so you know, help out.


And your family often jumped into that gray utility truck you folks used to have, and went to the North Shore all together.


Well, you know, we had this truck that was uh, encased. And uh, believe it or not, all six of us would—would fit ourselves in the back of that truck, and Mom, Pop, and my sister would be in the front, and all five brothers would be in the back. But—but it didn’t matter for us, because we had all our surfboards on top of the truck, and we know that—we knew that we were going surfing. So that’s all that mattered.


I’ve heard that when your family got together and they were singing, it was in these wonderful harmonies—


Well, you know, harmony for us was always um … it was always important. You know, because it—it just … it just sounds good. [chuckle] It just sounds good.


And you could do it.


I had a high pitch, and Eddie had kinda like a medium to low pitch. But uh, his expertise was playing slack key music, Hawaiian slack key. I mean, if he was alive today, he would be probably one of the great masters of slack key. Because back in um … the mid-60s and the late 60s, he was already really, really uh, really accomplished at playing slack key music. —and my mom had a real high, high, high pitch, and Gerald, my brother, had um … uh, his voice was higher than mine. So you had a super high pitch, and then uh, next to that, and next to that, and it all blends together. And you know, we—we used to enjoy um, you know, the luaus at the graveyard, and Pops used to make uh, Hawaiian swipe, which was called uh … hekapu, uh, in Hawaiian. And he used to make it out of … pineapple juice, brown sugar, yeast, put it into a wooden barrel, and have it ferment for like seventeen days.


And it was lethal.


It was—


Practically. [chuckle]


It was lethal; it was very lethal. And um, in fact, um, when—when we had luaus, Leslie, uh, everybody had their jobs, you know. Um, uh, Solomon was to go and dig the hole, and Gerald was to go find the rocks, and Eddie was to go find the uh, you know, the leaves to put in there. And … and uh—


What did you do?


My job was to take our truck, go down to Waikiki, and go find all the girls, and come back up to the luau. So—


Which you were very good at, I heard.


That was—that was—that—that was my job. And um, you know, we—we—we— I—I used to … bring them up to the graveyard, you know, truckloads. And uh, so we—we—you know, we used to make ‘em comfortable, and give em our swipe have a nice night.


[chuckle] And I understand that if folks had to stay over because that swipe was—


Oh, boy.




Well, you know, the stuff uh, when you drink it, it’s like um … it just feels like strawberry juice. You know. But after—after two cups, that’s it, you know.




You know, it—it really hits you really hard. But yeah, yeah; we—we used to take all the keys away from everybody. Um, this was, you know, thirty, forty years ago. You know, ‘cause we didn’t want any—anybody to get hurt. But you know, uh, we used to do crazy things, where if you fall asleep early, you get drunk and you fall asleep early, we used to pick that person up and— we used to put him in the mausoleum …




—when he wakes up, we’d hear a big scream, you know. But it—it was all in fun, and he survived, and uh, you know, it—it was just fun.


So everybody was comfortable with a lot of other people around did that mean you grew up very social, and didn’t maybe like to be alone that much


Well, actually, for me personally, um, I was uh, I was a very shy guy, uh, growing up. Because uh, growing up, I had a s—stuttering problem, which I do sometimes. And uh, I used to be real inhibited. You know, I used to just kinda hide, you know, because I—I—I … I just had a real difficulty talking. You know.


How did you overcome the stutter?


I guess just try to relax more, I guess.. but then I realized that even the President of the United States stutters too sometimes. I mean, may—maybe not this one, but others have. And I kinda realized that, you know … very important people in—in—in higher places also stutter. So then I kinda think it’s not all that bad, you know, and just got better. So throughout the whole high school, um, I was a real shy guy. My brother Solomon was like the clown of Roosevelt High School, … the whole school laughing continuously. My brother Gerald was —like the handsome one, and the—and the singer. And I was kinda like the real shy guy. But in high school, um, I was into my surfing with Eddie, and that was all, you know.


So … your whole life was dominated by water, surf.




And music, and family.




And you went onto higher education, as well.


Yes. I uh, g—graduated in 1973 uh, with a bachelor of arts soc—in sociology, psychology, went to uh, a couple years of law school.


Where’d you go to law school?


Uh, right here; UH. And even my grades there was pretty darn good too.


What made you decide you wouldn’t finish?


… I had an opportunity to go into business, and uh … you know, I—I took off for a while and just went to go make money. You know. ‘Cause you know, we— we … I come from a real poor family, and you know, it was difficult to find money for my family. So I just felt that, you know, I had an opportunity in business to go ba—make money, so I did that for the last twenty-five years or so




[chuckle] Yeah. Yeah; I have a surf school at the Hilton Hawaiian Village. Uh, you want to learn how to ride waves, come down with Uncle Clyde. And we also have a s—s—standup paddling lessons. Uh, we do it in the um, pond at the Hilton, the newly uh, refurbished lagoon, uh, which is real safe to learn. Come down, learn that from Uncle Clyde too.


You personally, do the teaching?


Um, I—uh, uh, sometimes I do, sometimes I don’t. But I train all of my guys personally. You know, the first thing to do is to, you know, just be nice to people, you know, give them the aloha, you know, the true aloha. Um … and I just uh, recently got a—got a part-time job with the Department of Education, where I will be a uh, a person in the middle of uh, making sure that the homeless child um, gets to go into the classroom, uh, and I’m in the middle that brings the uh, homeless child and the State together, uh, making sure that he has the transportation and the—and the lunch uh, that—that he needs. And uh …


That sounds rewarding.


Yeah. Uh, it’s—it’s—you know, it’s real funny, because in ’73, when I graduated, that’s exactly what I wanted to do. You know, I—




I wanted to do social work, and you know, help the kids out. And you know, forty years later, uh, I’m doing that. So I’m—I’m very humbled to have the opportunity to work uh, with the homeless, um, especially at this time, where you know, people are losing jobs and everything. So I’m very humbled, and uh, I’m—I’m set to go.


You were uh, Eddie’s best friend; n—not just his brother.


Yeah; me and Eddie, we did everything together. Uh, like you know, Eddie was the first lifeguard on the North Shore in 1967. We—we were the first in the water at Sunset Beach for twenty years. And we were the last to leave. And then we’d work at the lifeguarding at the bay. And um … we used to ride the bay on gigantic days where it was overcast, no cameras on the beach, and he— me and Eddie used to ride uh, you know, the big waves. Uh, he rode the biggest waves uh, in the world in 1967, November 19th, Wednesday. That’s what I like to say it. Other people say it was a Tuesday, I say it’s November 19th, a Wednesday, 1967. Because there’s certain days in your life that you just don’t forget, ‘cause it’s just so monumental. You know, things that probably won’t happen again. And in 1967, I was in high school; Eddie uh … rode the bay for the first time. And uh, it was massive, his wave is forty feet. His surfboard is twelve feet; it goes four times up the face of the wave. It’s a paddle-in wave, it’s not a tow-in wave. Uh, that wave was forty feet. And I’ve ridden … um, almost every big wave that pulled into the North Shore since 1967, and um … that day is still the biggest day ever ridden at Waimea Bay.


M-hm. How do you do that? —do you just get more and more comfortable with bigger, bigger, bigger waves, and at some point you’re taking off on a thirty-footer?


Um … well, you know … a wave of that magnitude and that size only comes in maybe once in, like, five years. Like we haven’t had the Eddie Aikau Quicksilver big event since 2004. And 2004, it got up to about thirty feet. And um, I want to let you know that after the first round … I was in second place. And these guys who were surfing are really the best in the world.




You know, Kelly Slater, Bruce Irons, Andy Irons, uh—


But you’re—you’re the—you’re the oldest in the field, aren’t you?


I am the absolute oldest in the field. Um, next uh, I will be riding again, and I’ll be sixty years old.


And you can still handle those big waves?


Um, I caught every giant swell that pulled in um, on the North Shore this year, and felt very comfortable. Uh, but I think it’s because of my son; he’s fifteen years old, and he’s given me um … new excitement, new enthusiasm about riding waves. Um, I had a conversation with my son about surfing big waves. And he—he—he goes, oh, yeah, I want to surf a big wave so I can get on the front—uh, front cover of the Surfer Magazine. And I—and I kinda scolded him, because you know, riding uh, these big waves, you know, if you’re—if you’re gonna do that for that reason, I feel that’s—that’s a really wrong reason to put your life on the—on the line. You know. Um … putting your life on the line, um… at that extreme level should be one that you have a personal uh, personal spirit, uh, a personal thing that you want to do for yourself. And uh, trying to do it to be famous, I think, is gonna get you in trouble. Because when you get into trouble … and it’s all said and done, and you’re under there, twenty, thirty feet, and there’s no way to come up, no way to come up, the only way that you’re going to make it through is to—is to dig deep inside, you know … where your spirit is, and that’s what is gonna pull you through. You know. When you—when you think about, oh, man, I guess I’m—I am gonna make the front cover, but I won’t be around; you know, that’s uh … not a good thing, I—I feel.


Does he have a style like yours on the waves?


—I don’t think he has my style. Uh, uh … I think when you see him surf, uh, you will see a surfer th—that is all power. Uh, he’s a hundred sixty-five pounds, and fifteen years old. Uh, he’s bigger than most of his buddies, and uh, he has a lot of power in his surfing. He’s real fun to watch.


You’re probably more fluid.


Oh, ye—yeah; I would say that. I would say that. I am a lot more fluid than he is.




Because uh, in their kind of surfing, uh, quickness and uh, straight-ups, and just demolishing the lip, and flying in the sky is what surfing is for them.


But you became part of the wave, I think. It was—that was—




—a different—




—way of doing it.


Exactly; exactly. Eddie and I was more part of the wave, and more flowing with the wave. Because um, you know, taking off at the bay on a big wave, uh, you need to kinda find your way down, ‘cause there’s a lot of chops in the face of the wave. And um … I would like to—uh, you know, even at sixty years old, I—I still have goals that I—that I want to do. And—and you know, uh, one of my goals uh, at sixty years old, is to go over to Maui and uh, master uh, this place called … called Peahi, or Jaws.


Right. Wow; that’s—


I know; crazy, but—


It is monster.




And that’s all tow-in.




Uh, can you even paddle into that wave? It—it breaks too big and too fast, doesn’t it?


Uh, when the waves are fifteen to twenty feet at uh, Jaws, you ca—you—you can probably paddle in. When it hits the twenty-five to thirty feet, to forty feet, uh, I don’t think you can—you can paddle in.


How do you train for these big just um, to be su—super shape, and just to waves at age sixty?


Um, I used to run in the back roads a lot. And—but my knees and my ankles really take a beating on the hard pavement. So now, I have a jogging machine, a running machine that elevates and everything. So I—I wo—work out on—work out on that about a hour a day. But I do a lot of stretches too; lot of stretches. Um … I do a lot of biking; lot of biking. You know, I do things that aren’t so hard on my body—

I notice there was a time on the North Shore, looking back decades, where surfers used to be just partiers and drinkers, and tokers. And then there came at time when people said, whoa, these waves are serious, they can really kill you; and they started getting to be—getting to be on organic diets, and really taking care of themselves. Did you go through—




—something like that?


Well, you know … you know … back in the 60s and the 70s, you know, um…riding big waves, lifeguarding, saving lives, and uh … chasing the Haole girls was in order. And um … but then, you’re—you’re nineteen years old, eighteen years old, twenty years old. I mean, everybody on the North Shore used to party hard and surf hard in—in the—in the—in the daytime. But you know, now I’m sixty, and you’re trying to look back on how it was then. Uh, it’s incredible on how we actually pulled it off. You know. I mean, I wouldn’t recommend it today. But you know, we actually pulled it off. I mean, did some crazy things at night, and rode the biggest waves in the world during the daytime. So—and looking back now, you know, I’d—uh, I don’t see how we did it, but you know, it—we did it. But um, you know, as you get older, you—you—you realize uh, that you know, you need to take care of your body a lot—a lot more, if you want to continue to ride. I mean, I’m sixty years old almost, and um … um …


When you look around—


—I’m still riding.


—on the big waves, how many sixty-year-olds do you see? Or even fifty-year- olds.


Well, you know, for me, ‘cause I’m the old dog out there, um … you know, it’s kinda sad, ‘cause there’s only one or two guys from the—from the old school. You know. Um … but then, it’s fun to surf with the young guys. You know, they’re all gung-ho and you know, very excited about surfing. And—and uh … you know, uh, and it’s—and it’s always nice that, you know, the—the young guys can come up to you and recognize who you are, and you know, Howzit, Clyde, you know, Uncle Clyde, you know. And uh, you know, it makes you feel—feel good to—to be recognized.


Clyde Aikau won the Makaha International Surfing Championship in the 60s and the Duke Surfing Championship in 1973, won the first Quicksilver Eddie Aikau Big Wave Contest in 1986 and has been named a “Waikiki surfing legend” by the Duke Kahanamoku foundation. Clyde Aikau, waterman and gentleman…still riding the big ones. On our next “Long Story Short.” Clyde returns to talk about the Hokulea, spiritual experiences and the legacy of his brother Eddie Aikau. Please join us then. For PBS Hawaii, I’m Leslie Wilcox. Ahui hou ka kou.


So do you believe in old school childrearing?


Ooh, boy. I uh, I tell you. You know, like I just told you, um, my son uh, fifteen years old, and um, you know, I’m not gonna uh, lie to anyone. I mean, um, it’s tough. And I’m talking to a lot of the other parents—‘cause he had a whole bunch of kids that they all ride Velzy Land, Rocky Point, Ehukai, Pipeline, Velzy Land, Rock—you know.




Every single day. And all of the other parents o—on the North Shore are having the same problems, you know. Um, you know, they—they don’t listen, and you know, you gotta do your schoolwork, and you know, they get lazy, you know. And um, and um, you know, sometimes it’s tough, you know. I mean, it’s tough, you know. But you—not matter, you—you love ‘em larger than life, you know.




LSS 222 (LENGTH: 26:16) FIRST AIR DATE: 5/19/09


… I’ll just kinda cruise, you know. I’ll—I’ll go out and probably still surf, but not catch the biggest wave that pulls through. Uh, no matter what happens, I’ll—I’ll be surfing all the way ‘til I’m a hundred years old.


I’m Leslie Wilcox and tonight the conclusion of a special two part “Long Story Short”. Our conversation with Clyde Aikau is about saving lives, sailing on the Hokulea, and the legacy of Eddie Aikau.


Aloha mai kakou, I’m Leslie Wilcox. On this edition of “Long Story Short”, we continue our conversation with waterman Clyde Aikau, brother of Eddie Aikau. Clyde sends a personal message to the family of the late David Lyman, captain of the 1978 Hokulea voyage at the time Eddie was lost at sea. We’ll learn more about the challenges, heartbreak and regrets of the ill-fated voyage. Clyde also talks about saving lives at Waimea bay and shares a very personal life lesson with us. We start with this thought:


Look at what you’ve accomplished in your life. You—you—you went on to win pretty much the same surf classics that your brother won, and here you’ve—then you got your degree, and you’ve continued to surf big waves, and operate a business. Sometimes I wonder if—if you’ve gotten your due.


Well, you know, I’ve always looked up to Eddie as um, larger than life. You know. Um, because as we were growing up, Eddie was always in the forefront.


And your older brother, right?




The leader.


He was—he was always the fast runner as kids, he was always fast to pick up music. Uh, he was the hardest kid to catch. Uh, in sports, he—he always had the knack to—to take it forward really quick. You know, so Eddie was the first lifeguard on the North Shore, um … I mean, to go out to the bay, Waimea Bay, and master Waimea Bay on the first time ever; I mean, thirty, forty feet is—is—is not a easy thing to do. So I’ve—I looked up to Eddie. And then—and then of course, the Hokulea, you know, his um, bravery and everything. Yeah; I—you know, I have—I have no … problem taking … number two slot to Eddie, you know, ‘cause to me … he’s just um … you know, a hero, Hawaiian hero. You know, and I’m just fine to be … right behind him.


One of the things that he set out to do, that you then went and did, was um, voyage on the Hokulea. Wasn’t that hard for your family to let you go on, after Eddie had disappeared when he set out on the Hokulea?


Well, the 1995 voyage coming back up from Nukuhiwa uh … for the family, it was more like a trying to close the circle kinda thing. Eddie left in um … ’78, uh, did not make it. Um, I was supposed to uh, join the Hokulea. Uh, it’s not like my family uh, forced me to do it or anything; I just want make that straight. You know, I personally wanted to do it myself, because I—I believed in closing the circle, um, of a—a voyage.


And this was almost twenty years later, ’95.


’95; Eddie got lost at sea in ’78. So you know, um … going down to Nukuhiwa and um … um, sailing back up was uh, was—was okay for me. I felt very comfortable uh, being on the voyage, and training. Now, you have to train to be i—invited on this voyage, because you know, you—you need to uh, be able to um, handle the rigorous uh, um, sailing voyage, and you gotta know what to do on the Hokulea and so forth. But I felt comfortable, because I windsurf, I sail, I drive boats, I surf, you know, dive, everything, so I felt real comfortable. Uh, we were at sea for twenty-nine days, uh, coming back up from Nukuhiwa to Hawaii. It was exciting for me when it got … heavy storms. You know, heavy storms, take the sail down, Hokulea is going up and down.


You didn’t have disturbing thoughts about Eddie on that voyage?


Oh, uh … um, no. I had—everything was great. But um, a real quick … uh, this island that we were on was called Nukihiwa. And it’s like a—uh, it’s about the size of Waikiki Beach from the Natatorium to the Hilton Hawaiian Village. And this was a place where there’s only about a hundred people there. And uh, when it comes about five o’clock, it’s lights out. Well, on the last night that we were there, uh, we had to go to bed and sleep, uh, uh, because we had a long voyage to go the next day. So anyway, I was sleeping, in this ten-by-ten room. I was on one side—uh, I was one side of the room, and my partner was on the— on the other side of the room. She woke up three times that night; three times that night, and she looked over to where I was sleeping. And she saw someone sitting down in a chair, leaning over me with a headband on.


Was that Eddie, looking out for you?


No doubt; no doubt.


Have you felt that before?


Um … yes, in 1986, when I won the Eddie Aikau first Quiksilver surfing event. Waves were twenty to twenty-five feet, thirty feet, and it was breaking on a—on a—on a wind day where we had a west wind. And a west wind would—would give you kinda like a onshore uh, break of the wave. It would break here, it would break here. And it’s a real scary wave to ride the bay. But I—I feel comfortable in riding on days like that. Anyway, I was paddling out for my—for my heat, and as I was paddling out, there were two turtles there. And as I was coming closer and closer, these turtles popped up and looked at me, and they—it was like … Bradda Clyde, follow me. So I looked at these two turtles, and I followed them. And this is where everybody sits down, all five guys, and I would follow the turtles past them, and go deeper than all of them, about a hundred feet out. And as soon as I got to that point, the biggest wave of the day would just pull right in, and I’d jump right on it. And just rip it up, come all the way in, and I’d paddle out, and the turtles would be there again. And I’d follow these turtles, uh, again.


Who were the two turtles?


Um, I’m looking at it as Eddie was one of ‘em, and Jose Angel, one of—one of the other big wave pioneer surfers—


Who also died—too young.


Yeah. So … you know, like I said, our family is very spiritual, and uh, you know, it’s things that you can’t um, explain. But I really believe that my wind that day was um … with the help of uh, the turtles.


Have you ever wanted to explain something about your family or your life, or the publicity about Eddie that um, you haven’t had a chance to explain before?


Eddie was a very shy guy. You know. And he was mostly a guy where he would mind his own business. But um … if it got to a point where somebody needed help for anything, he would um, always be—be the first guy there. And I just wanted to make mention that there was a—there was a lot of—a lot of blame that went around when uh, Eddie got lost at sea in ’78. And a lot of the blame went onto, you—you know, the captain of the Hokulea, uh, Lyman, David Lyman. You know, David Lyman had passed away, and I went to his funeral. You know, the whole family was there, the entire Honolulu was there, and … and uh … and I wanted to go up and … and express to the family that … it wasn’t David Lyman’s fault that Eddie got lost at sea, and that … because I never had a chance to sit down with David L—Lyman, and just talk story, you know, and let him know how I felt and how the family felt. And that uh … that at his funeral, I wanted to get up there …and tell his family, especially, um … and … the whole Honolulu, that it wasn’t David Lyman’s fault, and that I personally and—an—and the family feels the same way. And that um … no matter what David Lyman did to Eddie, even if he tied Eddie down, uh, that wouldn’t have prevented him from grabbing the surfboard and go and get help. And uh … anyway, um, I just wanted to … let the—uh, you know, the family know that.


Because I’m sure Captain Lyman carried that with him, even if it wasn’t … I mean, no captain wants to lose anybody on his watch.


I know; I know. And I feel bad that I didn’t have a chance to express that to him when he was living. But anyway, I just wanted to let the family know that.


That’s wonderful. You know, um …it’s just so hard to believe that um, a waterman with those wonderful skills can die in the water. But what could ha ve happened to Eddie, do you think?


People forget that … in the Molokai Channel that night, the waves were twenty to thirty feet. And you’re talking twenty to thirty feet, Hawaiian, coming every direction … every five seconds. I mean, Eddie was one of the greatest guys in the water and stuff, saved thousands of guys; but you know, um … putting yourself in a situation like that is, I think, pretty difficult.


Do you think he knew he was going into that?


Well, you know, some people say that Eddie knew that it was gonna happen, and this and that. But … you know, who knows? You know, I just think—you know, because Eddie was the kinda guy where he was always prepared for the worst. You know, he would take—he would go to the country, and he’d take three different sets of clothes, all the time, on a Friday night. ‘Cause he never knew where he was gonna go, but wherever he was gonna go, he wanted to be prepared. And prior to him going on the voyage, he did the same thing. He did—you know, he had a letter for the family that said, Clyde gets all the boards, and this and that. You know. An—an—and a lot of people look at that as, you know, him—him knowing that he wasn’t gonna come back. But it was just his nature. I like to say, Eddie’s lost at sea, and he’s off on some island, and got hooked up with some Polynesian girl, and has twenty kids and can’t remember where he’s from. That’s what I like to do.


Yeah. I wonder if he might have thought, even if the odds were against him, that somebody had to try.


Well, you know, uh, it was very uh, extreme that night. I mean, they were floating in the water o—over twenty hours, there was no food, there was no communication. Um, people were going into a frozen state, ‘cause it was so cold. There was women onboard—I think two ladies were onboard; uh, I’m not sure, but at least one. Uh, everybody was scared, because they were drifting outside of the airplane route or something, where uh, the planes won’t be able to see ‘em anymore. So everybody was frightened, and Eddie could see that. And uh … just being the guy uh, who he was, um, went to go get help, you know. But I—I go around to different schools, and I make presentations on the Hokulea, and Eddie, and what he was all about, and I always like to say that um, you know, no matter um … what you do, you know, uh, you might not have to give your life to save someone, but to help someone uh, in any way you can is what his life was all about, and what his spirit is all about. And also, um, no matter what you do in the ocean, let it be riding a boogie board in Waikiki, or riding the biggest wave on the North Shore, orriding Jaws, or just swimming, just—just making sure that you’re comfortable in where you are, and you’re enjoying the water at that moment is what is important.


The Aikau brothers certainly cut loose in the ocean but only after their lifeguarding duties were done. And what terrific lifeguards they were. During the time they worked together at Waimea bay, they had a most remarkable record.


We never lost one person in ten years, almost ten years. And in those years, we had no jet skis; we had no helicopters; we had no boats. All we had was a twelve-foot surfboard, big fins, and a—and a lifebuoy. I mean, we saved … obviously, hundreds of people, but—but on a regular day, uh, we’d save three people that are not breathing at the same time. One day, we were in the tower, and three people—one on the right, one in the middle, and one at the rocks were all face-down.


How did you do that? How did you drag people out and do—




You were only two of you.


I know. I—we—we—we ran, and got the first one in. I revived him. Eddie went to go for the middle one, got that one back. He pulled the other one back, I got that one back, giving him the CPR. And then we—we both went for the— for the third person. But uh, you know, the facts are that in ten years, we never lost one person. And you know, um, that’s uh … that’s—that’s it.


And um, there were people who went in repeatedly, after you told them not to go, right?


Well … in 1967, 69, 70, it was the height of the war in Vietnam; Vietnam War. And Schofield was the rest and recuperation site for the Vietnam soldiers. You know. They would—they would go in Vietnam, fight, and come and have a break in Schofield. And they’d have a break for maybe a month; but guess what? They’d have to go back to Vietnam. So all of the GIs from Schofield would come to, guess where? Waimea Bay. And they’d come down like there was no tomorrow. They’d come down with five, six coolers and—and food, and all of their buddies. And—and they just wouldn’t listen to us. You know, we’d tell ‘em, Stay out of the water, it’s dangerous; and they wouldn’t listen to us. So the—so the same person, we’d actually save about three or four times.


And did you almost lose your life in the process of saving another?


As long as we had our fins, I felt like we could—we could—we could go through almost anything.




You know, and that was our attitude. You know, as long as we had our fins. Because no matter how big the wave is, and the impact, it’s only for maybe fifteen seconds or twenty seconds. And I know, and Eddie knew that he can— he can hold on for that long. And then it subsides. And by that time, you’re al—already pulled in closer to the shoreline, uh, where it’s not so, you know, turbulent. Uh, so basically for he and I, we—we knew the currents, we knew where to go, we knew where not to go. Uh, and as long as we had our fins, we felt very comfortable.


You know, um, when—when Eddie vanished, it—it seems to me—I mean, he was your best friend and your brother, and you had so much time together; uh, real quality time together in the water, at home, uh, you know. How—it must have been really hard for you not to have that person—


You know—


–who knew you so well.


In ’78, when we lost Eddie … no doubt, I was all bust up. I mean, totally bust up. I mean … I mean, I couldn’t go the North Shore for a couple years. I didn’t ride any big waves for a couple years. You know, it was just—uh, everybody moved back to the graveyard. My brother Solomon was in Haleiwa, I was um … on the outside of Haleiwa when I met your husband Jeff many years ago. We—we all left our houses on the North Shore, and moved back to the graveyard to try to stay close to the family, and try to recoup. You know, try to—try to … try to get through it. Um … for me, personally, what saved me … was this sport called windsurfing. In ’79, I got captivated by windsurfing. And … at that time, windsurfing was the sport of the—of the—of the world. Uh, and I got captivated, and I totally threw my whole body, soul, spirit into windsurfing, into learning the sport, into mastering the sport, and uh, I—I literally sailed every day, for one year, and I used to follow the world’s best windsurfer, Mr. Naish. Robby Naish; uh, I would chase him every day. ‘Cause he was the best in the world, and—an— and I wanted to—to learn the sport. So for one whole year, I just uh, threw my whole self into windsurfing. I actually … um … forgot my wife, and … you know, forgot almost everything, and just threw myself into that. And—and as I mastered the—the sport … and then I got back into the big wave riding again, and then I went back to the North Shore. And then everything slowly was okay. But very difficult, yeah? Very difficult.


And—and you’ve lost other family members too, so it’s—it’s—you have—




–all these joys, and—and these losses too.


Well, you know, our family, as a lot of people know, has been through a lot of tragedies. My brother, in 1973, Gerald, uh, went to my—went to my graduation… party, um, University of Hawaii graduate. On the way home, he got into a car crash, and um, he died. You know, obviously, I felt really terrible about that. But you know, every family goes through a lot of tragedies, and you know, you just gotta look around you at—at you know, the loved ones who are here today, especially the young ones, and just put your head down, and just forge—forge forward. You know. You just gotta shake it off some—somehow. But very difficult.


For the men in your family, there’s a danger gene; and I think your son has it too. The—the thrill of big waves.


Well, you know, he keeps telling me, Ho, Dad, I like ride big waves. But you know, the fact of the matter is … the real money in surfing is surfing small waves. You know, small—doing all the fancy moves and the aerial um, flying in the sky trip. You know, that’s the—that’s where the big money is. And you know, surfing big waves, yeah, there’s some money, but when you go big wave versus small waves, you know, the guys who ride the small waves um, make a lot more money. And it’s—uh, you know, the risk is not as uh, high as surfing big waves. So you know, I keep telling him, Son … y—you don’t need to ride big waves, it’s okay; you know, just keep on doing what you’re doing. But yes, he’s—he’s got that urge to—to ride some big waves. But I don’t force him to go out; I just let him go at his own pace. You know, just go easy, easy.


How do you think your life’s gonna play out? How long will you continue big wave—wave surfing?


I think serious big wave riding …uh, serious big wave riding, I think another year or two. I think another year or two, and then uh … I’ll just kinda cruise, you know. I’ll—I’ll go out and probably still surf, but not catch the biggest wave that pulls through. Uh, no matter what happens, I’ll—I’ll be surfing all the way ‘til I’m a hundred years old. You know, ‘cause there’s always Waikiki to go cruise with, and it’s always fun to ride Waikiki, you know, even on a one-feet wave. You know, it’s always fun just to get in the water.


Now that you have almost six decades of life behind you, any life lessons to share with people?


I think life lessons is um … I think life lessons is … just try to be nice to people, the best you can. You know. Uh, traffic, people screaming at you all the time; it’s tough, you know. Every street you turn, there’s a … there’s a road being breaked up, and people yelling at you. You know, you just need to try and take a couple deep breaths, and … just try to keep as calm as you can. Because you know, life is so short. That’s … the life lesson right there. Um … you know, a lot of guys have a lot of macho, you know, uh, character and so forth. You know, and it’s—and it’s hard for a lot of people. I mean, it was hard for me. I mean, it wasn’t until thirty years, that—that I reached thirty years old, that I could say to my dad, look him in the eye, Pops, I really love you. And uh, I think—I think the lesson that I want to um … say to everybody is that … you know, you never know when it’s going to be … your time to check out. Nobody knows that. You know. And it’s really, really, really important to express the love that you have for your family, especially, and for anyone, you know, at that moment. You know. Um, because you never know what’s gonna—gonna happen. I love you, Pops.


What did he say?


Uh … what did he say. Um … I love you too, Clyde. You know.


We had this one fella…big big Samoan guy or Hawaiian guy or Polynesian guy came down. He was about six feet five and he comes walking down and the waves are huge. And we tell him it it will bust you up bra. It will bust you up. He jus came out of prison, you know, been in prison for twenty years, just got out. And there’s nobody gonna tell this guy what to do. So he goes to the shore break. Sure enough in about two minuets, he gets nailed. He gets nailed. I mean just totally nailed. So we dove in there, brought him back up, dragged him up up the beach, and he was ok so we left him. He sat there for about two, three hours and just looked down on the sand and when he finished, he walked up, got up, walked up to the tower and um came up and thanked us and said he was sorry.


Maenette Ah Nee-Benham


Original air date: Tues., Jun. 31, 2012


Dean of the Hawai’inuiākea School of Hawaiian Knowledge


Leslie Wilcox talks story with the dean of the Hawai’inuiākea School of Hawaiian Knowledge at the University of Hawaii at Manoa about how her culture and her grandparents’ influence guided her through life.


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We’ve been going through what I call this period of survivance, relearning how to be powerful, relearning how to be strong, how tell our stories, and all we really needed to do was to go back and listen to our kupuna, and make that connection for ourselves in this contemporary world.


Maenette Ah Nee-Benham, the first dean of Hawaiinuiakea, the University of Hawaii at Manoa’s School of Hawaiian Knowledge; next, on Long Story Short.


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


Aloha mai kakou. I’m Leslie Wilcox. The gift of story passed on from one generation to the next has been the guiding force behind Dr. Maenette Ah Nee- Benham’s journey of self discovery. Stories as shared by her beloved parents and grandparents, and other kupuna have informed her core values as a kanaka maole, a native Hawaiian. As a leader in the field of education, Maenette Ah Nee-Benham heads Hawaiinuiakea School of Hawaiian Knowledge at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. Her journey began in Monterey, California where she was born, and it continued in Germany where her father, Albert “Sonny” Henry Ah Nee, was stationed in the military. His service took the family away from the islands for the first five years of Maenette ’s life. The family included her mother, Emmaline Padeken, and two younger brothers.


I grew up with the mele, the hula that my parents surrounded themselves with. We had luaus in Germany. I don’t know exactly what we ate, but I see pictures of us having luaus, and people dancing, and stuff like that. So everywhere we went, my parents, parents were deeply grounded.


Was it ever a negative to be Hawaiian where you lived?


I never felt that way. I’m sure, I’m sure that I was shielded by a lot of that. I think it wasn’t until I got older. I think being Hawaiian, and not appreciating who you are actually started, sorry to say, when I moved back home. When I started growing up and started going to school, and started hearing from people that it wasn’t really good.


How old were you then?


I think I started to feel that when I was more like in third or fourth grade. I’ve always felt proud to be Hawaiian, my entire life. And I would get very upset when people would put me down, or my family down. And I remember hearing all these really rotten stories, stereotypical stories people would tell about us, so to say.


What were the things you heard?


You know, that we were very lazy, we were not smart. People would tell me, Oh, you know, you’re just gonna grow up, you know, and get pregnant and, you know, if you really want to do well, what you’re gonna do is, you’re gonna either have to marry a Japanese person or a Haole person.






That’s what you were told.


That’s what we were told. I remember thinking to myself, Well, this can’t be true, ’cause my grandparents were just, like, the salt of the earth. They were the smartest people I knew. They weren’t lazy. None of the people that I knew were lazy. Well, maybe my brother was. No, I’m kidding. [CHUCKLE] But, no, people worked really hard, everybody I knew. And so, all the stereotypes flew in the face of everything that I knew. But I constantly heard that; constantly heard that.


What were the values you grew up with?


My grandmother, who was a fisherwoman, would teach us many things growing up. But there are certain things that I have sort of kept with me. My Grandmother Ah Nee always taught us to always take what you need, and never more. My Grandma Padeken taught me some really important lessons about how to be a person. And she could make anything out of nothing. Like, you would have like two dozen people sitting around the table, around a bowl of poi. She had two cans of canned corned beef, man, and you’d have a feast. Right? I mean, she was very, very entrepreneurial, she was very innovative and creative. One of the things my grandmother taught me is not only how to make something out of nothing, and how to appreciate that. But at her table, I remember people dropping in and feeling welcome and at home, and having conversations just about anything. And I remember just sitting there and listening to these big people talk, and laugh, and tell stories, and how much I loved that feeling of engagement.


Everybody was welcome, even though they were planned for, and everyone felt comfortable.


That’s right. And everybody sat around the bowl of poi and ate, and everybody was well nourished. That in itself is a life lesson of how to be, of how to live. And so when people say, What does it mean to be Hawaiian?, I tell that story.


Maenette Ah Nee-Benham excelled at Hawaii’s public schools, but at young age, felt strongly that Kamehameha Schools could offer better educational and leadership opportunities. On her own initiative, she recalls, she completed the application process and was accepted for her freshman year of high school. Later, she found a means to finance her college education, capping off her senior year by winning the title of Hawaii’s Junior Miss of 1974. With a full college scholarship in hand, she left for California to earn her bachelor and master’s degrees in theater and communications from San Francisco State University. Her first post-college work experiences were as a curriculum specialist and administrator at schools in California and in Texas.


Both my Grandma Ah Nee and my Grandma Padeken explained to me when I was very young about my name, Kape‘ahiokalani. And it is a name of one of my great-great-aunts, who was a chanter in King Kalakaua’s court. And basically, what they said to me was that because I held this name, I had the responsibility of remembering the moolelo of our family, and I had the responsibility of contributing to the health and wellbeing of my family. That was it. That’s what they told me. I said, Okay. Because that’s what you do. Your kupuna tell you that, and you say, Okay, so what do I need to do?


And there are all kinds of ways to accomplish that too.


Yeah, there’s all kinds of ways to do that. And I just found this to be my journey, you know, in educational leadership. I just found that to be what really gets me excited, what really inspires me. And it all started because in fifth grade at Koko Head Elementary School, Mrs. Kwon made me do flannel board stories for the kindergartners. And I loved it. I loved just telling stories, creating stories and telling them to young kids, and watching the light bulbs go off. So my first job was as a kindergarten teacher. What a great job, you know, where you get unconditional love every single day. And teachers are leaders; and good leaders are great teachers. I have worked with some very tough people. I have worked with some very tough situations. I’m not a Pollyanna, I’ve been through a lot. When I was an administrator in Texas—I won’t tell you where, because when I was an administrator in Texas, I was put into a principal position in an elementary school that was gonna be closed down because the students were primarily migrants, primarily Spanish-speaking, and it was failing school. And this was during a time when you could only teach English only in the schools, to a population whose first language was Spanish. And they’re taking a test in English. Hello; they’re not gonna pass anything. Of course, they’re gonna have, you know, tremendous problems. So I walked into that situation. At the same time, teacher testing was introduced into the Texas schools. And so, if you as a teacher did not pass a particular test, you were out. Didn’t matter how many years you were there, you were just out.


And you got to tell them that.


Thank you. So I was twenty-seven years old. So of course, you’re twenty-seven years old, right, you know everything, right? I had just come from California, we were doing bilingual ed, and so we did it. Now, that was a very tough situation for me, because the law said I couldn’t do it. And I did everything, you know, to ensure the success of the students in that school. And in the first year, we did teach bilingually, ’cause all the teachers knew how to do it, and they were very successful. The testing was good. I brought in some friends from Trinity University to come in and help the teachers, so that all the teachers passed the test except for two of them. Eventually, one of the two did pass, and one retired. So the first year, we did everything bilingual. I caught, and I got a talking to, you know.




By the superintendent. That it was against the law, that I could be thrown in jail, bla-bla-bla-bla. And I argued that the kids could speak bilingually, we just needed to teach them that way, and they would be stronger for it. So the second year, what I did is, I instituted a coding system. We still taught bilingually, but every time somebody from the district came, the codes went out and everybody switched. Okay. And so, we did okay until some parents were very upset, because they wanted their kids to speak English only, and they didn’t want bilingual, so they reported me. Right. Now, listen. I am sitting in rooms with the superintendent and other school principals, and I’m being railed at. But there are lessons that I learned about integrity, about standing for what you believe in, and about doing things for the kids, because that was what was really important, was the kids learning. Not my job, ’cause I could get another job. But I would never be able to look at myself in the mirror if I didn’t stand up for what I believed was right. I learned what I was made of. I really did. My last meeting that I had, the superintendent was, you know, through clenched teeth saying how much he appreciated the work I did. I’m like, yeah, right. And whatnot, and that he had a gift for me. And I said, Oh, wow, a gift; oh, my gosh. And so, he gave me this little box, a little red box, you know, and I thought, Oh wow. He said, Well, open it, open it. So I opened it, and it was two silver stress balls, you know, the Chinese stress balls. And I was like, Oh, this is interesting. So I opened up the envelope, and in the envelope it said, Now that you have the balls, maybe you can do the job. I didn’t say a thing. I didn’t even say thank you. I just looked at it, I put it back in the box, and I just sat there, waited for the meeting to be done, and I was out of there. I was out of there. I was so full of rage … so full of rage, and there were so many things that I wanted to say. But one of the things I remembered is that you never want to put anything out there that you can’t be proud of saying. And I remember saying to myself, If what I have to say in this room could make a difference, then maybe I’ll say it. But I didn’t feel at the time that it would make any difference in the world. I’ve learned how to really understand my rage, and through that, learn how to talk with people about how we can come together to do good things together, how I can do that, even though I might be angry, even though I might disagree with what you have to say, but how I can do that through love. That was the beginning of my learning of how to work with people.


How do you do it? How do you it, when people are constantly throwing out personal slurs instead of just sticking to what needs to get done?


Well, one of the things is that you have to understand where that intent is coming from, where that hurt is, and you know, that the person is doing that because there is hurt there. There’s fear, there’s hurt, there’s history there that they still need to work through. And so, oftentimes, I just allow that to be there. I was asked to do a genius speech, and I talked about the genius of leadership is living into grace. And it’s that idea of creating a space where people can feel really safe, even though you say the worst things. I want you to feel safe here, I just want you to feel safe. And no matter what you have to say, no matter how angry you are, go ahead, go and do that. And when you’re pau, let’s get to work. And in the end, everybody will know that there will be a direction we’re gonna go.


Maenette Ah Nee-Benham taught at Kamehameha Schools, Chaminade University, and Kaiser High School while working toward her doctorate in educational administration from the University of Hawaii in 1992. In 1993, Dr. Ah Nee-Benham began a sixteen-year association with Michigan State University as a faculty member with the College of Education. Her work with indigenous educational institutions brought her in close touch with the American Indian Tribal colleges and universities, and led to a greater appreciation for the life lessons imparted by the stories of native peoples.


When I started working in Indian country, I’m not Native American. I’m not native to the Americas. And I walked into my very first meeting with another elder, and I sat there in a circle. And Lionel Bordeaux, who is a large man, you know, sits in his chair, and he has this cane like this, and he stomps the floor with his cane. And he goes, What right do you have to come and tell our stories? And I was near tears. And I thought to myself, Well, what do you say to that? And all I could say to that was, My name is Maenette Kape‘ahiokalani Padeken Ah Nee-Benham; let me tell you about my grandmothers. And so, I talked about my Grandma Padeken, and my Grandpa George, and our life in Kaaawa. I talked about my grandma, how she raised me in the ocean. So I talked about the way that I had been raised, and the stories my grandmother would tell me. And my point was that, I have my native stories, you have your native stories, and together, we can learn about each other, and together we’ll tell the stories. But, when I was doing work on the reservations, the elders would sit down, and they would tell stories. And it just captured you, just took you to another place, and I began to make connections. I was having a hard time, they were talking about finding medicine here, and how it helped them. And it helped me. And pretty soon, I began to remember the stories my grandmothers used to tell me, and appreciating that more. And that just made me feel so much a part of my skin, and so much a part of the islands. It takes time to retell the stories. And I think that’s what we as kanaka maoli have been going through too, is that we’ve been going through what I call this period of survivance, relearning how to be powerful, relearning how to be strong, how tell our stories, and all we really needed to do was to go back and listen to our kupuna and make that connection for ourselves in this contemporary world. If we go back and listen to our kaleo tapes, if we go and take a look at our newspapers, if you go back to that rich resource of knowledge, and experience, and stories, you’ve got all that. We have a strong history of being a self-governed nation, of being witty and wise, and prosperous. We have that. We just have to go back and relearn it. Because my mother died when I was very young, when I was six years old—and she was a very accomplished woman. Beautiful dancer, she danced at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel, she had a master’s degree in education back in the 1950s. She was just so very talented, and she died in her early 30s, so at a very young age. Because my grandmothers and my mother’s friends loved her so much, there are many stories they would tell me about her. And of course, you want to live up to those things. And I have to admit, at times I was like, Oh, please. You know, Really? Just really, do I really have to do this?, kind of a thing. But I think that the really deep sense of kuleana, of deep responsibility to live a life that she would be proud of, I think … because I lost her at such a young age, that was just so important to me. And maybe, thinking about it, maybe that’s why I never thought less of myself. I’m Native Hawaiian … I’m a woman … I can be pretty dipsy at times, and I can be smart at times. But I never really felt down on myself, because I always had that memory of her, and the stories of her.


What is your memory of your mother? Your own, you know, direct memory.


My own memory. My own memory of my mother is that she was very driven. I remember her working, I remember her singing, I remember her dancing. I remember her teaching; she taught at two different schools.


This is all looking very familiar when I look at your life.


Yes; isn’t it? [CHUCKLE]


In 2008, Maenette Ah Nee-Benham was offered the opportunity to come home. She was named dean of Hawaiinuiakea School of Hawaiian Knowledge, located at the Manoa campus of the University of Hawaii. It’s the first new school or college established on the Manoa campus in twenty-five years, and it’s one of the largest schools of indigenous knowledge in the United States.


What does Hawaiinuiakea mean?


This is the name of our place. Of the islands, and the area around it. It is our home. And it embraces everybody. I think that’s one of the things I really tried to make clear to my colleague deans, and to my colleagues in other faculties who are non-Hawaiian, is that one of the values is ohana, and ohana does not always mean that we are of the same blood. Ohana means that we can agree on a set of principles and a mission for the work that we’re doing, and we’re gonna be innovative and entrepreneurial, and we’re gonna work together really hard to get there. That’s ohana. So when I came home … I am very committed to the promise of just that, of being the University of Hawaii at Manoa, a research run institution that is a land, sea, and sky grant, that is indigenous or kanaka maoli grounded. One of the things we’re working on right now is a lot of really nice signage that not only will tell the story of UH Manoa, but also of this pai aina that we’re sitting on. What used to be here before, you know, Cook arrived in the islands. Story of the land, our stories, the moolelo of this place. So when people come here, they know, Oh, Manoa. Oh, here’s the story of Kane and Kanewai. Oh, here’s the story of the winds. Oh, that’s why—you know, knowing the place. Knowing this place. Connecting yourself to this land will connect yourself to the University of Hawaii Manoa. Many Native Hawaiians, when they look at the University, that’s not our story. I mean, this institution is not our story. You know, it’s somebody else’s story. But it is a venue where we can learn the skills of the 21st century global world, to live into the stories of our time, you know, still holding on to our stories of lineage. And so, what Native Hawaiians, at least my community, needs to learn to do is, we need to learn to re-story this story, the academic story. And I think I’ve done a pretty good job of it for myself that I can live in this universe, I can be successful in this university, and I haven’t given up any of my kanaka maoli values.


Well, what is your idea for yourself of being a Hawaiian who’s true to her belief s and her culture in the 21st century Hawaii?


One of the joys of my work right now is actually working in community with youth. And so, I’m working a lot with Mao Farms, which you’re familiar with, with Kukui and Gary Maunakea-Forth and their youth leadership training program. And I have relations with these young people who are learning their value as people, they’re learning the moolelo of Waianae, and they’re learning to craft something that is going to sustain their community. And they’re going to LCC, and they’re graduating, and then they’re coming to Manoa in a variety of different fields; in agriculture, in engineering, in medicine. And the reason why they’re doing that, because when they get those skills, they’re gonna go right back home and make it a better place. I have a big project with the Kellogg Foundation; it’s called Engaging Communities in Education. We’re bringing together youth leadership groups, several from Hawaii, some from across the continent, and we’re converging on Youth Radio, which is located in Oakland, California. And for people who know digital media, Youth Radio is like right at the top of their game.


Right; one of the first and best.


That’s right. And we’re going there to learn about media, but social messaging advocacy, creating those kinds of plans, how do young people do that. How are you really smart about that, but at the same time, how do you remain around it in your lineage. How do you tell that? So that’s what it means to be a 21st century Native Hawaiian. We are rebuilding our story as a nation every day. And we’ve had to go through a lot of growing. I mean, come on, we were decimated; we were decimated when Cook landed and everything that happened. We’ve gone through a history of two hundred years of battling for our survival of ensuring that our stories were kept alive in remote places somewhere. We’ve battled hard, and we’re coming out of it now and we’re making clear strides forward, and we’re educating a whole new generation of Native Hawaiian leaders whose olelo was strong, whose moolelo is deeply rooted, and who love this land … and can have civic discourse, not only among Hawaiians, but everyone, who are learning how to speak in that way. So I think we’re ready. I’m glad I came home.




Dr. Maenette Ah Nee-Benham says that the experience of learning and teaching moves her spirit, and connects her to the kupuna on whose shoulders she stands, and the generations of people yet to come. Mahalo piha, Maenette Ah-Nee-Benham, for sharing your long story short. And thank you for watching and supporting PBS Hawaii. I’m Leslie Wilcox. A hui hou kakou.


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


And, I went through that phase, where I thought I was the smartest whip in town. And I said some things that I know were very hurtful. And the intentionality of my words were hurtful, and that’s not a good thing. And my grandmother would constantly tell me, you know, once you put something out there, once you write it down, it doesn’t belong to you anymore. So what you want to make sure you do is that you say things that people can embrace, that can make them happy and healthy. Period. No wagging her finger at me or anything. Just matter of factly.



Viswanathan Anand


Original air date: Tues., Oct. 30, 2012


Leslie Wilcox talks with Viswanathan “Vishy” Anand, five-time reigning world chess champion. Anand’s mother introduced him to the game when he was six years old. At age 18, he became India’s first chess grandmaster. Now in his forties, an age considered past a chess player’s prime, Anand talks about the challenges age presents and how he overcomes them. Also, a story Anand tells about traveling to a chess championship reveals how in life, like in chess, there is more than one way to win.


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So when you’re playing chess, how many moves ahead are you thinking?


Depends on the position. We usually compare it to a tree. So, if there’s a straight tree, very few branches or no branches, then you can go very, very far. So, essentially, if I have one move, you have one response, I have one response there, you have one response there, I can calculate fifty or seventy moves. It doesn’t really matter. But where it gets tricky is when I have four possibilities, you have six responses, then I have another five, and you know, that’s when the tree becomes very dense, like a thicket. And there, it’s difficult to see very far.


When you think of a champion, who comes to mind? What if it were a world champion, an Olympian? How about an Olympian of the mind, like world chess champion Viswanathan Anand?


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. Have you ever wanted to play the piano? I mean, really master it, to do something more with those black and white keys than stumble through Chopsticks. Playing chess is kind of like playing the piano. Most of us know what the individual pieces can do, but the strategy, the visualization of every move before it even happens, and what that will do, that takes a special skill. Viswanathan Anand, born and raised in India, is the chess grand master, and as I speak in 2012, he’s the reigning world chess champion for the fifth time. Thanks to Halekulani Corporation, which brought Viswanathan to Honolulu for a series of special events, we had an opportunity to sit and talk with him in Halekulani’s Royal Suite to find out what it takes to play a complex game at his level, and sustain that level of performance.


Chess seems to attract prodigies. I think I would compare it to a language. It’s something that you just pick up. It’s much easier to pick up languages when you’re young, in the same way I think it’s easier to pick up chess when you’re young. And you can get very good at it, very fast.


Well, let’s talk about when you were a little boy. Let’s go back to your childhood, if you would. Tell me about your growing up days, your early life with your family.


Okay; so I was the youngest of three children. My brother was thirteen years older, my sister is eleven years old. So, I’m by far the youngest.


Were you spoiled?


Pretty much. I mean, I had two sets of parents, like. [CHUCKLE] So, my older brother and sister practically also used to pamper me a lot. Then, my father used to work in the railways. So one of the advantages is that we got to travel a lot. So then, my father would go on inspections, tours along … well, basically the geographical region he covered. And my mother was the one who taught me how to play chess; so her family used to play chess. Some of my uncles played chess in university, were university champions and things like that. And I learned it from Mom when I was six. Then I started to go to a chess club, played a little bit. And then, when I was eight, my father got posted to Manila on a project for the Asian [INDISTINCT], so we went to live there for a year. And at that point, the Philippines was, I would say, a sort of hotspot for chess. They even had a chess program on TV, one hour every day, but it was from one to two. So, I was at school, of course, at that point. So my mother would write down everything, the game they showed, and the puzzle they gave at the end. So, my mother would write down the puzzle, then when I came back from school after I’d done my homework, we would go over the material. And then, we’d solve the puzzle together and send the answer to the TV station.


And your mom really enjoyed chess too, right? ‘Cause she was actively playing with you.


Well, that’s too strong. The thing is, she was very, very busy raising a family, so she didn’t get a lot of chances to practice her chess. And in chess, it’s important to keep practicing and playing often. And my mother never had time to go and play in a chess club, so it’s something she did at home. So, I would say, in fact, she was not able to take her chess as far as it could have gone. But she was very involved in my career; she was traveling with me for many, many years.


She identified that you really enjoyed it and had skill in it, and helped you move along.


Exactly; basically. And so, in the Philippines, when we finished these puzzles, we’d send them in. And then, one day the TV station—and you could go to the TV station, they’d announce the winner, and then you could pick up a free book. So one day, they took me in the library and said, Help yourself, but don’t send any more entries.


Because you were winning every time. [CHUCKLE]


I was winning quite often. And they said, Well, it looks like you’re the only guy taking part.


[CHUCKLE] Now, were you interested in chess to the exclusion of other things in childhood?


No, not at all. When I was young, I used to play tennis, table tennis, badminton, I used to go swimming. So, I was doing a lot of other sports as well. But, chess was the one that kept taking more and more of my time, and that I really focused on. So it’s the only thing I really did competitively.


Tell me more about your father’s influence on you.


Well, he didn’t play chess, so I think his role was more supportive. But my mother could actually sort of teach me how to play and could help me play. I think he was very open-minded, because in those days in India, parents were very conservative. They were worried about their kids playing sports, because they thought, Well, but you need to study well and get a good job. That was the obsession. So, I don’t know, tiger dad or whatever. But my parents were very open to the idea of me playing chess, and even letting me play chess tournaments the nights before an exam. So they were really very flexible. And that’s important, because I think if you’re going to do well, then you need this feeling that people aren’t against you at home. And besides that, whenever my mother couldn’t accompany me, my father would come as well. But I think his influence was more general.


And he would just encourage you generally; he couldn’t give you feedback on what you were doing.


Not too much. One thing I remember him telling me was to not—because I used to play very fast when I was young, and many people would keep trying to tell me to slow down, and my father, I remember, was telling me very often, No, don’t bother, just be yourself. So, that’s one thing I remember he told me.


Well, that’s important advice.




Vishy, as his friends, family, and fans call him, won the title of world chess champion in the years 2000, 2007, 2008, 2010, and 2012. But it was back in 1988 that Vishy Anand became India’s first grand master of chess, a title one holds for life, at the age of eighteen, an age that he now considers to be too old.


And I’ve heard you say that if you’re not a grand master by the time you’re fourteen, then curtains, baby. I mean, you have to start young and achieve young to really make it in the sport.


I think so. Probably it’s too strong, to say it’s curtains, but the world record, I think maybe eight or nine years ago, was at twelve years to become a Grand Master. And then, it started dropping. But obviously, by months. So it was first twelve-year and nine months, and then it became seven months, and then I don’t know where it currently stands. But there’s already five or six people who have become Grand Masters at the age of twelve. So, you know, that’s the bar you have to beat these days.


There are those who don’t chess to be an athletic endeavor. But to hear Viswanathan Anand tell it, the game of chess is physically as well as mentally consuming. Just because chess players sit in chairs doesn’t mean they’re not active competitors.


How do you preserve your stamina? Is it brain food? Is it exercise? How do you do it?


Basically, it’s exercise. You try and get a lot of exercise in when you’re training. During tournaments, you don’t exercise very much, because you’ll be very fit, but you’ll be sleeping. So, during tournaments, you try to take long walks, things that calm you down and make you feel better. But when I’m not playing tournaments, then I try to pay some attention to my physical training.


When you’re in a tournament, you’re consumed days on end. What do you do between games?


Well, it depends when the game is. So, your day will revolve around that. So the game starts in the early afternoon, late afternoon, then you plan your schedule accordingly. But typically, in the evening, you’ll prepare a little bit for the next day’s game, do some preliminary work, then you might watch a TV show or something.


When you say preliminary work, are you mapping out your first moves, are you studying your opponent’s recent games?


Very much. You look at your opponent’s recent games, you think these are the things he’s done so I can target maybe these two areas. And then, you try to narrow it down to the final decision. But you may not want to work through the night. Some people do. I prefer to work ‘til about eleven, and then I might relax watching some TV, or you know, thinking of something else, whatever.


What kind of TV? Really mindless TV?


Mindless TV, or some other sporting event is nice to get your mind off chess. Or you may watch something on your computers, or play a game. Whatever. So, not a game of chess, obviously some other game, just to get your mind off the game, then go to sleep. And the next morning, you prepare in your bed.


Is it better when you have family near you when you’re playing at your world champion best, or you know, what do you prefer? Do you prefer to have people close to you, or do you like to go it alone?


Generally, I like to go it alone. My wife is very close to me. I mean, she used to travel basically since we got married. She was traveling to most tournaments with me, and she’s been very, very heavily involved in my career. So, she knows her way around me and during tournaments, and so on, so that’s different. But otherwise, generally during a tournament, you try to be left alone and focus on the game a little better. It’s difficult to explain. You’re not very social, you’re not able to make small talk, you’re just in a situation where you’re not … well, you’re simply not that social and you can’t handle those kinds of things. So, it’s difficult to have people … I’ll give an example. When you’re very tense, even someone saying, good luck, will kind of flip you out. And I can’t really explain why, but when you’re tense, you’re just tense.


What do you mean luck? Luck has nothing do with it. Is that the kind of thing you might think?


That or, I wish you hadn’t told me, because now I don’t know what to think. It’s that sort of thing. The worst sort of thing is, you’re going to play a guy, and then somebody comes and says, Oh, you’re going to crush him. And then, this freaks you out, because if you lose, then you feel even more stupid.


What about styles that aren’t chess styles? They’re personal intimidation or psychology of the game type. Moves or comments, our sounds that are meant to take you off course.


That’s the other problem, because you’re playing someone, and even the best behaved opponent is going to affect you in some way. I mean, if he or she is fidgeting, or there’s a certain nervousness which they cannot hide, or you hear their breathing, you know, they’re breathing a bit more loudly, anything like that gives you some information, some clues as to what they’re going through. So you’re affected at a very basic level, no matter what. But of course, there are opponents who try to drive you nuts. Some on purpose, and some succeed even without trying. And in those cases, you have to make an effort to think about it. So, it’s important for me to know that if I’m playing this player, that there are going to be some unpleasant things to deal with, and to know at a certain moment I’ll have to keep control of myself.


And I’ve heard that other chess champions really like playing you, because it ’s all about the game, it’s not about tactics of intimidation or playing with somebody.


Yeah. In general, I’ve felt that if I tried to do something to wind up my opponent, it will probably backfire. Because I like to play when, you know, it’s just all the action is happening on the chessboard, and kind of focus there. So, at the very least, it seemed to me just to be a good strategy to play like that, because I thought any other approach would backfire. I wouldn’t be comfortable with it.


Have you tried it before? Have you tried intimidation or being obnoxious or irritating?


No, but you can sometimes, if your opponent, for instance, is short of time, then you can get very excited by looking at his clock, and you can affect them even without meaning to do so. So, I’ve never consciously tried to upset anyone, but of course, when I’m nervous or irritated, then you can’t control yourself.


In April of 2010, a volcanic eruption in Iceland shut down airline traffic in Europe and nearly prevented Viswanathan Anand from competing for the world chess championship that year. But Vishy showed that in life, as in chess, there is more than one way to win.


You’ve gone through some real pressure to even arrive at a chess tournament. Could you tell us about that time that the Icelandic volcano was going off, and it resulted in your flight being canceled? And so, what did you do?


Yeah. This was funny, because we had arranged it so that I was leaving on the 14th of April. On the 15th, I arrived in Frankfurt. On the 15th, I arrived in Frankfurt, and then I thought on the 16th, I’ll catch the Frankfurt-Sofia flight.


Because the championship was in Bulgaria.


Yeah; the championship was in Bulgaria, and it was due to start on the 23rd of April. So typically, you get there a week in advance to acclimatize and get settled in, and so on. So, we all planned to leave on the 16th. On the 15th night, we started to get a bit worried, because one of my Danish trainers called me and said, Actually, all flights from Denmark have been cancelled. And he said, But I’m going to take a night train to Hamburg, and then I’ll catch a flight to Frankfurt and join you. Then a bit later, he called me and said, The cloud has moved over Northern Germany, so Hamburg Airport is closed. And then, we knew we were in a crisis. So we waited, the 16th, then the 17th, and waiting for this cloud to pass so that we could start flying again. And this was really annoying, because you go out, and you look up at the sky, and it’s the most beautiful sky you can imagine. Apparently, these particles are very, very high up, but they had the effect of clearing clouds, so it was just a glorious day, but we couldn’t move. But on the 18th, we decided we couldn’t wait any longer, so 18th around noon, we just hired a van and went. And there were horror stories, as you can imagine. The whole of Europe was shut down, trains were booked from weeks and months. I mean, even taxis were overbooked.


And did anyone consider postponing the chess tournament because of this?


Well, we asked for a postponement. We said, give us three days, that’s reasonable, since we’ve arrived four days late, you can … but the Bulgarians refused.


Is that because they wanted just the Eastern Europeans to be there?


Well, my opponent was Bulgarian, and his attitude was, Well, so you walk, I mean, what’s the big deal. Not very sympathetic. But then we finally mentioned the rules. There is a clause called force majeure, something beyond your control, and we told them, Well, we’re really going to insist. And we settled for a one-day postponement.


How much time did that give you time to acclimate?


Well, that it would give me about four days to get ready. So we actually got into our hotel on the 20th at 4:00 a.m. We left on the 18th at noon. And this was a fun ride because—


And were you practicing on a computer during the bus ride, the van ride?


We started out, I mean, we pretended we were serious, we put a chessboard and, and we tried to analyze. And then, we realized this was ridiculous. While you’re going in a bus to do some serious work, nobody’s able to concentrate. You aren’t able to get any real work done, so we’re just working so you don’t feel guilty.


Did you feel like this was gonna hurt you, because you really couldn’t prepare in the way you normally do?


Well, it is what it is. I mean, by that point, it’s better to just accept that we’re going to get there on the 20th, and probably not by 20th evening, we’re not going to be able to do any real work. But that’s life, and at some point, you have to accept it. So anyway, we started out by watching Dr. House. And after we had enough of diseases, we put on Lord of the Rings. And then, we watched the full extended version. And finally, when we got to Sofia, I mean, people had started to report on it a lot, there was a lot on the news. But in the bus, we actually had a good time. It just felt like one of these school picnics. And the thing is, you’re not really in control. I mean, I can worry about the match, but it’s not going to improve my chances any. So we decided to stop worrying, and just make a trip out of it.


And did the Bulgarian opponent smell victory because you’d been knocked off your normal routine?


Well, I think he genuinely was not very sympathetic to my plight. He just thought, Well, you could have taken a line on the 16th. So, I don’t know how much advantage he thought he was getting. I think his point was simply, I’m going to stand for the rules, and I don’t want any bending. One day helped me a little bit. Though, when I lost the very first game, and by forgetting what I was supposed to play, then you start to think. But very quickly, the very next day I equalized, and then, well, the match took over. So I don’t think it had any consequences by that strategy.


And who won?


I won.


For Viswanathan Anand, is life truly like a game of chess? Does he anticipate the twists and turns that life takes, and predict the consequences of e ach move? And if he can plan two, or fifteen, or fifty moves ahead, what does he foresee for the life of his young son? And in your non-chess life, how many moves ahead are you? Are you always calculating variables, and if this, then that, if that, then this, if that, then this?


I think it does influence your thinking at some point. For instance, I have the strong feeling, and I think many chess players do, that doing something has consequences down the line. This is something you learn in chess. So we tend to think, Well, if I do this today, then you know, somebody else—not my opponent, I was about to say my opponent, but okay. Some other person might then react to that in this way, and then how would I react to that, and you tend to think along those lines. But, I would say that we are good at doing this in chess, because it’s a very controlled game. There are rules, all the action is happening on the chessboard, and so on. In life, this sort of planning is more hit and miss.


I’m thinking, you have a young son, and if you start to think about variables and factors, and what happens here, and what happens there, I mean, you would drive yourself crazy.


Well, he’s obviously keeping me very, very busy, so both of us have to watch him all the time. He’s sixteen months now, so that’s the particular age when they seem to have a sort of death wish. I mean, he goes around trying to eat everything, put anything into his mouth, and he has no sense of danger. But he’s figured out now that if he jumps from a chair, it’s going to be painful, so he tries to measure the height or the depth, and so on, before getting off. But in some other things, it’s just insane the kind of risks he takes. So, you have to kind of watch him, and so on.


And do you find yourself extrapolating into his future as you plan for your son?


Not yet. I mean, I also feel that some things will just happen. I mean, I’m waiting to see what he’s interested in. I mean, one of my plans is, maybe like in a year or two, to leave a chessboard and pieces near him and see how he reacts to that. So, you know, if he has some interest in chess, then I could take that further. But in general, I think I’ll just try to expose him to lots of different stuff. I mean, chess is also pretty serendipitous. You start a game, it looks very logical and, you know, I do this, he does that, but very often, these sort of chains of logic are broken, and unexpected things happen. Actually, I think it’s pretty similar in life.


During his visit to Hawaii, Viswanathan Anand paid a visit to Washington Middle School in Makiki, where elementary, middle, and high school students were competing in the 2012 Summer Scholastic Chess Tournament. Where Vishy could walk the streets of Waikiki in relative anonymity, at Washingt on Middle School, he was a super celebrity.


You were at Washington Middle School yesterday in Honolulu, and those kids treated you like a rock star. And you’ve been treated like that many times before. What is that like?


Well, it’s very enjoyable. First of all, I like going to these events, because I remember playing in these school competitions myself. And I mean, the atmosphere is the same. You have these kids who are all worried about their game, and the results, and then you have their parents who are worrying there, but they can’t play even. And it brought back memories of my own tournaments, at that stage. But it was nice. It was nice that they were very excited about it, and it’s nice that there’s a good chess scene happening here in Hawaii.


Clearly, chess is not Olympic sport, possibly because it’s not as visual as the others. But in your field, you are an Olympian. You must run into people who just go crazy about you, and then other people have no idea who you are.


Yeah. I mean, you have people who know a lot about chess, you have people who might know that you’re a chess player, but they don’t know what that entails, and you know, people more removed from the game. Yeah. But that’s life. One of the things I’m trying to do is to get it into more and more schools, because we’ve found that chess playing improves your academic skills as well.

In moderation, obviously. But at school level, you know, students who play chess tend to do better in studies as well. So, I try to get it in a lot of schools.

Inevitably, I think that way, you’re growing the sport, because if you have a whole generation of people who learned chess in school, well, they’re going to

be able to follow the game at a much higher level and enjoy it. So hopefully, that way, we can keep the game going along. 


On this program, we often talk to people about turning points, when they ’ve had to make big decisions. Maybe they didn’t seem like a big decision at the time, but in retrospect, you say, Wow, if I’d chosen this way, I would never have done this. Did you have one of those turning points in your life?


The biggest turning point for a chess player is the decision to actually play chess for a living. There’ll always come a point where you think, Am I going to be able to make it as a chess player, and is it the lifestyle I want, or should I go for some other kind of job? I was lucky at those turning points because when I was in school, I had just become a Grand Master right after I left school. And that’s a good sign, because when you’re about to take decision like that, it helps to have some nice proof that you might actually do it. So not just make the decision, I think I could make it in chess, but you know, based on hope, whereas I could actually say, Well, I became a Grand Master, so I can’t be that bad. So that was helpful. And then, by the time I finished my university, I had a degree in commerce. But when I finished, I had just played the candidates for the World Championship cycle, and I was in the top ten. So again, a nice confirmation when I knew that I’m going to stop studying now and just focus on chess. So those two milestones made it very easy for me at those turning points.


And I mean, it seems like you’ve just had this long arc. Does it feel like a smooth ride to you?


I would say basically, yes. I mean, there have been bad years, and things to overcome, and so on. But again, I didn’t have moments when I actually had to question my chess. Not a moment when I suddenly thought, Oh, my god, have I taken the wrong decision? Nothing like that. And I always had the confidence—well, I mean, it looks bad, but I think with some work, I can solve it. So, in terms of a career, I would say it’s fairly smooth. Yes.


You obviously have such a passion for this game, beyond it being your livelihood. What if you hadn’t found it? What if there were no chess; then what?

What do you think your life would be like?


I don’t know. Well, my father and older brother were engineers, so I might have done something along those lines. But really, there’s no telling. I mean, one of the things I’ve discovered that I enjoy is, I enjoy traveling a lot, but I wouldn’t have known that if it hadn’t been for the chess. So it’s kind of circular. I like astronomy, I like scientific fields; I could have easily gone into something like that. They’re similar, in a way, to chess.


Do you think you’d feel the same passion for it?


That’s unanswerable, in a way. But at some point, I also think, Well, when I stop playing as much chess as I’m doing now, then I’ll have time for all my interests, and it’ll be interesting to try lots of different things. But, I don’t see some other field which will occupy the same space in my life that chess did.


This conversation in 2012 took place in the Royal Suite at Halekulani in Waikiki, where world chess champion Viswanathan Anand was vacationing. He makes a very good living playing the game of chess. The way he plays is physical, as well as mental, and he’s a repeat champion, which many athletes will tell you is the most difficult thing to accomplish. It turns out that the trash talk in chess is just as brutal as it is in any sport. Yet, Vishy Anand, competing on a global scale, remains highly focused and motivated to meet all comers. And he ’s still entranced with the game. Mahalo for joining us on this episode of Long Story Short on PBS Hawaii. I’m Leslie Wilcox. A hui hou kakou.


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


Well, superstition, it’s a thing that can grow on you, and if you don’t get a grip on it, it can sort of swallow your whole day. I’ve noticed that there were tournaments where I felt that if I didn’t get out of bed at eight fifty-three, get breakfast by nine, and have exactly these things at breakfast. I mean, if you get that superstitious, then your whole day, you’re just trying to follow some plan. It starts to eat your whole day, and it can eat you alive.


Carlos Andrade


Original air date: Tues., Nov. 25, 2008


Professor of Hawaiian Studies & Lifelong Learner


Kaua’i native Carlos Andrade is a lifelong learner. First, he learned lessons from his kupuna, his elders, living on the land. Then, he learned from professors at the University of Hawai’i. Today, he’s a teacher himself, sharing lessons with students and stories with Leslie Wilcox.


Long Story Short – Carlos AndradeGrowing up on Kaua’i, Carlos Andrade surfed, worked odd jobs and, with his wife Maile and their three children, lived “off the grid” in a house built using recycled materials. A master of the Hawaiian slack key guitar, Carlos also wrote beautiful songs, including, “Moonlight Lady,” and sailed aboard the Polynesian voyaging canoe Hokule’a.


Then, at the age of 43, Carlos and his wife went through a major transition, leaving what he calls a “hippie” lifestyle and entering the halls of academia – both earning master’s degrees and Carlos a PhD. Today, Dr. Carlos Andrade is a professor of Hawaiian Studies at the University of Hawaii at Manoa.


What would lead a music-playing surfer to go back to school – in his 40s? To continue learning. And to teach what he’s learned – from his kupuna and his professors. Along the way, Kaua’i native Carlos Andrade believes he’s earned the credentials and the right to speak out. And that’s what he does on this week’s Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox.


Carlos Andrade Audio


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Aloha no kakou; and mahalo for joining me for another Long Story Short. I’m Leslie Wilcox of PBS Hawaii. On Kaua‘i, he surfed; he played music; he did odd jobs; he started a family and lived “off the grid” in a house hand-built with recycled materials. Then, in his 40s, he and his wife left their rural lifestyle and began anew. Dr. Carlos Andrade, next.


Dr. Carlos Andrade is an associate professor in Hawaiian Studies at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. He’s that, and more. For many years, Carlos the bachelor and then Carlos the family man lived in north Kauai, in a rustic house with no running water or electricity. He sailed aboard the Polynesian voyaging canoe Hokule‘a. He played in a band, “Na Pali,” and he wrote beautiful songs, including “Moonlight Lady,” recorded by Bla Pahinui. At the age of 43, Carlos and Maile Andrade traded in their hand-to-mouth life in the country for the halls of academia. Both earned master’s degrees, and Carlos obtained his PhD. Every step of the way, Carlos Andrade has learned lessons that he now teaches his students in Honolulu.


You know, I graduated from high school, I had gone to junior college, and I thought I was, you know, fairly well educated. And then I went out to live with the people on the land, and I didn’t know how to do anything, except turn pages in a book and push pencil on a paper. And I met men could build houses, they could plant food, they could fish, they could farm, they could hunt, they could fix cars. Even though they didn’t have the car parts, they’d fix them with cannibalizing other cars. They could build boats; they could do all these things that we never got taught in school. And I realized how much I didn’t know. And so I began to—you know, even—that’s still a little bit late, but I began to try to learn to do those kinda things, to live and work on the land and with the land. Rather than in an office, or in some kind of a job that said you gotta be there eight hours a day, five days a week, that bought all your time. And so I would work for taro farmers, and work for ranchers, and work for fishermen. Because they always need help. But I told all of them that if I’m there, I’ll work, and if I don’t show up, there’s no strings tied. So whenever I needed a little bit of money, I’d go to work, and the rest of the time I went surfing, and played music, and did a lot of other things. Learned a lot about Hanalei and Ha’ena, and some of the—I spent a lot of time with—talking to the old folks. Because they were the ones that weren’t at the daily grind every day, when I was around. And I did that until I was thirty.


So you’re thirty years old, you’re living off the land by working for others.


M-hm. Then I get married and have children. [chuckle] And that’s a reality check, right? You have to start supporting your family. And so I began to work at different things, still kind of living that style. My wife and I actually raised our children, all three of our children and lived in homes that we built out of recycled materials, that didn’t have—were off the grid; no electricity, no running water. And we did that for about fifteen years, actually. But we also saw a lot of people coming to the island from other places, and they had much more resources behind them, money and family. And they were buying up the land, and prices were going up, and taking the good jobs. And I realized that, you know, having certification of some sort improves your ability to earn a living. When I first wanted to go back to school, all my friends said, You’re too old. Forty-three; you’re too old to go back to school. Why waste your time, you know. But that hasn’t been the case. The world that we live in, you know, it’s round, there’s no east and there’s no west. It’s just the world that we live in. But we cannot ignore the fact that we live in a system that we don’t necessarily have to agree with. But it exists. And within that system, you know, the market system and the system of government that we live in, when you have a PhD behind your name, it makes a difference in certain sectors. I mean, some sectors, like the guys that I surf with, you know, it’s like, piled higher and deeper, you know. Post hole digger is what they call it, a PhD. [chuckle] So you know, they keep you humble, as you should be. But when I go and testify in the Senate, in the Legislature, that the community of Ha‘ena wants to initiate a plan that is community managed fishery, it makes a difference that my name has a PhD behind it. And so I can advocate for things Hawaiian. It makes a difference in advocacy for, not only Hawaiian causes, because many of the things that are embedded in the life we live in, that come from our Hawaiian ancestors, like the right of all of us to go to the beach, beach access, are embedded in Hawaiian thinking. Not just in Hawaiian thinking, but in Hawaiian law. Because our ancestors and our leaders, King Kamehameha III, put on all of these big landowners who own land on the beach, their deeds say they own that land, subject to the rights of the people. Now, how far ahead was that guy thinking when he did that? And we all benefit, whether we’re Hawaiian, Haole, non-Hawaiian, that that’s in their deeds, and they can’t stop us from going to the beach. And if they’re gonna develop the land, they need to put a place for us to go to the beach in. Being a professor at the Center for Hawaiian Studies puts me into contact with the whole younger generation of young Hawaiian students and people that are interested in things Hawaiian, that are coming to the University. And that’s a privilege, to be able to work with them. It also puts me into contact with people who are, if not experts, the people that are doing the most research in the different areas of what we call Hawaiian Studies. But that’s only one facet of my life. Because I go home, and I work on the land, and I come into contact with the PhDs of the world of work and experience on the land and all that. So I have sort of the best of both worlds, in a way.


Carlos Andrade credits the kupuna on Kaua‘i for teaching him life lessons. He still learning, but he’s also teaching. He recently wrote this book, “Ha’ena: Through the Eyes of the Ancestors,” that reflects on the land and people in the ahupua‘a of Ha’ena on the northwestern side of Kaua‘i. A love of the land, the ocean and “things Hawaiian” also connected Carlos to the Polynesian voyaging canoe Hokule‘a, as a crew member.


Any aha moments come out of that?


Oh, all kinds of ‘em. You know, whenev er we go to New Zealand or Aotearoa, as they call it, and Rarotonga, and the Cook Islands, and Aitutaki, and Mangaia, and Tahiti, and Moorea, and those places, we see ourselves. Because they look like us. But the thing that really astonished me especially on the first voyage, was the Maori people and how assertive they were about who they were. The thing that struck me I think the hardest was, they never refer to their ancestors as the Maoris. You know, they never said, Oh, yeah, the Maoris did this, and the Maoris did that. They always said, My ancestors did this. And I’ve reflected back on here in Hawaii; many Hawaiian people speak about our ancestors as if they were some distant people who they weren’t connected to in any way, like something in a museum. And you know, that it’s almost like, I think it reflects a kind of psychic disconnect in the different situations of it. But the newer generations, I think, of Hawaiian people that are our young—the students, and even older people, are becoming more and more assertive about their connection to the ancestors. And I kind of am optimistic about this strength that I perceive in the Maori people, and in other places in the Pacific with the other Polynesian people about their connection to the land and who they were as the first people of that land.


Do you feel a connection to your ancestors?


More so now than I did before I went on the voyages of the Hokule‘a.


Do you know who they are? You have an oral history?


Yeah. It’s more than an oral history. I actually have about three or four pages of a genealogy that was put together by Edith McKinzie, who is a famous genealogist, that connects our family all the way, you know, back to where I never even thought we were connected to. [chuckle] You know, it’s like, I don’t know, hundreds of generations back.


Wow. And the place you feel connected is?


Most personally connected, I feel connected to Kauai. Because that’s where I was born. And when I look at my ancestral, you know, the genealogy and the stories in my family, most of it happens on Kauai. But my great- grandfather moved to Molokai. And so we have connections on all the islands, but Kauai is the place that I feel most connected to.


And what connects you? I know in your book, Ha’ena, you talk about—there is a connection you have with landmarks and places that were used by people.


Well, you know, my father grew up in generation where his father was Portuguese, his mother was Hawaiian. But his mother died when he was eight years old. He was sent to live with his grandfather on Molokai, who brought him up in his early years. So he was kind of a man of conflict in a way. My father’s father used to talk about Hawaiians as, Oh, those kanakas; like it was something bad to be. But my father had this real sort of love for Hawaiian songs, and he worked as a cowboy, and the cowboys were Hawaiians, and he was a fisherman, and he learned a lot of the skills that were the skills of men in traditional times in Hawaii. He was a hunter, he was cowboy. And so I kinda picked that up from him. And when I went to live in Hanalei and Ha’ena, and in Waimea on the other side, I told you I kinda gravitated to the old people. They would tell me things that you couldn’t find in books. And those are things that I kinda treasure in a way. Like the old songs, and names of places. And after I went to school and learned to speak Hawaiian, whenever I had an opportunity to be with a person who spoke Hawaiian, I’d try to speak Hawaiian with them. And that opened up even more doors. Because they would talk about things like place names, and the thoughts behind the names, and the stories that connect to places. And those were the things that I liked, because I was a composer, and in composing, you’re always trying to tell stories. And so stories are important. And my father was a storyteller; he used to tell us stories about his friend Lum Lum Wissey, who he grew up with, you know. [chuckle] And all these—so I think that storytelling is—in the Hawaiian culture, it’s mo‘olelo and it’s haku mele. You tell stories through the tales that you tell and the songs that you compose and sing. And so all of those mean a lot to me. And you know, it’s still something that I do today, is I still think that place is very important, and the names, and the stories behind places. Because places is what human beings make out of spaces.


What are some of the compelling things that the kupuna told you in Ha’ena and Hanalei?


Well, you know, it’s life wisdom, yeah? Kupuna are the doctors of everyday life. You know, the PhDs of everyday life. And so you know, just simple things that you would think that are, you know, everybody would know—the so- called common sense of the world today that’s not very common. Like, you know, work when it’s cool in the morning. [chuckle] Go in the shade when it’s hot, and then go work again in the evening. Or, you know, you have to enjoy life. It’s not all work; you gotta enjoy every minute. You don’t know when, you know, it’s gonna end. Just little things like that. And then practical things, like just take enough to eat. Leave the rest there. If you take from some place, put something back. If you go in the mountains and you take taro, plant taro back there. You have this whole culture of accumulation, and extracting from the world as much as possible. And then, you know, sort of in between all of this is wisdom that sits with elders about, Oh, just take enough. Enough is plenty. Just take enough to eat. Those kinda things.


You also spoke with people who not only knew every inch of the land where they lived, but they knew every little eel hole in the reef and underwater.


Yeah; well, you know, the Hawaiian term for people who lived on the land was hoa‘aina. And hoa‘aina is a companion to the land. And I think that the relationship of the Hawaiian people to the land is one of companion to the land. And today, we have this discourse of stewardship of the land; everybody wants to be stewards of the land. And the Maoris have this unusual way of saying, No, no, no, we’re not stewards of the land; stewards take care of other people’s stuff. We’re ‘ohana, or we’re family to the land. So we’re taking care of our family when we take care of the land. And it’s a little bit different; you know, it’s a little bit different. And like here in Hawaii, people are beginning to use the term called ahupua‘a, which I talk about a little bit in my book. And they—you know, they have this sort of mainstream understanding of ahupua‘a is mountains to sea, and has all the ingredients for sustainability, which is another big word that’s going around these days. And everything within the ahupua‘a from the mountains to the sea, enough to sustain the population there. But when you really study the ahupua‘a, you find that many ahupua‘a did not go all the way to the sea. Some were landlocked. And many ahupua‘a didn’t have the resources necessary to sustain the people. It’s a myth, actually, of this independent little piece of land that could have everything and not survive with anybody else, not need anybody else to have sustainability. The reality of it is that there was that sort of—I call it the vertical dimension in the concept of the ahupua‘a from mountains to sea, and out into the sea in front of it. But there was also an equally important horizontal dimension. And it’s echoed in the sort of philosophy, unspoken philosophy that Hawaiian people have about aloha. It’s a reciprocal thing. Haunani-Kay Trask says it very, very explicitly when she says, Aloha is a two-way street. And when I began to study the language, the traditional greeting between Hawaiian people when they met each other was, aloha kaua, which means, the two of us. Not aloha oe; it’s aloha kaua. W hen we come together, because we have a reciprocal good relationship, an aloha is created because of our coming together.

So I think to apply that to the ahupua‘a and the concept that people like to study and would hope could exist in Hawaii today is this idea of reciprocity, where we need each other to survive. All ahupua‘a need their connections to other ahupua‘a.


You heard Dr. Carlos Andrade call kupuna the doctors of everyday life. He respects their wisdom, without any paperwork, any palapala, attesting to their knowledge. For himself, he went out and got a PhD, palapala, that’s a stamp of knowledge in a very different Hawaii. It gives him credentials as he advocates for Hawaiian thinking.


Theres an anger in your book about globalization, homogenization, mainland people coming in and deciding they’re gonna duplicate what they had where they’re from.


It’s not—I don’t see it as an anger, as much as a critique. You know, all of these things—I think that’s one of the sort of benefits or blessings, or whatever you want to call it, about being in a university. It’s because the university, of all this institutions in our country, is the place where ideas are meant to be voiced. As long as you can back it up with you know, research, you can voice your ideas and critique anything. And I think for Hawaii itself, the critique against people who come here and want to change this place into something that mirrors where they come from is a valid critique. Because you know, like say, for instance, language. This is the only place in the world where we have native speakers of the Hawaiian language. Like if you were Chinese and you wanted to learn, and you grew up in Hawaii, and you’re of Chinese ancestry, you could go to China and learn Chinese. But if you grew up as a Hawaiian here, where do you learn Hawaiian? There’s only one place in the world; here. And yet, every year, there’s less and less, and less native speakers. We’re not—they’re not protected. I mean, we protect the turtles [chuckle], but we don’t protect the Hawaiian people. We protect the trees, but we don’t protect the Hawaiian people. And you know, I think there’s a certain amount of calculatedness about that, is that there are—I know there are people in this world who would like to see the Hawaiian people disappear because it would mean that property would be different, it would mean that you know, now we’re all Hawaiian. Everybody wants to be Hawaiian. Not everybody. That’s you know, black and white, everybody. But so many people say, Oh, I’m Hawaiian at heart. Or, I’m Hawaiian. And it is a conflict, because the native people of the land have been treated unfairly. And you know, the President of the United States signed a bill that said, We did this, this and this, and it was wrong. And it’s kind of like somebody stealing your car, and says, I stole your car, and they drive by every day in your car and wave at you. [chuckle] You know. And I think that, you know, that point is gonna bother people for a long time; some people, more than others. But of course, the critique that I give in my book is kind of pointing to the fact that this is going on, it’s like the eight hundred pound gorilla that sits in the corner, but nobody wants to really deal with it in a fair way. They just want to see it keep going the way it’s going. I think it should be, you know, treated differently.


How do you want to see it treated? With, reparations, with what?


Well, impossible dreams, right? I mean, forty-three—


Separate nation?


–years old. Forty-three years old, you’re going back to school to get a PhD? Never happen; you’re too old. Impossible dream. Hawaii as an independent, neutral nation deciding its own fate, politically, economically and every other which way; impossible dream. But the great iron curtain, the wall in Germany was an impossible dream. The Nation of Israel was an impossible dream. There are many impossible dreams that can happen. But in our case, I think the only way it can happen is that people need to realize that aloha is a two-way street. They have to recognize what is going on, and try to work and agree to fix it. If people don’t agree to fix it, then it won’t get fixed. It’ll just get masked.


What does that separate nation look like to you?


Well, I can’t say what it would look like, but we could start where it was ended. And then from there, it goes. Because every nation evolves over time. The United States today looks very different than it did in 1776, when it was born. And it continues to change. So who’s to say what it’ll look like in another hundred years. Non- Hawaiians have been here for how many years; since 1778, Captain Cook came. 1898 is when the United States basically took away our independence as a nation.




So that’s little over a hundred years. If we gave people a hundred years to take care of their affairs, either to decide to be citizens of the Hawaiian Nation, an independent Hawaiian Nation, or to liquidate their assets and go to the nation wherever they wanted to be, or to live here as foreigners do, because foreign people live in the United States—it could happen. I mean, theoretically, it could happen.


And do you think that non-native Hawaiians could have a role in the Hawaiian Nation?


Well, the Nation of Hawaii was never a hundred percent ethnic Hawaiians. They were citizens—just like the citizens of the United States of every ethnic background say, I pledge allegiance to the United States of America. Basically they would have to say, I pledge allegiance to the Nation of Hawaii—whatever their ethnic background was.


So you’re saying, I’ll give you guys a hundred years head start, and then we’re having a Hawaiian nation again.


No, no, no. I’m saying that it’s possible to do something like that, given the time, so people don’t get rushed, and people don’t get things taken from them that shouldn’t be taken from them. That, if people would agree to it, they can choose to go where they wanted to be, and be citizens of the nation that they wanted to be. But you know, it’s up to people to do it. I don’t think anybody should force it. Given enough time, people can do it peacefully, but it needs a commitment. That you know, we’ve seen commitments before historically, as long as the grass will grow and the rivers shall flow, and many of the treaties between the independent nations of America and the government that we know as the United States of America. And if that commitment is made, we’ll find a way.


What will that take, though?


Aloha; genuine aloha. You know, two-way street. That’s what it’ll take.


Thats Dr. Carlos Andrade’s view. He’s making his voice heard in a long-running, important conversation that continues in Hawaii. Mahalo piha to Dr. Carlos Andrade, and you, for joining me for another Long Story Short. I’m Leslie Wilcox of PBS Hawaii. A hui hou kakou.


George Ariyoshi: Journey to Washington Place


Original air date: Tues., Sept. 18, 2012


Journey to Washington Place


Leslie Wilcox talks with former Governor George Ariyoshi, the state’s third and longest-serving governor. According to Ariyoshi, his parents’ Japanese cultural values shaped his character. Ariyoshi also recalls his long journey to becoming Hawaii’s governor – from his childhood at Japanese school, all the way through meeting his future wife and his involvement in Hawaii’s Democratic Revolution of 1954.

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But I was very mindful of something that my father used to talk about. The word is a Japanese word; it’s haji, shame. Don’t bring shame on your friends, your family, to anybody. Be honorable in everything that you do. And I was very mindful of the fact that if I didn’t do a good job, it would not only be a reflection on the work that had to be done, but be a great reflection on the minority people that I felt were part of the government.


Coming up on Long Story Short. George Ariyoshi decided early on he wanted to be a lawyer, but he didn’t start out with political ambition, let alone dream he’d become Hawaii’s longest serving Chief Executive. On the way to the Governor’s Office, he’d make history, breaking down racial barriers and paving the way for future generations of Hawaii political business and government leaders. George Ariyoshi’s unlikely Journey to Washington Place is next.


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


Aloha mai kakou. I’m Leslie Wilcox. In the early years of my reporting career, I was involved in news coverage of the administration of Hawaii Governor, George Ariyoshi, who held office from 1974 until 1986. In this edition of Long Story Short, I sit down with the still active elder statesman to explore his life. Billed in a campaign film as The Kid From Kalihi, this son of Japanse immigrant parents came of age in Hawaii during World War II, and went on to build a political career that spanned more than three decades during a pivotal time in island history. Along the way, he became a man of records: the first non – Caucasian governor in the United States, first Hawaii-born governor to be elected, and longest serving governor in our State’s history. Despite his political power and stature, and the fierce nature of politics, observers tend to agree that Governor Ariyoshi managed to stay true to himself and the cultural values he learned at home.


Lots of my cultural values came from my parents. And when I say close, we were really close. When I wanted to do anything, I would have to tell my mother, Oh, I’m going to do this, and I’m going to a certain place. And if I went from there to some other place, I had to come back and tell my parents that I was gonna go someplace else. So, we were that kind of family. They didn’t speak English ever. Almost not at all. And so, when they went to PTA meetings, for example, they would say only, My boy good boy, bad boy? [CHUCKLE]


They understood English, but didn’t speak it?


They didn’t speak English, they didn’t understand English.


But they trusted the school to do a good job, and just—


That’s right.


—wanted to know that you were behaving.


Uh-huh. And all they wanted to know was, was I good or bad. [CHUCKLE]


Wow. But they showed up.


Yeah; and that’s right. And that showing up, to me, is very important. Sometimes, people don’t appreciate how important it is for parents to get involved in the things that their children do.


What brought your parents here from Japan?


My father was working on a ship that stopped by in Hawaii for provisions. And they all got off the ship to look around, and said, Oh, Hawaii nice place. So about ten of them didn’t go back on the ship. It was an illegal entry that was made at that time. And I did not know about this. This happened in 1919, and I did not know about this until my last summer back here before I graduated from law school in 1951. And my father told me this story. I was flabbergasted. I said, Papa, won’t you concerned during the war that they were gonna pick you up? And he said, oh, he had made up his mind that he was going to be picked up. But nothing happened. And I guess he tried to keep us from getting involved, or worrying about things that had might happen. So he was very grateful that nothing happened. At the time that he was saying this to me, the Walter McCarren Act was passed in Congress, which provided that any person who was in the United States in 1924, and could show continuous presence since then, could get long term permanent residency. So when I became a lawyer in 1952, my first project was to get that long-term residence for my father. But when you start thinking about today, we have Social Security, we pay taxes, and it’s very easy to get those records. But you go back to 1924, if you paid taxes, somebody wrote the receipt, and you got it, but nobody keeps those things. No Social Security.


How did you prove he was there?


I had to go find people who knew my father during that period and get affidavits. Oh, I had so many affidavits from people who worked to get it. My father was a stevedore, and even though he worked all those years, there were no records.


And what did he say when he finally became a citizen?


Oh, he was very happy, and he said, Oh, now, I can travel. He never went anywhere. Even when I graduated from Michigan State, he never came because he was concerned that if he got on the airplane he may be identified and picked up.


Your mom was born in Hawaii?


No, my mother was born in Japan, but she came to Hawaii the same year that my father got off the ship here. And her parents had come ahead of time. They worked on the plantation, and they called my mother after she became a little older.


And so, how did they meet, your parents?


I don’t know. [CHUCKLE]


They didn’t talk about that romance—




—of that first courtship. No.




The Ariyoshis eventually had six children, and the family moved around Oahu, living in Waialae, Laie, Palama, and of course, Kalihi. George Ariyoshi attended public schools, and as a boy, he also went to Japanese language school in Palama. Unlike many Nisei, George enjoyed Japanese classes, despite being singled out by a school bully.


Class was over, I came out, and all of a sudden, somebody came up and grabbed me by the shirt like this. I didn’t know what was going on. And so, my initial response was to push back, and I got into a fight with that person, who turned out to be, I found out later on, the second grade bully. And that was not a good way to get started at least in Japanese school, especially. So I ended up having many, many confrontations and fights. My principal one day, because of a fight, he called me in and he told me I can’t come back to school unless I get my parents. So, I went home and I told my mother that, and my mother said, Okay, you won’t go back to school, we’ll put in another school. So, I changed from that Palama school to a school on Fort Street. And the principal came back later on and wanted me to come back to school. He felt that I was a good student, and wanted me as a student there. But my mother told him, You never asked him why he got into these fights, and he’s had enough, so he changed school and the all fighting stopped after that.


And what happened to the bully?


I got to know him when we became adults. They were two individuals who became very active and came in with my campaign in 1954.


Is that right? So, what was that conversation like when you saw them in your campaign?


Nothing happened; nobody said anything. I was very happy to have them come in. We never talked about the fights that we had.


I understand that well, a lot of kids didn’t like going to Japanese school after regular school. But even though you had a bully waiting for you, you didn ’t mind.


Yeah, I didn’t mind.


You liked your school.


Because I knew what I had to do. My parents, my father especially, wanted me to go to Japanese school. And I tell people, Oh, I kinda went to Japanese school because my father told me, and I was there to have fun also. But in the process, I learned a little bit Japanese.


And both of your parents speak Japanese, you’re going to school learning English and then also Japanese school later. But your parents couldn ’t help you with, say, your English homework, with your writing assignments, with your spelling work; right?


No, they couldn’t. But I was very lucky. When I went to intermediate school, Central Intermediate, I had a teacher, Mrs. Hamada, who was my core studies teacher two periods every day, for three years, so during my entire period there. We talked about what I wanted to be when I grew up. I worked on the school paper as a reporter, so I told her, I want to be a journalist, or I want to become a lawyer. And she told me, Oh, good. She sent me to see a lawyer, set up an appointment. I went, and I came back, and I told her, I really want to become a lawyer, because I found out that a lawyer can help people. And my father was so happy. He told me, Oh, good. He said, I’ll give you the shirt off my back to help make that possible. He said, Go do it, and stick by it, that’s really good.


Let’s go back to high school; McKinley High School.


The war got started during my sophomore year, and we had curfews, we had blackouts, we had to be off the street by six o’clock every evening.


You were not dating?


No. Well, dating during the day.


Oh, okay. So, what did you do during the day?


Well, we had dancing, we went to friend’s house, we moved around. And we had phonograph records playing, and we had dancing, like that.


At houses?




People’s houses?


People’s houses. So we had a group of maybe, oh fifteen, twenty people that got together like that. But at night, we had to be off the street. My senior prom was at the Mormon Tabernacle. We rented a hallway there, auditorium. We pulled all the drapes, made it really dark, put on very nice lights, soft lights, and made it look like it was at night. But our graduation prom, senior prom was from one-thirty until four o’clock. [CHUCKLE] And so, our close family got even closer, because we spent nights—all during my high school years, I never went out at night. And we were all at home with my brothers and sister.


What did you do in the dark?


In the dark, we played Chinese Checkers [CHUCKLE], Chess, and all kinds of things. So, I became a pretty good Checkers player.


[CHUCKLE] Did you feel like you missed out, because you didn’t have the nightlife and the rowdy teenaged years?


Not really, because I didn’t know what it was all about, not having experienced that kind of, open, more free life. But I was content with doing the things we did. But I think what it did also was, bring my family close together. We were able to learn a lot from each other and from my parents. We learned about our own school experience, we shared those things. Now, when I went to law school, when I went to Michigan State, I enjoyed my years there. I was learning a great deal when I was there. I even worked on a construction job.


How did you afford that?


I used to get seventy-five dollars a month from the GI Bill. They took care of my tuition. And at that time, the tuition, even for out of state, was I think, around two hundred fifty or three hundred dollars.


Wow. But it was a lot then.


Yeah, it was a lot. And, I remember living in the dormitory at Michigan State. We had a quarterly system, three months. So every three months, I paid about a hundred and eighty dollars for room and for board. So now, when I think about what students have to do, how much they have to get, I feel bad for them. And that’s why I feel strongly about the tuition, that we have to make it possible for people in Hawaii to be able to go to school without having to pay a huge tuition. And I’m told that, oh, they have all kind of loan programs. But, I ask myself, how would I have gotten started with my own life if I had to start off with forty, fifty thousand, hundred thousand dollars debt that had to be repaid.


George Ariyoshi was eligible for the GI Bill because he served in the Military Intelligence Service at the end of the war between high school and college. Part of that time, he was stationed in Japan, where he witnessed the post-war destruction. After he finished law school in 1951, Ariyoshi returned to Honolulu and started the law practice he’d dreamed of since the eighth grade, and a short time later, he met the girl of his dreams, the former Jean Hayashi.


I was invited to a party. My friend’s home we had a party, and she was part of the Wakaba Kai Sorority. The sorority was invited also. So, when we got there, I had heard about Jeannie.


What did you hear about her? That she was hot-looking? Is that what I’m gathering?


Yeah, she was a very beautiful girl. And I had seen a picture of her, and somebody told me, Oh, that’s Hash’s cousin; Yoshimi Hayashi.


And were you actually at the party looking for her? Were you kinda hoping to spot her?


No. No, I didn’t, I didn’t know she was there. Because I had a date also at that point; I had gone there with a date. But I just happened to come into the kitchen. I don’t know why I went into the kitchen, but I walked into the kitchen and I saw Jeannie, and I recognized her. And so, my way of starting a conversation was, Oh, are you related to Hash?


Knowing the answer already. [CHUCKLE]


[CHUCKLE] And Hash was Yoshimi Hayashi, who became Supreme Court Justice, was her cousin. And so, we talked, and then I said, Oh she was getting ready to leave, so I told her, Can I steal a dance? [CHUCKLE] So, we went out on the dance floor, and they started to play some very fast music. And Jeannie tells me later on, oh, she didn’t think that we could do that dance, but she was surprised when I started to Jitterbug. And I had learned that when I was in Minnesota at Fort Snelling. We called it then the Lindy Hop. I learned that, and I started to dance, and she told me, Wow. She was really surprised that she could dance with me. [CHUCKLE]


Oh! Now, what happened to your date?






[CHUCKLE] Well, she was there. But I went to many parties with the person that I was dating at that time. But after I met Jeannie, I stopped dating her, and I invited Jeannie to the Cherry Blossom Prom that they were gonna have, and I never dated anybody else after that.


Now, at that time, you already were known as somebody with political prospects and a possible political career ahead. When you were dating Jeannie, did you evaluate her from that standpoint?


No. I never knew, I never knew that I was gonna be in politics. And it was only in 1954—and her birthday was October 30th, and when I ran for office, she couldn’t vote for me in the primary. And she could only vote for me in the general; she became of age. [CHUCKLE]




I never even thought about running for office or being a politician at the time that I started to date her.


And so, I mean, really, it is a very hard thing to be the wife of a politician. And so, she had that ability, even though that’s really not what you were looking for.


M-hm; m-hm. She was a very flexible person, very good-natured, and she was very friendly. She made friends, meeting new people, they began to feel, Oh, I’ve known her for years and years, even though that the first time. As a matter of fact, we asked one time on a political campaign for an endorsement from one of the governors to speak, make a tape. And he talked about me, but he said that I was a very well known person amongst the governor’s circle, very well liked, but I was only second to somebody else, second to Jean Ariyoshi. So Jean was very … she helped me a lot. I’m a shy person, and I don’t move around. I can’t go around shaking hands with everybody, and I kinda stand still. But Jeannie can make up for that by being the warm person. I used to go to Big Island, for example, and people would come up to me at a rally, and the first question they would ask me is, Where’s Jeannie?




We’ll have been married for fifty-seven years this year. And Jean and I learned to get closer, and we have learned to love our children and our grandchildren even more so, because of our personal relationship. So my family side is very, very good. I get the biggest thrill out of my grandchildren when they were younger. And my great-grandchildren now, when they see me, they come running up to me, Grandpa!, and give me a big hug.


While George Ariyoshi was courting his future wife, a man who was the driving force in Hawaii’s rising Democratic Party began courting him to join what came to be known as the Democratic Revolution in Hawaii. Then party chair and future governor, John Burns, persuaded the twenty-eight-year-old Ariyoshi to run for the Territorial House in the historic 1954 election. Ariyoshi would become the youngest member of the first Democrat-controlled Legislature. Burns inspired Ariyoshi to consider politics as the path to social change.


I told him I was not a plantation child. I grew up away from that, so that I didn’t have that kind of discriminatory experience. And so, he told me, Well, what about now? Are you starting your own law practice? And I mentioned that, oh, I began to feel this control over the economy by the Big Five. That’s when he told me, Run for office. I thought he was talking to somebody else and turned around. He said, No, you, you run for office. And my response was, No, I’m too young and nobody knows me. And he said, No, it’s not that, it’s where the heart is. And that’s when he encouraged me to run. So I ran … not because I wanted, but because I felt that maybe something could happen. In 1970, when he asked me to run for Lieutenant Governor, he was not talking about 1970; he was looking at 1974. And when I expressed some concerns about being committed, because my law practice was my first love. And he told me, Please listen to me very carefully. He said, There’s never been a Governor of Hawaii who was born here in Hawaii, there’s never been a Governor here in Hawaii except a person who was White, and I want you to break that, I want you to open it up so that it’ll open up, and other people can also become a part of the government structure. That’s why I ran. When I became Governor, I was very conscious of the obligation that I had to the citizens of this community to do the best I can as Governor. But I was very mindful of something that my father used to talk about. The word is a Japanese word; it’s haji, shame. Don’t bring shame on your friends, your family, to anybody. Be honorable in everything that you do. And I was very mindful of the fact that if I didn’t do a good job, it would not only be a reflection on the work that had to be done, but be a great reflection on the minority people that I felt were part of the government. And my father, you know, he encouraged me, but in so many other ways, I learned from my parents. He talked to me about how important it is to get people to help you. No matter how good you are, you can’t do things by yourself.




You gotta get help. He said, Don’t boast about doing things, always remember that many other people helped you. Your teachers helped so that you can become whatever you want to become. When you have something you want to do, other people are gonna help you. And so, acknowledge that so much help that you get. He used a Japanese word at that time, okage sama de. Kage is somebody’s shade. O is honorific. Because of your help, because of your shade, I have become or been able to do what I wanted to do.


And that became your mantra throughout your time in office.


Yes; yes. And then, my father was very frugal. He said, Spend money if you have to, but don’t spend it unnecessarily, and to not pinch and not deny yourself anything, but be sure that you spend it in the right kind of ways, in the right amounts. And that also helped me when I was looking at budget problems. I remembered my father telling me the Japanese word, mudatsukai; wasteful spending, don’t do that. My father was also very firm about doing things in the right way. In fact, during the 1954 election, when I first got elected, my first campaign, I recall some problems I had with the labor unions. They wanted to control me. One way to do that was tell us how we’re gonna go about campaigning. And when I didn’t agree on how the campaign should be run, they were very angry with me. But my father telling me that what you think is right, you gotta stand up and do what you think you ought to do.


So did you lose the union’s support? I don’t think so; right?


They I didn’t, that 1954 election, because we came to an agreement on how to go about campaigning. And that agreement was what we could pass out. They were telling me I had to pass out only one card with all six candidates, the Democratic Party candidates’ names, and nothing else. I was going to go along with that, but when they told me nothing else, that’s what I really got affected by. But we came to a compromise. They said, The last week, let’s pass this card with six names, but until then, you can pass your own things. And so, they supported me. But I lost their support in the next election.


Why did you lose it?


Because at that time, the unions were very tough. And it was not just you’re going along with the programs that they had, but if they told you they want you to jump, they wanted to have you ask them, Oh, how many feet? It was a time when it was almost raw strength that they had, and they wanted to be sure that they didn’t lose and they were in control.


Did you get the same kind of attempts to control you on the other side from big business?


When I got involved in the 1954 election, it was because of the big business, Big Five, and how they tried to control the economy. And that was very wrong for them to dictate not only what happened to the economy, but who gets involved. And at that time, if you were an outsider, you could work for any big company and get up to a certain point, but you could never hope to get above that. And to me, that was very, very wrong, because it was not being advancing to one’s ability. I learned that there were individuals within the Big Five who shared a lot of our hopes and our aspirations, and who were willing to help. Companies that I thought were really bad people turned out not to be all that bad, and they were used to a certain kind of practice before, but they were beginning to change also. And I can name people, like Henry Walker, and Harold Eichelberger, and Lowell Dillingham all came around.


Did you think they were more open than big unions?


I think the unions started to come along also.


Ariyoshi served in the Territorial House, the Territorial Senate, and the first State Senate before he was elected Lieutenant Governor with Governor John Burns in 1970. When Burns became too ill to serve before his third term was up, Ariyoshi became Acting Governor, and then he won the position in his own right, elected to three terms starting in 1974. He served as Governor for more than thirteen years, and because of term limits in place today, no one is ever likely to serve longer. We’ll have more on his legacy in an upcoming episode. At age eighty-six at the time of this conversation, Ariyoshi continues to go to work as a businessman, connecting people. He travels widely in Asia and the Pacific, and he enjoys his grandchildren and engaging other young people in thinking of the future.


Thank you, Governor Ariyoshi, for sharing your Long Story Short. And thank you for watching and supporting PBS Hawaii. I’m Leslie Wilcox. A hui hou kakou.


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


When I was Governor, my secretary knew that when one of my kids comes in during the day over there, they were to let me know so that as soon as I got through with what I was doing, I would see my children. And I think it was a way for them to test me, to see whether or not they had access to me. And they knew they had access. And every time, no matter what I was doing, when I took a break, I would see them. And my youngest, Donn, who was only twelve years old at the time, was the one who did this all the time. He would come up; How’s my father? [CHUCKLE]


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