childhood

POV
Minding the Gap

POV: Minding the Gap

 

First-time filmmaker Bing Liu’s documentary Minding the Gap is a coming-of-age saga of three skateboarding friends in their Rust Belt hometown. While navigating a complex relationship between his camera and his friends, Bing explores the gap between fathers and sons, between discipline and domestic abuse and ultimately that precarious chasm between childhood and becoming an adult.

 

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LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Ulalia Woodside

 

As the daughter of a wildlife biologist father and kumu hula mother, Ulalia Woodside’s passion for the natural world was rooted in her since childhood. This early passion blossomed into a career in protecting Hawai‘i’s diverse natural resources. She is now Executive Director of The Nature Conservancy of Hawai‘i.

 

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

 

Ulalia Woodside Audio

 

Download the Transcript

 

Transcript

 

And we are, aren’t we, the state that has the most quickly-disappearing species.

 

We continue to be an endangered species capital.  The Bishop Museum, not that long ago, had an exhibit on feather work and Hawaiian birds, and they also had a timeline up on the wall of when birds went extinct.  And … it brought tears to my eyes to stand there, and to look at when I was born, and I don’t remember the number of birds, and to see the number of birds that had gone extinct in my life.  That was hard to look at.

 

She grew up tagging along with her father as he worked on nature preserves.  And now, she is protecting many of those special places of Hawaii. Ulalia Woodside, next, on Long Story Short.

 

One-on-one engaging conversations with some of Hawai‘i’s most intriguing people: Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox.

 

Aloha mai kākou. I’m Leslie Wilcox.  Ulalia Woodside has dedicated her career to managing and protecting the lands and other natural resources of Hawaii. She’s also a kumu hula with a deep connection to the Hawaiian culture.  In 2016, Woodside became the executive director of the Nature Conservancy of Hawaii, overseeing forty thousand acres of preservation areas, not only Hawaii, but as far away as Palmyra Atoll, which is a thousand miles south of the Hawaiian Islands.  Her love of the land and her culture came to her early and easily, taught by example by her parents.  Her mother, Leiana Woodside, was a kumu hula and curator at the Queen Emma Summer Palace, and her father, David Woodside, was a wildlife biologist and naturalist.

 

I was very fortunate to be born and raised in Waimānalo.  I think I had a unique upbringing.  My parents had me a little later in life.  My mother was forty-four when she had me, my father was forty-six.  Now, that’s nothing, but back in the day, that was considered late.  You know, my mother was born and raised in a Hawaiian lifeway.  Her mother, and her mother before her, they had this vision of what it means to be a Hawaiian woman.  And in our family, my grandmother embodied that.  She embodied what it meant to be a Hawaiian woman, or this image of Haumea, the goddess, the deity, that energy that is the life source of creation and of birth.  That Haumea takes many forms.

 

What was your grandmother’s name?

 

My grandmother was Ida Pakulani Kaaihue Kaianui.  And you know, she was born in 1888, and she passed away in, I think it’s 1974 or 1976.

 

So, born during the days of the monarchy, and died after all the cultural unrest of America.

 

And statehood; right.

 

And after Hawaii’s statehood; yes.

 

Yes; until statehood.  So, you’re exactly right.  And because my mother is the youngest daughter of fifteen children—she’s number thirteen, and my mother has me at forty-four, what this means is, I have this really short linkage back to 1888, in a way; right?  And so, our family traditions really compact in these two generations, is the way that I was raised.  And I think that’s quite unique.  It made it challenging going to school at times.  You know, your parents are listening to Frank Sinatra, and your friends’ parents are listening to, you know, the Beatles or, you know, Neil Diamond, or something a little bit more contemporary, and we didn’t have a television when I grew up.  My mother wanted to have a yard that had Hawaiian plants in it.  She wanted a loi, so right there on the beach in Waimanalo, my father created a loi for her.  So, I grew up working in the loi there in Waimānalo.  We went fishing.  My father and I would lay net back in the days when, you know, you still could lay net. In my community, there weren’t a lot of children my age, so I went to work with my parents, I went to board meetings with my parents.  I went to Audubon Society Christmas bird counts with my father from a young age. I guess it’s a shift in how we raise our families nowadays.  My parents didn’t spend their days taking me to my activities, except hula.  You know, my upbringing was going with my mother as she would develop hula productions for State Foundation Culture and the Arts, or for the Aloha Week Festival.  And she would really have the leaders and the influencers of kumu hula, and they’d design these productions together.  My father would help with the staging and the plants.  And you know, those were the things that I needed to participate in.

 

Now, hula is very intensive, and if you’re passionate about it, you can’t have enough of it.  But there are some kids who say: Oh, no, do I have to go today again? What was your situation?

 

You know, I started dancing hula before I could remember.  I have pictures of me, very young, dancing hula.  And it was non-negotiable.

 

Nobody asked; right?

 

Nobody asked.

 

You just did it. 

 

And there was never gonna be a time when hula was not gonna be a part of my life. So, that connection with hula, that responsibility to hula, was there from the beginning, and will be there ‘til the end.  But it was not something that I could in any way step away from by choice.

 

But did you want to?

 

You want to, and then there was a lot of crying involved with hula.

 

Do I have to do that again, you mean?

 

And in that way, you know, when your grandmother—my grandmother was a kumu hula, my mother and two of her sisters were kumu hula, there’s an expectation of how you will perform.  And there’s an expectation of excellence, there’s an expectation that you will grasp quickly the dance or the chant that you need to learn.  And that wasn’t always the case, and sometimes I didn’t want to practice.  Sometimes I wanted to play, sometimes my feet didn’t do what they were supposed to do. But there are so many things that hula teaches you, and it’s something that has existed in my life.  You learn that you can do almost anything.  You can do things you might not want to do, and you can do them well.

 

Now, was your dad Hawaiian as well?

 

My father wasn’t Hawaiian.  But he was born and raised in Kapa‘au, Kohala on Hawai‘i Island, and his father came to Hawai‘i to be a part of the Kohala Mill system that they had.  So they had long roots here in Hawai‘i, but he wasn’t Hawaiian.  This was his homeland; it was the only homeland he knew. He loved this place, and he loved the values and the way of life these islands had created.  So, the forest and those plants created a relationship that we have with them, created this aloha ‘āina, this concept of mālama‘āina, this responsibility to place.  And he embraced that, and that was his career.  My father had spent the majority of his career and his life in remote places caring for Hawai‘i, caring for the natural resources, the forests, the birds.  And so, when they came together, they brought their two worlds together.

 

He let you tag along in his work, which was fascinating and beautiful, out in the outdoors and with the discipline of understanding the environment.  What was that like?  Where’d you go?  What’d you do?

 

I distinctly remember we went out to Mānana, Rabbit Island, right off of Waimānalo and there were rabbits on that island. And one of the things that my father did was spend a lot of time in remote places.  He went to Jarvis Atoll and Rose Atoll, he went up to the Northwest Hawaiian Islands, Tern Island, Nihoa, Necker, Mokumanamana, and he’d spend long time there.  And one of the things that he would do when he would go to places is he would eradicate small mammalian predators, or he’d eradicate things that were disrupting the natural system there; sometimes cats.  And on Rabbit Island, it was rabbits.  And so, it had been years when rabbits weren’t supposed to be on Mānana anymore, but we’d go there, and there’s a rabbit on the island.  And I remember my father getting the gun out.  And we were with a number of other of his adult wildlife friends, and they’re doing their thing.  We’re on a bird count, and we’re studying.  And I am jumping up and down: Run, rabbit, run, get away, get away, get away!

 

And you know, it … it was dispatched. My father dispatched that rabbit.  And then we cleaned it, he and I cleaned it, and then we ate it that night.  But I got to do these really interesting things with him.  And going to Mānana was one of those really transformational days. You have an ‘ewa‘ewa chick, sooty tern chick, just a puffball of fuzz in your hand.  Rob Shallenberger used to work with my father at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and he’s also a great photographer. And he took this picture of me, and you can just see in my face how excited I am to have this little puffball in my hand.

 

As a child, Ulalia Woodside yearned to be like her father, working in the field and watching out for nature.  And that’s the path she started on as a young adult. But she steered in new directions, finding other ways to help the lands and reefs of Hawaii.

 

My very first job was a place where my father worked for a number of years, the Department of Land and Natural Resources.  The Land Division needed student help, a student helper position, so right out of high school, I think two months or so after I graduated, I started working for the Department of Land and Natural Resources.  And it was a tremendous experience.  I worked there all through my undergraduate years, until I got my bachelor’s degree.  And I learned about land tenure in Hawai‘i, I learned about state leases, I learned about shoreline issues, I learned about long tenured families that have long deeds that go back to Kamehameha V.

 

Were you doing paperwork, or were you out in the field?

 

It evolved.  So, when was a student helper, I mostly made copies.  I also was a clerk typist for a period of time, and at that time, I got to see the leasing documents come through.

 

So, you were reading the documents as well as processing.

 

Right. You know, file them and understand them, different islands, the different issues that are going on.  And after I graduated from college with my bachelor’s degree, I worked there for a little bit of time as a land agent.

 

What does a land agent do?

 

So, at that time, I was helping process shoreline certifications.  So, people who would like to build or develop on coastal properties, you frequently need to identify where the shoreline is, because there are specific regulations about setback.  It really taught me a lot about, you know, how things happen.  It was an incredible growth period for me.

 

All while you’re going to college and learning.

 

All while I’m going to college.

 

What were you studying in college?

 

In college, I was studying political science.  And then, I also got a second degree in Hawaiian studies, and I got a certificate in Hawaiian language.  And so, at the time, with the political science, I was thinking of going to law school at the time.  And had some other friends that were in political science, and they were moving on to law school, but I was working, you know, with the state.

 

So far, you’re following a similar path to your father, but you’re taking it in a different direction, ‘cause you’re interested in the decision-making and the issues involving regulation.

 

At that time, I was, you know, I really was interested in that.  And shortly after I finished high school, the State of Hawai‘i workforce went through a really large reduction in force.  And so, I had only been now in my permanent land agent position, was the bottom of the rung position for just a couple of years.  Not even two years, I think.  And so, there was somebody else with greater seniority than I did, and so with that reduction in force …

 

You got bumped.

 

I got bumped.  I got bumped out of that position.  And you know, if that hadn’t happened, I do think about, would I still be working at the Department of Land and Natural Resources today if that hadn’t happened?

 

After losing her position with the Department of Land and Natural Resources, Ulalia Woodside entered graduate school at the University of Hawaii to study urban and regional planning.  From there, she took a new job in the private sector, where her interests expanded beyond land management and conservation and into cultural preservation.

 

And then, I went to a private planning and engineering firm that worked with the Department of Transportation to repair highways or build big highways, and you know, DOT Airports, and you know, had to go out to the community of Keaukaha and talk about the runway that’s next door, to speak to people who want to build industrial parks in areas, and large resort developments, and golf courses.  And so, seeing that side of the equation gave me another level of understanding of our lands here, how decisions are made, why we see that building where we see it. And it was a hard time.  When was working there, the requirement for a cultural impact assessment became law.  And prior to that, it wasn’t a requirement.  Being able to be a part on that front edge of trying to put this into place, and going out and speaking to people of place, and gathering their stories, and then coming back and finding ways in which by incorporating what is about this place actually creates a project.

 

Why was it a hard phase?

 

It was a hard time because at times, you know, you’d sit across from somebody that had a piece of property, and you know, in the environmental review process, you do a biological assessment, you do an archaeological assessment.  You see all of these, all of these treasures that they have on their property.  And I remember sitting there, and I remember the gentleman looking at me and he said: I just want to cut it up and sell it.  And I, you know, was jazzed.  We had found, you know, this ‘ilima on the property, and this.  And it made me think about the other skills that we might need in those conversations. And it also made me think about how the energy within our community helps to shape the change of something. And what I mean by that is, that awareness of what you have on your property of natural resources and cultural resources, that’s also known by the community.  And that community can inspire a developer or a landowner to create something that is even better than what they may have had in mind in integrating and incorporating that unique plant that you found, or that portion of a trail that happens to come through their property.  And that really, really got me inspired.

 

In 2002, Ulalia Woodside joined Kamehameha Schools to work on āina-based educational programs, which ultimately changed how Kamehameha Schools and other Hawaii landowners managed their natural resources, including lands.

 

I was very fortunate at that time, as I was going through that work and starting to get itchy, to be able to be proactive.  And at that time, the Kamehameha Schools had gone through a redevelopment of their strategic plan in 2000, and their land division that managed their agriculture and conservation lands was revisiting how they manage those lands in line now with the new strategic plan that really saw those lands not as separate from the mission.

 

Not commodities, but part of who Kamehameha Schools is.

 

And also, a platform through which the mission could be achieved.

 

I see; with people.

 

With people, and with education.  I was very fortunate to be invited there by Neil Hannahs.  Enjoyed working with him for … almost fifteen years.  There was a kīpuka, there was this stronghold on Kaua‘i, and one of the first projects I got to work with was out in Waipā, Kaua‘i on the north shore of Kaua‘i with the Sproat family and the Mahuiki family at that time, and the Hawaiian farmers of Hanalei.  And they recognized the value in their ahupua‘a, and it had been used for, you know, ranching over the years.  But that community remembered the taro traditions, and they still raised kalo, and that’s what they felt was the abundance and the wealth of Waipā.  But they were talking to Kamehameha Schools, I think, in the 80s or so, and you know, it was at a time when Kamehameha Schools was actually considering putting in a development.

 

I remember that.

 

And they had to find a way to develop a use that would be productive on the lands, would recognize Kamehameha Schools’ needs, but also leave room for being proactive about the growing the community and also where we could be.  So, one of those great lessons, you know, I learned of my time there is, when you work for a perpetual organization that at that time had been around for a hundred and fifty years, you know, your spot is about this big on that spectrum.  You know, what are you gonna do in that spot on that spectrum, and are you gonna do some things that make it harder for those that come down the spectrum, or is what you’re doing keeping the door open, setting the table?  Is it creating an opportunity for those that are going to come after it?  And that’s what the Hawaiian farmers of Hanalei and those families did, is they found a way to be productive users of the land, create capacity within their community, and start to pilot and showcase what a thriving ahupua‘a looks like, with students and learning happening there, which then set the table for us to take that to a whole different place.

 

So, those were very important years for Kamehameha, and those decisions that were made.

 

Yeah.

 

In 2016, Ulalia Woodside was selected to be the executive director of the Nature Conservancy of Hawaii. Big job, overseeing the protection of nature preserves across the ridges and reefs of Hawaii, and in many of the same areas that her father helped to protect.

 

In working at Kamehmeha Schools, being able to think about this return on investment, and the changes that we were making to create this abundance in place, we had worked alongside the Nature Conservancy as partners across the table with the Hawai‘i Conservation Alliance, working together in developing management strategies. We frequently visited each other’s property to see how species were being managed, how they were thriving, to learn those lessons from each other.  And so, when there was the opportunity to join the Nature Conservancy, I valued the work that had been done there.  And also, you know, working at Kamehameha Schools, even when you work for the State, you’re carrying on a legacy.  And I really thought about the legacy of the Conservancy in Hawai‘i since 1980, and the change that they had brought to Hawai‘i, the idea, the concept that there are certain lands that are so special that we should set them aside, and we should protect those lands so that what’s unique about them gets preserved.  Now, at the Nature Conservancy, one of the places that we manage is Palmyra Atoll, a thousand miles south of Hawai‘i. I knew my father went to all of these atolls, but I came to learn that he was a part of the group that went out to Palmyra and identified the biological importance of that place, and integrity of that place, and was part of the effort to protect it, and to see the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recognize that place as an important place that needs to be protected, and to help to encourage and work with the Nature Conservancy in order to set that place apart so that those rare species, those coconut crabs, the largest breeding colony of red-footed boobies in the world, that that continues to exist, a reef like no other.

 

It just seems like everything you’ve been through took you to this place, this job that you hold now.  Do you feel like that?

 

I think life finds its way.  And I do feel like I have stayed a course.  I have followed in the footsteps of my parents.  But I have evolved along the way.  I have been that Haumea and that shapeshifter that has moved along the way. I try to find places where I can be relevant, where I can help improve the condition of our world that we live in, that I can make connections between people and nature so that we might be inspired to have a home that is thriving along with us.  And I’ve been very, very fortunate to find people to spend time with and to find employers and places where I can work towards that mission, work towards that mission of ensuring that we have Island Earth, our earthly home, our earth home and our island home, our Pacific home thrives in that way.

 

Not an easy job.  And it takes constant management.

 

It’s not an easy job.  It takes constant management.  But if we come back to hula … it is about the collective, and it is about recognizing that together, we produce something that is amazing.

 

Ulalia Woodside says she’ll continue to use valuable insights from her hula experience to bring together different people and organizations, and preserve and protect the natural resources of Hawaii and beyond.  Mahalo to Ulalia Woodside of Waimanalo, Oahu.  And thank you, for joining us for this edition of Long Story Short on PBS Hawaii.  I’m Leslie Wilcox.  Aloha nui.

 

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

 

So, between regular school and summer school, I would go with him to work.  And he was managing Ki‘i Refuge.  Now it’s known as James Campbell Refuge out in Kahuku.  California grass would grow very, very quickly, so driving the tractor and mowing the berms, and keeping the grass down was one of my responsibilities.

 

 

WE’LL MEET AGAIN
Saved in Vietnam

WE'LL MEET AGAIN: Saved in Vietnam

 

Join host Ann Curry as two Vietnam veterans search for the heroes who saved them. An Army officer searches for the helicopter pilot who rescued him, while another soldier wants to reconnect with the surgeon who saved his leg from amputation.

 

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LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Suzanne Case

 

An idyllic childhood spent outdoors in Hilo set the stage for Suzanne Case’s lifelong commitment to the preservation of Hawai‘i’s natural resources, first as a conservation lawyer, and then as the executive director of The Nature Conservancy of Hawai‘i for 14 years. Her deep love of nature has helped guide her current leadership role, as chairperson at the Hawai‘i Department of Land and Natural Resources.

 

This program will be rebroadcast on Sunday, Oct. 28 at 4:00 pm and 11:30 pm.

 

Suzanne Case Audio

 

Suzanne Case Transcript

 

Transcript

 

Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park is my favorite national park.  We used to hide in the lava tube and scare the tourists. And at age four saw the Kīlauea Iki eruption, which was two thousand feet in the air.  And you know, I had that experience of hot lava and cold air on my back, and we were all lined up on a wall at the edge of the crater.  So, I mean, that kind of thing is just a powerful experience.

 

She grew up experiencing some of the natural wonders of Hawai‘i.  And now, her job is protecting them for future generations.  Suzanne Case, next, on Long Story Short.

 

One-on-one engaging conversations with some of Hawai‘i’s most intriguing people: Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox.

 

Aloha mai kākou. I’m Leslie Wilcox.  There’s a tremendous amount of legal and other office work that goes into protecting and preserving the lands and waters of Hawai‘i. But Hilo born Suzanne Case, who heads the State Department of Land and Natural Resources, is not only handy with paper trails, she’s handy on mountain trails too.  In fact, she needs nature in her life.  Case is a familiar name in Hawai‘i.  Suzanne’s brother is former U.S. Congress member Ed Case, and her cousin is entrepreneur Steve Case, who cofounded America Online or AOL.  Suzanne Case has spent most of her career looking out for natural resources, first as legal counsel, and later as Hawai‘i executive director of the Nature Conservancy.  In 2015, Governor David Ige appointed her to lead the department charged with managing the State of Hawai‘i’s natural resources.  Her deep connection to nature took root while she was growing up in rural Hilo, on Hawai‘i Island.  Her father, James Case, took a job at the Hilo office of the Carlsmith and Ball law firm in 1951.

 

So, I was born in Hilo, and grew up in Keaukaha until I was about ten.

 

Okay; I have to stop you there, because everyone I’ve met in Keaukaha is a Native Hawaiian homesteader.

 

Yeah; yeah.

 

Your family lived there.

 

So, there is the Native Hawaiian homestead, and a longer neighborhood going down to the end of the road.  We were in that neighborhood; we were down towards the end of the road.  We went to third and fourth grade at Keaukaha Elementary. So, it was a whole mixture there. But it is a very diverse community, and very outdoorsy.  The road goes right along the water.  We lived right across the street from the water.  And so, you know, every day, we were in the water.

 

It’s two steps into the water, practically.

 

 

Totally; yeah, yeah, yeah.  You cross the yard, go down the wall, cross the road, and you know, walk down, and you’re there.  And so, we were there every day, either in the water, or scrambling along the shoreline. You know, it’s all lava rock there, a lot of underground caverns and stuff.  We had ponds on our property, there were ponds in the neighbor’s property. We were right across the street from the Richardson’s, we’d call it, Fishpond, which was and is a beautiful fishpond.  You could scramble along the wall, there’s a mākāhāthere.  And it’s now a community center, which is perfect for it.

 

And why did your family pick that area? Because you have a choice of where to live in Hilo.

 

Yeah. I think my parents just wanted a place. We had a lot of kids in my family.

 

How many kids?

 

Six kids growing up.  And so, were just outdoors all the time.  And I think they just wanted us to be outdoors.  When we were little, my dad would come home from work for lunchtime and have a bite, and take us for a swim.  And then, come home after work, and we’d go for a swim.  And you know, so you learned to swim.  We swam underwater on his shoulders, you know, just right out in front of the house.  And so, that part was really neat.

 

Well, your father sounds like he was such an engaged father.  And your mom.

 

Very much.  They both were very engaged.  Yeah. So, my mom actually finished her college when we were in Hilo, when she had, you know, young kids.  And then later, her master’s when she had more young kids.  But you know, she was at home all the time, and cooking and sewing.  She made our clothes.

 

She had a set of twins among all the kids.

 

Yeah; yes.  They came a little bit later, so I grew up really with three brothers, and then later on, a brother and a sister.  So, lots of outdoor energy from that group.

 

Did your parents or your brothers make allowances because you were you a girl?

 

Not at all.  No; no. And I was pretty much of a tomboy growing up.

 

You weren’t gonna let them take the lead.

 

Right. I mean, there were a couple of things that, you know, I thought it was unfair that they got to do, that I didn’t.

 

For example?

 

I don’t know.  I mean, part of it was just I had older brothers.  But on the flip side, my dad used to take me out to lunch, starting in preschool, on the last day of school, because you know, there were so many boys, he wanted to do something special.  And so, that was a tradition that continued all through high school, and he does it with his grandchildren now.  And my brothers were very jealous of that.

 

Which of your siblings were you closest to?

 

Probably Ed.  Over our whole life, you know, he was really my oldest brother growing up, so I always looked up to him.  And you know, we’re still quite close.

 

Your elementary school was destroyed by a tsunami.

 

Yes; yeah.

 

The old Waiākea Kai.

 

Waiākea Kai Elementary School; right.  It wiped out a whole community.  And I was there from kindergarten through second grade, and then we went to Keaukaha Elementary School.

 

How much of an impression did that make on you?

 

Very bit impression.  Waiākea Kai was predominantly Japanese, mixed community, and Keaukaha was predominantly Hawaiian community.  So, it was a big part of kinda my grounding in Hawaiian language and music, and culture, and in fourth grade, played in the Merrie Monarch Festival.  So, I learned ukulele then, and you know, kala‘au sticks that my friend’s grandfather made.  And you know, so all my friends were Hawaiian, and they got to go to Kamehameha Schools, and I didn’t really understand why I couldn’t go there.  But it gave me a real love of Hawaiian language and music, and culture that I think, you know, lasted with me.

 

You’ve had a couple of aha moments.  I remember you speaking of one when you were a kid, spearfishing, which changed your behavior.

 

Yeah.

 

Tell us about that time.  That was probably in Keaukaha.

 

It was actually in Honomalino Bay in South Kona.  We used to go there for vacations.  A very remote place, very off the grid.  And we spent a week or two at a time, every single year, when I was growing up.  And a very, very special place.  I knew it underwater better than above water.

 

Where is it?

 

Honomalino; it’s south of Miloli‘i, South Kona.

 

Oh, that’s very south.

 

It’s very south.  You know, no roads to it, kind of thing.  So, my dad made our Hawaiian sling spear guns out of, you know, bamboo and surgical tubing, and electrician’s tape.  And so, you know, we always had the right size spear for our height.  And so, you know, we learned how to fish, but we had to, of course, clean and eat our fish.  And so, I finally, at age eleven or so, caught my first weke is what I caught. And then after that, after you got good enough, you had to go for the real eating fish.  And so, for me, that was uhu.  But they were much faster, and I never could spear one.  And so, one day, I just got so tired and so frustrated that I just turned, and I speared a butterfly fish, just because I wanted some success.  And the spear ripped through the fish, and the fish swam away with this gash it in. And I went: Oh, that was not pono. And so, I quit spearfishing.  I knew that I couldn’t do it if I was gonna not do it the right way.  So, I quit spearfishing.  I actually saved up my money, and I bought an underwater camera housing for an Instamatic.

 

Oh, you shot them in another way.

 

I turned into an underwater photographer at age twelve.  And so, it was just a powerful moment for me of realizing you have to do the right thing.

 

Suzanne Case faced a culture shock at age nine. Her family packed up and left the country life in Hawai‘i Island that they loved, and moved to the City of Honolulu, Oahu.

 

When I was almost ten, my dad’s firm asked him to move to Honolulu, to build up the Honolulu office.  And so, we were just between—just finished fourth grade, and so, none of us wanted to move.  First, we thought we were just gonna go for a little while, and so we thought that was fine. But when we found out that we were moving for permanent, we just said: N-O, we are not gonna go.  All of us kids, we just: We are not going.

 

And then, of course, we had to.  But it was rough; it was very rough.  I always felt like country bumpkin goes to the big city.  And you know, it was a rough transition.  I went from public school to private school; that was part of the transition.

 

So, from Keaukaha Elementary to Punahou.

 

To Punahou; yes, exactly.  They were just two worlds.  And you know, Punahou is a great school, but it took me a good maybe four years to really kind of find my place there.

 

You repeated sixth grade.

 

I did. That was probably the thing that was most influential in my getting settled at Punahou and turning out more successful.

 

It was for social reasons?

 

It was for social reasons.  And I was struggling a little bit academically.  I think I was borderline when we moved from Honolulu, and normally maybe they keep you back.  And so, they said: Well, you know, let’s go with it.  But after two years, my teachers and my parents recommended I do that. And you know, that was a hard social adjustment, but really, really good one.

 

I would think it’s hard, because you know your classmates go on without you.

 

Yeah. Yeah; yeah.  Yeah, and you know, and it’s awkward.  Right?  But it was good for me.  I had my first success in school.  We were up at Camp Timberline, and had to do a study project, and a study plot.  I happened to have a spider in my plot, and so, I ended up really studying that spider for a week and, you know, got an A-plus on my science paper.  And I’m like: Oh, that feels good.  You know. Feels good to understand what it takes to, like, really apply yourself, to be really good at something.  And that was neat.  So, you know, that kinda thing helps your transition.

 

You got so comfortable at Punahou, where you had once felt uncomfortable, that you became the first female student body president.

 

I did; I did.  And it was kind of one of those step-up things; right?  So, you know, I remember thinking about it for a while.  I had been on a student council, small advisory council, and I remember just feeling like, again, I should do this, I should step up and, you know, do this kind of service.  So, I did, and I ran, and I was elected.  And so, I was the first female student body president at Punahou.

 

Did you remain an outdoorsy person in Honolulu?

 

Yeah; totally.  So, we moved to Tantalus, and so that’s an outdoorsy place.

 

So, that’s the country in town.

 

That’s the country in town.  It’s a very, you know, special place to live in terms of, you know, it’s very close to town, but it’s in the forest.  So, again, we were just like—the neighbors were much more spread out, so a little more lonely place to have that period of your life.  But you know, we had kids about a mile up the road, and so, we would, you know, find paths through the forest.  And we had this system of neighbors picking up kids after school at the steps at the bottom of the hill.  And nobody does that anymore. but we were essentially hitchhiking, except with people that we knew.  And so, very, very independent.  You know, you could come home whenever you want.  And we had a great mudslide right near our house, so you know, we’d go out especially when it was pouring rain.  That would be the best, and just get covered in mud.  And you know, that was some dangerous stuff there, but you know, you were lucky that you don’t get in too much trouble.

 

In addition to enjoying forests on Mount Tantalus above Honolulu, Suzanne Case continued to be fascinated by the reefs and ocean, with the help of two popular television shows of the time.

 

I just dreamed about being a scuba diver, and used to watch the Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau and Sea Hunt, Lloyd Bridges’ Sea Hunt in black and white. We didn’t have television until we moved to Honolulu, and then it was very, very restricted.  So, I always wanted to learn to scuba dive, and you could get certified when you’re fourteen.  So, soon as I was fourteen, my dad and I signed up for a course, and we both took it.  And I was actually much more comfortable underwater than he was.  But we got certified, and then I started diving, and then I found people to go diving with as well.  And then, I saved up my babysitting money to buy a set of scuba gear—so tank, regulator, pack, vest.  And I used to go diving a lot, mostly on Oahu off of Waikiki, off of Hawai‘i Kai, off of Hanauma Bay, Cockroach Gulch, and also Sharks Cove, Makua. So, you know, I loved kinda the meditation of being underwater, and just blowing bubbles, and being still and—

 

Bringing your camera.

 

I did.

 

With the underwater housing.

 

I did; I did.

 

After graduating from Punahou School, Suzanne Case followed in the footsteps of her father and others in the Case ‘ohana, including her older brother, former Congressman Ed Case, by entering the world of law.

 

In our family, half of us went into law.  I would say on my cousins’ side, they were more on the business side.  But I think all of us had, you know, a sense of like, kind of social responsibility.  You know, a sense that we needed to contribute somehow to Hawai‘i, to society and stuff, and so, it just expressed itself in different ways. You know, Ed’s very much of a public servant in politics, and you know, Steve obviously is a really fine businessman. And you know, all just trying to do something good for the world.

 

Was that said to you explicitly by your parents? This is what you’ve got to do, this is what we believe in.

 

They had a strong sense that we had to contribute to society, I guess is the way we were kind of brought up.  I mean, I can’t point to a specific thing they said, but that was kind of a theme going on.  You know, you need to do something good for society with your life.

 

You chose to go to law school.  Was it a real choice?  Did you feel, you know, expected to?

 

By the time I went to law school, it was a real choice, because I didn’t think I was gonna go for a long time.  And honestly, I didn’t really understand what my dad did.  He did business legal transactions.  So, I was around it all the time; I just didn’t really understand what a lawyer did.  And I didn’t really understand it until I went to law school.  But I think by the time I went to law school, I realized that I needed to do something that was intellectually engaging.  And so, it turned out to be a really good path for me. And I ended up practicing law for eighteen years, mostly real estate transactions, mostly in conservation.  I worked at the Nature Conservancy for twenty-eight years.

 

A nonprofit; and in charge of conservation of lands.

 

It’s a conservation organization globally.  And so, I worked there as a lawyer from 1987 to 2001.  I worked all over the western United States.  I worked in Hawai‘i, I worked in the Asia Pacific region, places like Indonesian and Papua New Guinea, and China, and Pohnpei.

 

Were you negotiating tracts of land?

 

So, in the US, we were, very much.  We were basically doing conservation transactions.  So, real estate transactions to put important pieces of land into permanent protection.  And so, that was just another switch.  I practiced real estate law in a law firm in San Francisco for four years after I graduated from law school.  And that was just straight real estate transactions; one pension fund buys an office building from another pension fund, so I saw it as kind of morally neutral work.  Whereas when I made the switch to the Nature Conservancy, you know, I felt good about everything I was doing.  But it was still real estate transactions, it was still problem-solving in terms of like, what are all the things you need to do to get to this point on closing day. You know, always referred to it as closing instinct.  You need to get here by this date, so what are all the things you need to do.  But that was for conservation.  And then, in the middle of that in 2001, I was in Hawai‘i, still as lawyer, and was asked to be the acting director, ‘cause the previous state director was leaving.  And I said: Uh-uh.  I said: There’s plenty of people that could do a much better job than me, I’m perfectly happy being a lawyer.  And so, the regional director who had asked me just, you know, continued to talk to me about it, and then something just switched in my head, and I said: Yeah, I’d like to do that.  And it was a real switch.  It was a switch from implementing to like, figuring out where we need to go, what’s the path to get there.

 

Also, you began working with donors, too.

 

Very much; yeah.

 

Fundraising big deals.

 

Yeah; yeah.  And that’s obviously a big challenge for people to do and very much of a change from, you know, just doing the legal work.  But you know, my only kind of path in it was just to realize that, you know, what you’re doing is, you’re telling people this great work that needs to be done. And there are people who want to do this great work, so you’re, you know, offering them a path to implementing their own dreams as well.  So, you know, once you realize that you’re talking that language with a person about what they care about too, then it works.

 

Suzanne Case led the Hawai‘i program of the Nature Conservancy for fourteen years before being nominated by Governor Ige in 2015 to head the State Department of Land and Natural Resources.  Case said she had not envisioned herself in that position, but after legislative approval, she stepped up to a new set of challenges.

 

You were chosen after lawmakers didn’t like a previous selection by the governor, who was Carlton Ching.  But when you came onto the scene, many people were saying: She’s perfect for this job.  You live the job.

 

Yeah.

 

And in a sense, I can see exactly what they mean, because you are somebody who loves the outdoors.

 

Yes.

 

You live it.

 

Yeah.

 

And you want to protect it.  So, that’s who you’ve always been.

 

Yeah. I’ve always been very outdoorsy, very deep love of Hawai‘i, deep love of places, and this problem-solving; you know, the how you do it, and the why you do it.

 

Right.

 

In combination.

 

And you had legal skills, to boot.

 

Yeah. And so, that’s been really helpful to me.  So, all of that, you know, DLNR has a broader mandate.  In the Nature Conservancy, we were very focused on protecting our forests and reefs.  And that is true also in DLNR, but there’s also state parks and historic preservation, and enforcement, and conservation regulation, and small boating, and you know, a whole slew of things.  You have to come up with a decision a lot of times, and the decision is gonna affect somebody positively and somebody negatively.  So, how do you make sure that at least they all feel like they’ve been heard.  And then, you know, that you’re doing something that really has a good public policy base in it.

 

But you know that it’ll never be win-win for everyone.  Somebody will always be unhappy with your decision.

 

That’s a very hard thing about it; it’s a very hard thing.  Yeah; yeah.  But overall, our mission is to protect Hawai‘i’s public trust, natural and cultural resources. So, that’s just the underlying driver. And that helps a lot, because a lot of times, there is a greater good and, you know, it may hurt somebody who would like a bigger piece of that greater good, but you’re trying to come up with something that’s fair.

 

Do you sleep at night saying: Oh, no, you know, I’m working really hard in this area, but over here there’s coral bleaching going on.

 

All the time.

 

And what’s gonna go on.

 

All the time; yeah, yeah.  And it’s even much more specific.  It’s like: Oh, gosh, I need to get back to this person, or there’s an issue here. Something is bothering me here, so we haven’t worked this one out yet.  And so, yeah, there’s a lot of processing, you know.

 

Always feeling like you’re not doing enough, and in fact, you’re doing a lot.

 

Yeah; yeah.  But again, you know, you have to find that balance, too; right?  So, you know, I’m fortunate I live on Tantalus again, and around my family all the time, and I’m in the forest all the time.  So, I have that kind of, you know, ability to kinda step back and, you know, take a deep breath, and go: Okay, what’s important to do next.  And that’s been very special for me.

 

Does it ever take away from your feeling of enjoyment in these places that you have the obligation to protect them, and there’s a lot to do?  I mean, does that tarnish some of it for you?

 

Not at all.  It drives it. And a lot of the projects, you know, are also very much driven by the communities that we work in.  And so, they have that intimacy too, sometimes for many, many generations.  And so, it’s a motivator.  You understand how important it is, and so it’s very inspiring.

 

What’s next after this?  I mean, this could go on for a while or not, but what’s after this?

 

You know, I think the point is, you just have to be open to, you know, whatever life brings.  And once you make that leap to leave a whole career behind, and do this public service, you just have to hang with whatever the future brings.  So, I’m definitely in this general field for the long haul, and will just continue to try to do my best for Hawai‘i and the planet.

 

Suzanne Case says that outdoor activities are still her favorite pastime, and they help her to understand her conservation work from inside, out.  All of her career, she’s jumped into her work on site visits, such as on numerous trips to Palmyra Atoll, a thousand miles south of Hawai‘i, for the Nature Conservancy. She likes to get a firsthand look at what needs to be protected.  Mahalo nui to Suzanne Case of Honolulu.  And thank you for joining us for this edition of Long Story Short on PBS Hawai‘i.  I’m Leslie Wilcox.  Aloha nui.

 

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

 

Palmyra is a place to me, you know, it’s both good and bad that more people can’t get there. But it’s the kind of place where, if you can see a place like that, it totally resets your baseline.  You understand what our world is supposed to look like underwater, and you know, what we’ve lost in Hawai‘i just from overuse.  But to me, it’s a great inspiration for what we can make it look like again, if we take care of it.

 

 

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Susan Ballard: Path to Top Cop

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX - Susan Ballard: Path to Top Cop

 

The conversation with Chief Susan Ballard continues with insights into her almost-33 years with the Honolulu Police Department. She reveals the ways she had to prove herself as a rare woman on the police force and how she is breaking the mold of her predecessors by just being herself.

 

 

This program will be rebroadcast on Sunday, Sept. 2, at 4:00 pm and 11:30 pm.

 

Susan Ballard: Path to Top Cop Audio

 

Download the Transcript

 

Transcript

 

You know, this lady, a nice Japanese lady, she let me come, she let me sleep on her floor.  For four months, I was there.  We had lunch maybe about a month ago.  And she reminded me, because I had started the process to go into the police department. And she said: Do you remember what you told me?  And this was not when I was living with her, but after I had moved out, but you know obviously, we stayed friends.  She said: You remember what you told me?  And I said: No.  And she says: I’ll never forget that I asked you, How long are you gonna stay in the police department?  ‘Cause she knew it wasn’t anything I really wanted to do.  And I said: Ah, I think I’m gonna stay until I make chief.   And I said: I really said that?  And she said: I will never forget that; and when you made chief, it was just like I was like, holy cow, that really happened.

 

Thirty-two years later.

 

Yup; thirty-two years later.  Exactly.

 

When Susan Ballard joined the police force in 1985, there were few women cops, let alone in high positions.  She didn’t necessarily plan to make a career of being a police officer, but she persevered, and overcame barriers. Honolulu Police Chief Susan Ballard, next, on Long Story Short.

 

One-on-one engaging conversations with some of Hawai‘i’s most intriguing people: Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox.

 

Aloha mai kākou. I’m Leslie Wilcox.  Susan Marshall Ballard grew up in the South, raised to be a proper Southern lady.  She moved to Honolulu in the early 80s with no particular plans, other than to look for work at McDonald’s as a manager, a job she’d done before, until she figured out what to do next.  Ballard became friends with police officers at the Central YMCA, and they persuaded her to apply at the Police Department.  Now, there weren’t many women cops at the time, and there were many male officers who felt that women were not up for the job and could put them in harm’s way.

 

I guess I’ve always been a rebel, too.  I mean, you know, even growing up, I was kind of a tomboy, you know, just because you sorta had to, to take care of yourself because of the situation. But when I went into recruit school, we had like about four women.  We started out with like four women in our class, which was a large amount at the time. And unfortunately, I think we only ended up—I’m sorry, started with five, and we graduated with three that continued on, actually all the way through retirement.  Two of ‘em retired already; I’m the only one left.  But you really did have to prove yourself.  I mean, when you went to defensive tactics, it was like, you know, they would try their best to try and, you know, get you to quit, you know, to give up.  You know, I always tell the story that, you know, there was a bunch of men in the class who formed the I Hate Women Club.  You know, because they didn’t think that women should be in the police department.  Well, I didn’t care.  I would jump in the truck with them and say: Well, sorry, I’m going with you regardless. You know, and I think after you kinda push yourself on ‘em enough, and they see that you can, you know, take care of yourself and you weren’t gonna back down, then you know, things became easier. Is it right?  Well, no, it wasn’t, but you know, that’s the way it was going through recruit school.

 

But you didn’t take offense?

 

No; I really didn’t.  You know, it didn’t really faze me.  Maybe because I was just kind of oblivious, or maybe I was in my own world somewhere, but I didn’t pay that much attention to it.  I’ll never forget when I first went out on the road, the first case that I went to, you know, the guy who was supposed to be covering me off—and it was a domestic.  So, I went in and I said: Are you coming in?  And he’s standing outside the door of this, and he says: No.  And I was like: Okay.

 

No backup.

 

Yeah; yeah.  So, I went in, and you know, resolved the situation and stuff.  And then after that, he was okay.  But I had to prove that, you know, you could.  And you know, couple of the other stories, you know, that I tell is that when I was down in Waikīkī, we had a hostage situation, so we had to call out SSD. At that time, it was the SWAT team. And it was my beat, so it was like, whoo, I was all excited because, you know, I was gonna, you know, be there, you know, and you have this case.  And so, the SWAT team came, and the SWAT major was there.  And my lieutenant, you know, bless his heart, Wally Akeo, he was like the best lieutenant ever.  But you know … he came, and I says: Okay.  I said: You know, I’m gonna go ask, you know, what is it that I can do, because it’s my beat, I want to make sure that I do what I can.  So, I went up to the major of the SWAT team and I said: Excuse me, sir. I said: What is it that you want me to do?  He said: Be a good girl and go get us some coffee.  Well, me being the person I am, I was ready to rip—I didn’t care what his rank was, I was ready to rip into him.  God bless my lieutenant; he grabs me by the shirt and just pulls me out.

 

And he tells me: Calm down; go over there, just calm down.  But did you hear what he said to me?  And he says: Just take it easy.  But you know, those are the types of things, you know, that we had to deal with.  Even at the main station … I don’t know, way back when, our director said that women had to wear brassieres.  It was required.  And so, during our lineups, our lieutenants would come behind us like this, the women, and check like this to see if we had a brassiere on.  Yeah.

 

Wow!

 

Yeah.

 

It sounds like the Middle Ages.

 

Exactly.  Well, I mean, uh, even the weight room.  The weight room was behind the men’s locker room.  And so, for us to go workout in the weight room, we had to walk through the men’s locker room.  And so, we were only allowed to go down one side of the locker room, and as we approached the door, we had to yell: Woman coming through, woman coming through! Well, I mean, let’s face it; all that’s gonna do is egg ‘em on.  So, you can imagine.  Man, we got flashed, I mean, anything that you can imagine.  They always told us: You don’t look, you keep your eyes straight ahead.  It didn’t make any difference what they did.  It was: You look straight ahead.  But, yeah.  So, it was an interesting time.

 

And there was a time when an interview board asked you what rank you thought you thought you would want to be, and you said captain.

 

I did.

 

And they said?

 

They laughed.  They said: Oh, there’ll never be a woman captain.  Okay, well … good.  Okay; whatever.  You needed to ask me something, I answered.  I didn’t even know what a captain was at the time, actually.  So, you know, I figured, hey, that sounds high. I’ll just shoot for captain.

 

 

Along the way, I’m sure you made friends and got advice, too.  What kinds of advice helped you along the way as a, at the time, rare woman, and still a rare woman in the police department?

 

You know, I go back that, you know, I was very lucky as I came through, because I had a lot of really good supervisors.  And obviously, they were all men, because at the time, there weren’t that many women supervisors.  But Bill Clark was my major at the training division when I had become sergeant.  And you know, I guess one of the things I always remember about him is that he would just tell us, he says: You guys do whatever it is that you need to do; you go create programs, do whatever.  And that’s kind of what I got from—you know, take risks and stuff.  You know, try it.  If it doesn’t work, it’s okay.  Then I had Steven Watarai, Chief Watarai at the time.  And everybody was just in fear of him.  I mean, it was like when they told me I was gonna go and work for him, I was like: Oh, no.  I said: I’m in trouble now.  But you know what?  He sat me down and he says: You know what?  He says: I trust you, until you show me that you can’t trust you anymore.  And you know what?  And he always … he would support you, he would, you know, go to bat for you.  You know, and he was true to this word.  And as long as you didn’t do anything that caused him not to trust you, he was behind you one hundred percent.  So, I mean, like I say, I was very lucky.  And like Wally Akeo, when I was in Waikīkīwhen I first went down there, you know, because there were very few women, but he always encouraged me to like, take the sergeant’s test.  He would encourage me to go out and do things that, you know, I wouldn’t normally do. And you know, he would basically tell me: You can do whatever it is that you want to do.  And you know, and that was back, you know, in ’88, you know, back when it was unheard of.  So, like I said, I’ve always really been lucky for the most part, always working with some good supervisors who were very supportive.

 

And then, you dismissed the flack, pretty much. You just decided that you weren’t gonna deal with that.

 

Yeah. Yeah.  You know, I gave this talk to my managers.  And one of the things that I said is, you know, I learn a lot from my dogs.  And one of ‘em is, if you can’t play with it, you can’t eat it, pee on it and walk away.

 

And sometimes, you know what?  If something doesn’t serve you, if it’s not working for you, you know what, you just gotta walk away from it.  You can’t pay it any mind.  It’s like it’s not worth you spending time to worry about.  And I think that’s kind of been, you know, my philosophy all along. ‘Cause you can find yourself getting caught up in things and going: Oh, well, this person’s out to get me, and this person.  But you know what, then you’re letting them control your life.  You have to control your own life.  You can’t let people make you upset because they control you. You’ve gotta control the way that you feel.  And it’s a constant reminder.  I mean, even to this day.  But you know, I mean, that’s one of the things.  If you find yourself getting caught up in stuff, you know, it’s like: Okay, stop. You need to control your own destiny. Don’t let other people control what you think, or what you say.

 

And don’t spend one more moment on it; right?

 

Exactly; exactly.

 

Former Police Chief Louis Kealoha was running the Police Department when Susan Ballard turned in her retirement papers.  Morale in the Department was low, as the police force watched and waited for the Chief to be indicted in a Federal corruption case. A series of events during this time turned Susan Ballard in a new direction.

 

You’d been through years and years of police being unhappy with chiefs.

 

Kinda interesting.  When I was commander of District 4 out in Kāneohe and Kailua, I had said that, you know, when I hit, I think it was like twenty-eight years, I was gonna retire.  So, I was at twenty-seven, and Chief Kealoha and Deputy Chief McCauley were in power.  And they really started … and for whatever reason, you know, I don’t know what it is, and obviously when you have power like that, you have people who are gonna kowtow to you and do whatever it is that they want, so that they can get ahead. And you know, and I saw that.  And so, one person did that, and they made allegations, you know.  Oh, well, you know, she’s not being a team player, or whatever.  And it’s like without even asking me why I was doing what I was doing, it was like: Okay, well, you’re out of there.  You know, you’re going down to Central Receiving Desk, which was, you know, like the place where you buried people.  It was the bad place to work, you know.  We only send people down there who were you know, not doing well, and all this other stuff.  So that’s what happened.  And instead of retiring, I said: You know what?  I’m gonna stay around, and I’m just gonna be a needle in their side. So, I thanked them for transferring me out of District 4, because if they hadn’t, if they’d let me stay there one more year, I would have been gone.  But they didn’t.  Once again, as I said, everything happens for a reason.  So, I went down to the desk.  And I was quite unhappy when I went to the desk.  It was like, you know, I’m not gonna do anything.  You know, it’s like, you know what, the heck with these people.  But then, after about a week or two, you know, I started meeting the people who were working down there and says: You know what, these people don’t deserve it. And so, you know what?  I made up my mind at that point in time; I says: We are going to make Central Receiving Desk the best place to work in the Department. We are gonna take care of our little corner of the world.  We didn’t care what was happening on the outside.  They can do whatever it is that they were doing, but we were gonna take care of Central Receiving.  And that’s exactly what we did.  And I got a team together, the sergeants, the lieutenants, you know, the officers who were down there.  Awesome group of people.  I mean, all of a sudden, it went from a place where half of ‘em would transfer out. Every time that there was a transfer, the people were putting their names in to come and join us down at Central Receiving Desk.  So, I decided, you know what, it was great.  And I knew that they would never transfer me, because they weren’t gonna put me anywhere.  So, it was like, great; just leave me down here.  I was having a great time, you know, I had a great group of people to work with.  And so, lo and behold, you know, all this started happening.  Well, we kinda knew what was going on, I think, long before, you know, the public. And so, you know, when it came out, and then he finally retired … because the indictment was taking so long, I thought, you know what—I mean, ‘cause it was like, two years, three years, or whatever that it took.  And I thought: You know what, I’m just gonna retire.  I said: You know what, I’ve got thirty-two years in the department, um, you know, I’m not gonna, apply for the position.  But what had happened was that officers, not just the people who were working down at the desk, but the officers would coming in, and they would ask me: Are you putting in for Chief?  And I said: No, I think I’m just gonna retire.  So, it was actually the officers, they said: Please, we’re asking you, please put in to become Chief.  And I said: All right.  And I did. And so, I put in.  But honestly, I never thought that this would happen, because of what was going on, you know, with the Chief, that obviously the public, the commission, everybody thought, you know, we’re gonna go on the outside, we’re gonna pick somebody who’s not in the department, ‘cause everybody in the department is corrupt.

 

But it helped you to be sidelined.

 

It was.

 

You were on the outs.

 

Everything happens for a reason.  It was great. I mean, otherwise, you know what, I probably would have, you know, never been selected because, you know, I would have been tainted, you know, with that administration.

 

On October 25, 2017, the Honolulu Police Commission announced its appointment of Major Susan Ballard to become Honolulu’s eleventh Police Chief, and first woman at the top of the Department.

 

When you’re the police chief, you run on O‘ahu. I don’t know if it’s still true, but it was once the eleventh largest city in America, the whole island.  But essentially, you’re running a mini city.

 

Right.

 

What’s that like every day?  When do you start, what do you do?

 

Well, I mean, I do all my workout in the morning.  Because I know that once my day starts, I’ll lose control.

 

Are you a gym person, or do you do that at home?

 

Actually, I’ve got my weight room at home, and then I do my yoga at, you know, a couple of different yoga studios in town.  And then, you know, I’ll jog on my treadmill like three days a week, or whatever. And then, kinda like do a boot camp type workout.  But it’s all within my house.  I really don’t belong to a formal gym, other than the yoga studios.  Because I’m an early morning person, I mean like, really early.

 

Early; how early?

 

Like, I wake up like, midnight.  I mean, because I have a hard time sleeping.

 

When do you go to sleep?

 

That’s why the nighttime events are so hard sometimes, because I usually try and get to bed by about seven-thirty.  And so, yeah, my sleep … I mean, I had insomnia for quite a while, so now that if I can get four or five hours sleep, I’m like: Yes!

 

And then, you wake up around midnight?

 

Yeah. And so, I usually do my workout, and stretching and then, you know, getting ready, and then go do my workout and stuff.  And that usually takes me ‘til maybe about two o’clock in the morning, two-thirty. And then, that’s when I walk my dogs.

 

Wow …

 

So, everybody in Kailua knows, here’s the crazy chief, she’s walking around.

 

It’s funny, because the newspaper people delivering newspapers, they stop by and say good morning.  You know. And then after that, when I come home, then I usually have time to take like about an hour nap.  And then, I get up and then I go do yoga or whatever usually around five, five-thirty, six o’clock.

 

You’ve had a full day by the time you get to work.

 

I do. And that’s why tell people; I said: You know, your five o’clock in the afternoon is my like, midnight.  Okay?

 

Right, right.

 

Yeah. So, yeah.  And then, I usually get to work, and then you know, try and you know, clear up the email.  But like I said, a lot of times, I just have um, events and, you know, those types of things.  And then, we have what we call chief’s reviews, so I, you know, go out to the different districts and the divisions and, you know, talk to the officers.  And we do a little different.  Before, it was very formal.  Now, I like, you know, the officers just to sit down, and I want ‘em to ask questions.  And they can ask questions about anything.  And I told ‘em; I said: If I can answer ‘em, I’m gonna answer ‘em.  If I can’t, I’m gonna find the answer and get back to you.  And they know, I’m not gonna take offense to anything that you ask.  And I think the officers, you know, are realizing that. If I’m lucky enough to have a block of time free, I’ve been trying actually go out and jump in a car with one of the officers, and then, you know, go patrolling with ‘em.  Because you know, you learn a lot from ‘em, sitting in the car with them, you know, talking.  I was down in Chinatown couple days ago, you know, and I was talking to some of the homeless when we were getting ‘em to move off the sidewalk. So, you know, I try and do that, you know, because at the same time, you know, the officers want to know that you’re there for them as well.  So, I mean, it’s not just the community like I said before, but you know, it’s for the officers as well.

 

It’s true; you have a lot of constituents.

 

You know, one thing that people get upset about more than anything else is like parking, and being stopped.  You know, and and they’re all: Oh, you know, you’re just giving us a parking tag, or you’re just giving us a citation because you need the money.

 

Yeah; you should chase real crime.

 

Right; exactly.  You know. And we tell ‘em, we says: Okay, well, first let me clear up a misconception.  HPD doesn’t get any of the money from the citations.  It all goes to the State; nothing comes to us.  But you know, we tell ‘em.  You know, I mean, one of our biggest complaints—like I had one gentleman at one of the talks, and he was very outspoken, that he felt that it was highway robbery that we were stopping people, you know, for different types of traffic violations, and that we should be out there solving the real crimes. And I told him, I said: Do you know what the number one complaint is from the communities, from almost every single community, besides the homeless—we’ll just leave that out for now. But it’s parking problems, and speeding, and other types of traffic, you know, violations.  I said: So, we’re out there doing what the community is asking us to do.  And you know, I mean, it’s just like DUIs.  You know, you stop someone who’s drunk, and they go: Why you stopping me, I didn’t kill anybody.  Not yet.

 

That guy’s drunker than me.

 

Yeah.

 

Do you feel like people are really watching closely?

 

They do.  You know, and I think more so initially.  Like for example, you know, before, if I went out to dinner or, you know, or I’d meet my friends over at Whole Foods in Kailua, and we’d have, you know, a couple of beers or whatever.  I mean, I ride my bike everywhere, I don’t drive my car.  But now, as Chief, I you know, choose not to ever drink in public or have a drink, because people don’t know, they don’t know that I’m not driving. You know, they see me and they think: Oh, well, here she is, having a beer, and you’re talking about drinking and driving.  So you know, I’m very careful about that type of thing.  Um, so that, you know, on the weekends, after I come back from a hot yoga class, I like to have a beer.  So, you know, I’ll have that at home.  But, yeah. So, I mean, that’s something that you know, I force on myself not because, you know, anybody else had said: Oh, well, you can’t do this, or that anybody ever made a comment.  I guess I’m probably my worst enemy.

 

In the more recent past, police chiefs haven’t served all that long.  It hasn’t been a long tenure for them, maybe seven years, five years.  Before, there were long-serving police chiefs.

 

Right.

 

What do you think you’ll do?

 

You know, I’m older than most.  So, you know, like I tell people; I said: You know, we’re just taking it one year at a time. You know, I don’t know, in five years, you know.  And a lot of it is the tenure is shorter because there are just so many issues.  It’s not like before, where it was a more, hate to say, simpler time.  But it was. But now, I mean, I would not want to be an officer out on the road now.  There is so much stuff that they have to deal with and do that, you know, we didn’t have to do coming up.

 

Yeah; I was just thinking about men in the police department over the years, and you know, there is a certain amount of stoicism and, you know, a face that doesn’t show emotion, and sunglasses, and not talking too much.

 

Yes.

 

Did you ever feel like, hey, that’s kind of a model, strength; quiet strength model.

 

It is, and it’s still.  And I mean, even you go up to the chief level.  Because, I mean, you know, all the other chiefs have been pretty stoic, and you know, the model that you’re talking about.  And I think that might have been a big difference, big change for people, you know, the officers who are in the department, ‘cause now all of a sudden, you’ve got somebody who is, for lack of a better term, I’m very loquacious.

 

And you know, we laugh and we joke.  I mean, before, if you went up on the fourth floor, which is where the assistant chiefs and our offices are, you could hear a pin drop.  I mean, it was dead silence.  I mean, you know, it was like you went into this—it’s almost quiet as a cemetery.  Now, you go up there, and people laughing and joking, and you know.  I mean, it’s a big change.  And even the officers, it’s like all of a sudden now, they seem to have permission to smile.  It’s okay to smile, it’s okay to laugh, it’s okay to be happy.  You don’t have to always put up that face.  Unfortunately, we’re still trying to, you know, like with the public, you don’t have to be that robot, that perfect person.  I said: You know, you can come out of your shell. Because, I mean, most of ‘em are very personable people, you know, once you get to know ‘em.  But it seems like, you know, all these years, that is you know, the way that officers are portrayed.  So, we’re trying to break that mold, you know, and trying to move out of that realm.

 

Well, you heard what the Mayor’s representative—I think the Mayor was out of town, but it was Roy Amemiya saying, you know, that you’ve been chosen, and your job is to restore trust in the police.  And it is true that there’ve been a number of scandals and incidents such as domestic violence, and an unwillingness to address that.  And how do you plan to restore that trust?

 

You know, it’s kinda interesting that when I first became Chief, it was during Christmas season, parade season.  And so, I was, you know, walking in some of the parades, and you know, people were, you know, yelling and cheering, and stuff.  And I was just walking down.  It’s like, wow, they’re really excited about their parades.  And one of my deputy chiefs turned to me and said: Chief … you know, I think they’re cheering, they’re yelling because you’re going by. And I’m going: What?  And so, I started going over and shaking people’s hands and stuff, and you know, and basically saying: Thank you.  And it was just so humbling that everything that this department has gone through, you know, in the last several years, that the community—and this was everywhere, was willing to forgive and forget.  I mean, maybe not totally forget, because it’s always gonna be back there.  It wasn’t just the community’s trust that was broken; our department internally, the officers’ trust was completely obliterated.  I mean, to the point where you had retirees that were embarrassed to say that they retired from the Honolulu Police Department, and that they would not say anything.  But you know what?  It’s nice to hear now that, you know, they’re proud of saying that they are, you know, retired from the Honolulu Police Department, ‘cause they see that we are trying to change.  And just like I tell people when we go outside, I said: It’s not gonna happen overnight.  And I’m not gonna tell you that our officers aren’t gonna do anything wrong, because they absolutely will; it’s no different from your children.  They’re gonna make bad decisions, and they’re gonna make bad choices, but we are going to address it.  I tell people even now, the people who get promoted; I said: You know, the higher you go, the more humble you need to be.  Why do you need to flaunt your power?  I mean, yeah, you’ve got it, it’s there.  But why?  I mean, if you have to do that, then obviously, you’re doing something wrong. I said: You know, you should be the most humble person in the world, the higher up that you go.  Because you know, that way people feel comfortable around you, and you can get a lot more things done.

 

At the time of our conversation, Honolulu Police Chief Susan Ballard was eight months into her five-year term as Police Chief, and one month shy of her thirty-third year in the Department. Mahalo to Honolulu Police Chief Susan Ballard of Kailua, O‘ahu for sharing your stories with us.  And mahalo to you, for joining us.  For PBS Hawai‘i and Long Story Short, I’m Leslie Wilcox. Aloha nui.

 

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

 

You know, I always tell people; I said: You know, as long as you do the right thing, for the right reason, in the right way, then I feel fine.  I mean, you’re never gonna get everybody to agree.  There’s always gonna be somebody who disagrees with you. And that’s just the world that we live in.  But as long as you don’t do anything, you know, mean or retaliatory, but you do it for the betterment of the community, the betterment for the officers, then how can you go wrong.  You know. And if I’m wrong, I’ll be the first to admit, okay, well, we messed up.  Or if a law is passed and says: Oh, well, you can’t do this anymore.  Okay, well, you know, you’ve given me my direction, you know, and we’ll have to move in that direction.  But as long as long as you do it with a good heart, and you’re doing it for the right reason, you know, I can go home and I can sleep at night.

 

 

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Susan Ballard: Finding Strength in Childhood

 

Honolulu Police Department Chief Susan Ballard reflects on her formative years growing up in the South and the difficult experiences that drove her to develop strength and resiliency.

 

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

 

Susan Ballard: Finding Strength in Childhood Audio

 

Download the Transcript

 

Transcript

 

It was a very interesting upbringing with my mom.  She was really into the manners, and the whole Emily Post.  And believe me, it stuck with me.  When you were at the table, if you ever tried to, like, reach across the table, your hand would get smacked, you know.

 

You always made sure you passed things around the table.  You had to have conversation.  And you know, when you think back, to this day, I really think that that’s one of the things that’s missing from so many families.  That, you know, if you really sit down and have a meal with your entire family, and you force the kids to talk about their life or what happened, you know, during school or whatever, you know, I think, one, social skills.  You know, instead of always looking at the computer.  And two, I think that, you know, we would have a lot less problems than we would have today if we still had family dinners.

 

The young life of future Honolulu Police Chief Susan Ballard was a mixture of practicing good manners, while learning to stand up for herself.  Sometimes, the two did not mix, but the result was that she grew up with strength of character, and people skills that helped her to become Honolulu’s top police officer.  Police Chief Susan Ballard, next, on Long Story Short.

 

One-on-one engaging conversations with some of Hawai‘i’s most intriguing people: Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox.

 

Aloha mai kākou. I’m Leslie Wilcox.  Susan Marshall Ballard became Honolulu’s first female Chief of Police in 2017, and hers was not a meteoric rise.  Barriers take time to overcome.  She had already served thirty-two years on the force.  Ballard was born and raised in the South, with Southern manners required at home.  But the kids at school were not genteel in their teasing.  She says they made fun of her for being tall and wide, with buck teeth. Her parents’ divorce forced her to grow up quickly, and as a young woman, she says she experienced domestic violence by a boyfriend.

 

I was born in Norfolk, Virginia.  But unfortunately, I was only there for about maybe five years before we moved away. And we moved to Jacksonville, North Carolina, and that’s where I started school.  And then, I was only there for about a year, and then, we moved to Fayetteville, North Carolina.  And no, my family was not in the military.  But my father was into the manufactured homes, so we always seemed to end up in large military cities.  So I went there.  I finished elementary school and junior high school, and high school in Fayetteville.

 

So, was he a salesman in mobile homes?

 

Yes, he was.  And then, he eventually became president of the company, and doing the manufactured homes. So, I lived in uh, mobile homes. I was the typical Southern type girl. You know, we started out in a single wide, and yeah, got to play out in the yard barefoot.

 

You know, run around in the South.  You know. And then we moved to double-wides, and then I think it was probably about junior high school, we had our first house.  We bought our first house in Fayetteville.

 

And your mother?

 

My mom was a homemaker up until my mother and father got a divorce.  And so, she took care of the house, and took care of us.  And then, she went back to work as a secretary at an insurance agency. Speaking of my mom, she used to always tell us when we were growing up that it’s not your kuleana.  And this was from the South.  And so, you know, we knew that it meant responsibility.  And this is like, North Carolina, and this is like, way back.  And so, when I came over here and I found out kuleana, and I was like … they said: Oh, that’s a Hawaiian word.  I says: No, it’s from the South.  And then, because, I mean, my mom—so I have no idea how she ended up getting that.

 

That’s so interesting.

 

Yeah; yeah, yeah.  Yeah. ‘Cause she used to always tell us: Don’t pay any attention, it’s not your kuleana, just let it go.

 

Did you have any idea how that came about?

 

I have no idea.  And she was not really—well, I would ask her things, like: What about this?  And ah, she never really—you know, she was—

 

So, old—

 

I couldn’t get information from her.

 

Old school.

 

Yes.

 

They don’t like to talk.

 

Yes.

 

Right?

 

Very much so.

 

Would you consider it a middleclass, non-dysfunctional childhood?

 

Yeah. Growing up, I would say that very much so is what, you know, would describe.  It was just like a normal upbringing.  You know, did school, did after school types of things.  And you know, one of the things when I was growing up is, I was … uh, quite large.  I was fat. I guess obese is more what the medical community was calling.  So, it was a interesting upbringing, because you know, when you’re in school, you know, you found out the kids were actually pretty mean when you’re overweight.  And my nickname was uh, Tub, Tub of Lard. So, all the way, even through high school until I left Fayetteville, even though I had lost weight in high school, I was still called Tubs.  Yeah.

 

How did you deal with that?

 

You know, I guess I was able to uh, carry my weight.  I did a lot of activities.  I was really good at football; they always wanted me to play the line in the neighborhood.

 

Were you tall as a child, too?

 

I was. I’ve always been taller than everybody else.  And so, I got to be the line in our neighborhood football team because, you know, I was so big, I could just knock people over.  I know, I know.  It sounds bad, but you know, I mean, you just kinda dealt with it.  But I mean, it was a name, you know, but we were still able to get along and, you know, do different things.  But it definitely does make a mark on you, you know.

 

And did it change your social life, do you think? I mean, do you wish you’d had a different social life?

 

Yeah, I think so.  You know, my mom was the typical Southern belle.  You know, we were raised with Emily Post.  So, you know, everything was manners and, you know, had the right way of sitting at the table.  We had to have dinner every night; Mom, Dad, you know, the kids.  My father traveled, so he was only at home on the weekends, most of the time.  But we were always required to have dinner, you know, as a family.  And then, she wanted us to go to learn to cotillion and go to the dance, and all like that.  So, like I said, I was large, so nobody wanted to take me to cotillion. So, I’ll never forget that my mom had to talk to the teacher, and had to ask one of the guys to please ask me to cotillion.  And that’s kinda something that sort of always stuck with me.  You know.

 

Was he good guy?

 

He was; he was.  He was very nice.  I mean, back in the South, doesn’t make any difference, ‘cause if you didn’t say, yes ma’am, yes sir, and treat people nice, you’d always get a whack one way or the other.

 

And you would actually do what your parents said, it sounds like.  Which often doesn’t happen nowadays.

 

Oh, yes.  And don’t ever bring a note home from the teacher.  Because if you got a note from the teacher, it didn’t make any difference; you were wrong.  The teacher was always right, so you shook in your boots if you had to bring a note home from your teacher.

 

And these things stay with you, as far as what seems right to you?

 

Yes; it really does.  And I think a lot of it is just, you know, how you treat people, you know, and just being able to talk to people, you know, and have a decent conversation. You know, ‘cause you were brought up to always appreciate, you know, everything that you have, and not take it for granted, ‘cause it can be gone the next day.  Which is what happened, like, when my parents got divorced.  It was like, we lived comfortably, and then when they got divorced, all of a sudden you had nothing.  So, you know, when you look back, you appreciate everything that you had, you know, when you were growing up.

 

Obviously, not everything was polite.  I mean, you were teased at school, and for a long time. How do you think that affected you, now that that weight is certainly not a problem?  I mean, how do you look at that experience, and how did it affect you?

 

Well, I think a lot of it, as far as affecting, you know, when I look at people, if they’re large, it’s like, you know, I can kinda empathize with them. And then, you know, a lot of times, you see people who are exercising who are large, and you know, human nature: Oh, look, that person’s fat, or whatever.  And I’m looking at ‘em going: At least they’re doing something.  You know, they’re out exercising, they’re out walking around.  So, you know, you give people more slack.  I mean, there’s no such thing as, you know, this whole perfect body thing, you know.  And especially for women; you know, we’re brought up that you’re supposed to, you know, look just so, and you’ve gotta be skinny.  ‘Cause my sister was completely opposite.  She’s probably about six inches shorter than me, she never had a problem with her weight.  The other thing I had, I had buck teeth, I had to wear braces.  But you know, she was always like … I don’t want to say perfect, but she never had to worry about, you know, her looks or anything. And she used to have guys always coming over to the house.  Where for me, it wasn’t until I lost weight that I actually really was able to, you know, really start dating.  And so, you do know that, you know, the whole body image, you know, is an issue.  And it does stay with you.  So that to this day, I mean, I make sure that I exercise and I eat right, because you know, I do know that even—is it right?  No.  But you know, I mean, if you see kind of an overweight man, you know, it’s like: Okay, well, you know, it’s okay.  But if you see an overweight woman, then it’s like: Oh, look, she’s not taking care of herself.  So, you know, especially in the position I’m in, you know, I always try and make sure that, you know, I exercise and eat right.  And I think that just always goes back to the childhood, that I never want to get to the point where I was overweight again, because I know how hard it was too, to lose weight and to keep it off.

 

Well, how did you do it, and when did you do it? You graduated still overweight?

 

No. I lost it when I was in high school. So, actually, I did it relatively quickly.  It was about four or five months.  It was like, from the end of my—I believe it was my sophomore year of high school, towards the end.

 

Was there something that made you do it?  I mean, was that some inspiration caused by an event?

 

There really wasn’t.  I think I just had gotten to the point where I was just tired of being made fun of, and it’s like, you know, it’s time.  I needed to lose weight, and you know, so I put my mind to it, and I did.  And of course, when you’re younger, it’s a lot easier to lose weight than when you’re older.

 

And you did it by a combination of dieting and exercise?

 

Diet and exercise; yeah.  Yeah. And from that point on, I have always exercised.  I mean, I was able to play on the softball team in high school, play on the basketball team in high school, because you know, I lost the weight and I was able to, you know, function in those type of sports.

 

No more linebacker stuff?

 

No more lineback.  I still played football, but you know, they let me be receiver now.

 

And so, then all of a sudden, guys came calling?

 

Well, I mean, yeah, more.  But I’m kind of selective too, so—

 

 

You know, we’d go out on dates and, you know, if I really didn’t like ‘em.  But I had a serious boyfriend in high school, and you know, we almost got married.  And then, I’m the one that’s kinda like: Um, this isn’t really what I want. And so, I usually get into long-term relationships, but I’m usually the one that—because I value my independence, and I think that came from when my mom and dad got divorced.  Because I saw my mom, who hadn’t worked, and all of a sudden, she had to get a job, and that you know, we basically lived from, you know, paycheck-to-paycheck, and you know, where was the next meal gonna come from. And so, I said to myself: I’m never gonna be like that, I refuse.  So, from that point on, I mean, I think I started working when I was like, fourteen years old. And actually, at that point, I really started saving for retirement.  Because I said: When I get older, I want to make sure.  I said: I can suffer when I’m young, but when I get older, I want to live like a queen.  And I said: I never want to be dependent on somebody, where I need them to the point where I can’t live my life.  And so, I think that’s really, you know, caused me to take a look at a lot of things.  And I think that’s why probably I’ve never gotten married, is because I like my independence, and I don’t like to really answer to anybody, you know, when I get home.  Other than my dogs.

 

What was life like when your dad left, and your mom was in reduced circumstances?

 

I mean, it was difficult.  I mean, one, because they didn’t get along.  You know, it was kind of an ugly divorce, and we had to leave our house and move into a two-bedroom apartment.  So you know, very small.  And my sister at the time, she and I didn’t get along at all, she didn’t get along with my mom.  So, it was just really—

 

Lots of conflict all around.

 

Yeah. It was just conflict everywhere. And then, so my sister ended up leaving, moving away, and so it was just, you know, me and Mom.  And you know, I mean, the fact that, like I said, you know, where was the next meal coming from.  And then, she had to go out, you know, and get a job.  And you know, all of the luxuries that I was used to no longer had.  And so, that’s why I went out and you know, got a job, and I figured I’d just, you know, take care of myself.

 

How old were you when you got the job?

 

The first job I had, I believe I was fourteen, close to fifteen years old.

 

So, this was all around the time that you lost the weight, as well.

 

Yeah; yeah.

 

All of it happened around the same time?

 

Yeah. Yeah, yeah.

 

Really kind of a pivotal period in your life.

 

Yeah. It really was.  Yeah.  And then, decided: Okay, well, I’ll go to college.  But there was no money for college, either.  So, my grandmother, when she was alive, every Christmas, I’ll never forget, my sister and I both, we would get savings bonds from her. We’d get hundred-dollar savings bonds from her.  And you know, when you’re kids, it’s like: Why are you giving us savings bonds; we want toys, we want material things.  Right?  But it was like she’d give us a savings bond every single year for Christmas and for our birthday.  And so, it had gone into the bank, and so because of that, I was able to pay for the first year of college.  And then, you know, while I was there, I was able to get, you know, a couple of jobs and was able to, you know, uh, earn enough money to pay for tuition and a place to live.

 

After graduating with her bachelor’s degree, Susan Ballard went on to graduate school in Tennessee, where she stayed and worked after receiving her master’s degree in athletic training, now called sports medicine.  She says she and her boyfriend decided to leave Tennessee and travel west.  They got all the way to Hawai‘i.  And it was here, she says, that her boyfriend smacked her. It was a turning point in her life.

 

When I left Tennessee, a friend went with me and we had stopped in California. And you know, obviously, looking back, you know, even when I was dating him in Tennessee, there were instances where he was very controlling, and you know, did things that he shouldn’t have.  But you know, you’re young, and it’s like, you know, you get into that: I’m sorry, but you know, you kinda made me mad, and—

 

And I’ll never do it again.

 

Right; never do it again.  That whole type of thing.  And so, you know, it didn’t happen like over, and over, and over again.  It was just occasionally.  And so, you know, you kind of put it out of your mind.  So, when we came over to California, and decided that you know, we weren’t gonna stay in California, and so we continued over here to Hawaii.

 

Now, why did you come to Hawai‘i?

 

Well, one, because there was no way I was driving back across the United States again.  ‘Cause we drove from Tennessee to California, to Los Angeles.  And I just was not gonna drive back.  And plane ticket is eighty-nine dollars one way.  So, jumped on a plane, came over, you know.

 

What were you thinking you would do?

 

Well, I figured if nothing else, I could go to McDonald’s and work as a manager at McDonald’s.  Because, you know, it was something that I had been doing working, so it was just kind of a stopgap and, you know, I figured I could get a job.  And that’s what I ended doing when I first came here.

 

And is what did he do?  What was his plan?

 

He really just kinda lived day-to-day.  And so, he got a job, you know, at one of the restaurants and stuff here. And then, we ended up getting an apartment, and then things just sort of kinda snowballed at that point.  I mean, he … you know, I caught him a couple times with other people.  He would come home drunk, you know, kinda force himself on me.  And then one time, when it got to the point where he hit me one time, I said: That’s it.  I said: You ever hit me again, I’ll kill you.  Because I knew at that point in time, I’m either gonna stay here, or I’m gonna get out. And obviously, it was hard, because I’m in a place where I really didn’t know anybody.

 

And cost of living was high.

 

Well, you know, I guess back then, I didn’t really notice it that much.  I mean, things weren’t that expensive.  And I guess, you know, I was doing okay, and I had money saved.  And money really never came into the equation as long as we were together, because we could split the rent, you know, and whatever that way.  But then, when I made that decision that I was gonna leave, it was like one of those, oh moments, and you’re like: Okay, now what.  So, I thought: You know what, if anything else, I’ll just get on a plane and I’ll just, you know, fly back to North Carolina. But you know, I had met some really nice people from Central YMCA, and they were officers, a lot of them were officers.  Funny thing about Central YMCA; you you had cops, and you had crumbs.  You know, so it was a really interesting combination. But the officers, I met this one guy, and I used to play racquetball a lot.  And so, I kinda told him what was going on.  And so, he came and he stood by.  He did what you call the standby, while I packed everything up to move out. Now, I’m standing there in the hallway and I’m thinking: Okay, so where do I go now?  So, he called a friend of his, who talked to another friend, and then I swear it was no more than maybe an hour later and he says: Okay, come with me, I’ve got a place for you to stay.  And so, this lady, her name’s Marsha, and she lives in Seattle now. But she had a studio apartment out in Makiki.  She actually allowed me to come to her studio and live on her floor, not even knowing me from Adam.  I mean, I could have been a serial killer, for all she knew.  But you know, this lady, a nice Japanese lady, she let me come, she let me sleep on her floor.  For four months, I was there, until another studio came open in the same building.  It was a little walkup in Makiki.  And you know, I mean, she taught me so much.  She taught me about taking your shoes off, going in.  You know.  The guys at the Central Y took me to the Korean bar for the first time, which was really an experience.

 

You know.

 

I mean, she was an awesome cook, too.  So, you know, I mean, I got to—

 

Local foods.

 

All the local foods.  I mean, you know, if it wasn’t for the folks at the Y, and then for Marsha, I’m sure that there was no way I would have stayed over here.

 

And what happened to the boyfriend?

 

You know, I don’t know.  I saw him one time, in town.  But I don’t know if he went back to the mainland, or if he’s even still over here.

 

So, you had to make a decision that enough is enough.

 

Yeah; enough is enough.  And you know, at that point, I said: You know, nobody’s gonna ever touch me again. You hit me, and literally, you’ll be dead.  Because you know, there’s no way that I would allow that to ever happen.  And you know, sometimes, you know, you just have to stand up for yourself.  And thank God that I learned to be independent, so the fear of going out on my own was not something that I was worried about.  You know, because, you know, especially if you’re young.  You know, if you’re young, it’s like you don’t worry about a lot of things, that you know, if they happen when you’re older that, you know, you can, you can just go forward and make it happen. Yeah.

 

When you came here, what did you think of the mix of races?

 

It was really a culture shock, because you know, you had all these people who didn’t look like you.  And so, you look around, and it’s like: Ooh, okay.  And then, you know, people would explain to me about all the customs and everything else.  And I was like: Wow, okay.

 

It’s a lot to take in.

 

It was; it’s a lot to take in.  And then obviously, you know, sometimes, you know, the discrimination against being Caucasian, Haole, whatever when I first got here.  And I think I took the bus for the first and got lost.  I ended up going around the island to get to Ala Moana Shopping Center ‘cause I didn’t know what I was doing.  I remember I was on the bus one time, and this guy looks at me and says: Eh, you F-ing Haole, get in the back of the bus.  And me, I’m just oblivious.  I’m like: Oh, who are you talking to?  I had no idea.  And it was the first time.  Because being from the South, I mean, basically you have Black and you have White. I mean, it’s pretty much that’s it. You come over here, and you know, all of a sudden you’re in a minority.  And it was something that I never really experienced before, you know, any type of racism, and it was sort of an eye-opening experience.  In the first six months, I was almost ready to pack up and leave.  But it was like all of a sudden at six months, you know, I looked around, and I was like … well, once again, people are just who they.  And it’s not like, you know, well, what is her nationality? I don’t know.  I mean, you know, Asian.  Are they Japanese, Chinese?  I don’t know; they’re just people.  What difference does it make?  You know. And so, it was, it was really a learning experience, and I absolutely love it because I love all the culture, the different cultures and stuff.  But you know, once again, you had to learn because you didn’t want to offend anybody.

 

Let’s see; you’re eight months into your five-year term as police chief.

 

Right.

 

You’ve gone through a lot of things.  Is there a common thread?  I mean, how do you decide?  ‘Cause you’ve always been in positions where you might be a one-of.

 

Yeah.

 

How do you know who you are?

 

You know, I’ve always tried to be myself.  I never tried to be someone I’m not.

 

You didn’t try to emulate anyone?

 

No; not really.  I mean, you know, as I was growing up, there really was nobody that I really wanted to emulate.  So, I sort of developed who I was along the way.  A good example is like, you know, on the weekends, I just wear my hamajang shorts and tee-shirts.  And people go: Oh, you’re the chief, you should dress up.  I’m going: No, that’s not who I am.  You know, and it’s the same thing about, you know, wearing makeup and things like that.  You know, ‘cause when I first became chief, they put all this makeup on me and made me take this picture.  And I saw it, and I said: No, take that down; I look like a hoochie-koochie mama.

 

You know.  But I just try to be true to who I am.  You know, I don’t want to be someone that I’m not.  Sometimes, I say things that you know, afterwards, they’re going: We can’t believe you said that.  But I mean, you know, that’s how I am.  You know, I try and be cognizant, and make sure that, you know, I don’t say anything inappropriate, you know, considering my position now.  But sometimes, it just comes out.  And honestly, you know what the best compliment I’ve gotten throughout my career with the police department, and even up to being chief, is people tell me: You have not changed one bit from the time that you became a police officer.  And that is probably one of the biggest compliments that they could have ever given me.

 

You’re at what, thirty-three years and counting in police work.

 

Yep; August 22nd, I’ll make thirty-three years.  Yeah.

 

We continue our conversation with Susan Ballard about her path to becoming Honolulu Police chief in the next Long Story Short.  Mahalo to Susan Ballard of Kailua, O‘ahu for sharing your story with us.  And mahalo to you, for joining us.  For PBS Hawai‘i and Long Story Short, I’m Leslie Wilcox. Aloha nui.

 

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

 

 

I know you always have loved pets.

 

Yes.

 

Is it since you were a little girl?

 

It was. I’ve always had either a dog or a cat, you know, in the family and stuff.  So, I’ve always been a consummate animal lover.  So, currently, I have three dogs.  I have Mango, who’s an English Setter; he’s the youngest.  And then, Kai; he’s a Golden Retriever.  And then, Kona, who’s the oldest, and she’s a Border Collie/Spaniel mix.  And she’s the boss of all three of ‘em.  And then, of course, I can’t forget Koa Kitty, who’s my cat who has no eyes.  He was born without any eyes.

 

How did you come to be his owner?

 

His mom.

 

Mom.

 

Yes; his cat mom.  Well, believe it or not, I actually happened to be on Craigslist, which you should never go on Craigslist.

 

Never, ever, ever, when it comes to animals, ‘cause there’s just a million of ‘em out there that need to get adopted.  I emailed, and so, this wonderful couple emailed back, and so we arranged to meet out in Waipahu.  Well, that’s all you need, of course.  Yeah. Okay; I got me a sucker, you know. So, I went down there, and I met them, and that’s how I ended up getting Koa Kitty.

 

And it worked out with the dogs?

 

It’s worked out well, and the cat walks around.  He’s learned how to go in and out the doggy doors.  I mean, the cat is absolutely amazing.  He’s been a wonderful addition to our family.

 

 


LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Augie T

 

Augie Tulba, known to the world as comedian Augie T, understood the value of hard work from a young age growing up in Kalihi Valley Housing. He started working long before his comedy career, and today still juggles his weekday morning radio program, a day job and comedy gigs. After 26 years performing comedy, he has found it to be a source of healing that has helped him make sense of his childhood, his family and his adult life.

 

This program will be rebroadcast on Sunday, Aug. 5, at 4:00 pm and 11:30 pm.

 

Augie T Audio

 

Download the Transcript

 

Transcript

 

When people meet a professional comedian I think they might expect you to be on all the time. Is that a pressure? You know, do they say: Well, that wasn’t funny.

 

Yeah. You know, I get that a lot.

 

And you’re just being a normal guy at that point.

 

Yeah. No; I try to separate the two, because I like performing, but I don’t like performing twenty-four/seven. You know, I used to get that a lot. Like, you know, they see me in the grocery store, you know. Tell me something funny or, How come you look so mad? Because I’m like you. I have a day job, and I gotta go shop, with my wife.

 

Augie Tulba, better known as Augie T, has always had a day job, starting from the time he was old enough to sell newspapers. He’s a funny guy, but he also has a very serious side to him. Augie T next, on Long Story Short.

 

One-on-one engaging conversations with some of Hawai‘i’s most intriguing people: Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox.

 

Aloha mai kākou. I’m Leslie Wilcox. Born Augusto Emery Tulba, the world has come to know him as Augie T, of ‘Ewa Beach, O‘ahu. He’s been voted Hawai‘i’s Comedian of the Year, he’s won two Na Hoku Hanohano Awards, and he’s sold out the Blaisdell Arena with his shows. He’s also been recognized as one of Hawai‘i’s Top 100 Influential Filipinos. Growing up in Kalihi Valley Housing, Augie T could have taken a very different path. He credits his hardworking parents and the many mentors he’s had throughout his life for opening the right doors for him.

 

I have five brothers, you know, and it was tough, you know. Dad wasn’t the most lovable guy; it was hard for get his attention. You know, Mom was very super, super-caring. But I saw them work; I saw Mom and Dad leave to work every day. And even when they worked, wasn’t making enough. You know. So, you know, my brothers and I, we understood the value of hard work. But was tough; was tough growing up. You know, we never have the things most kids had. You know, my mom and dad did a lot to make sure that we were nicely groomed, you know. But was tough.

 

What do you remember wanting when you were a kid that you couldn’t have?

 

I used to get mad, because I used to see kids’ parents abuse the welfare system. So, you know, like, at some point, I would tell my dad: How come all those guys get nice cars, and we get one ugly car? And my dad was like: Never mind; they cheat, they lie, that’s why, they lie. You know, lying no get you nowhere, cheating no get you nowhere.

 

Well, that was a good lesson.

 

Yeah; it was. But like, at the same time, like, how come they get nice cars, and we no more nice cars. You know, or how come we don’t have, like you know, especially like the latest trends, growing up.

 

When you watch TV and you see all the products being sold to kids; right?

 

You know, and people laugh at the jokes now, but like, I remember, you know, Christmastime. You know, nothing under the Christmas tree, like, weeks before. And you go to friends’ house and get plenty Christmas presents. And you wake up Christmas morning, and there’s a lot of presents under the Christmas tree. But then, you look around your house; no more nothing. Because your mom would take stuff, wrap ‘em.

 

Oh …

 

So get plenty. But like, you know, after a while, we’re like: That’s Dads boots. That was Dad’s boots, Ma. Like, you know, we wanted G.I. Joes and we would open up our gift, and my brother would have the arm, I would have the leg. I was like: What is this? That’s G.I. Joe puzzle. Put ‘em together, you guys share. You know, we was so poor, we only could afford one walkie-talkie, Leslie.

 

We used to share, you know. Ernie?

 

Yeah, Augie?

 

So, you know, it’s fun now, we look back, and you know, I’m thankful for those years. I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing now if I never went through that period; yeah? And so, you know, it was tough, but like, I’m very thankful for those times. You know, there’s a handful of people that I really appreciate what they did for my life. Mrs. Murakami, my eighth grade guidance teacher, who knew that I was talkative, knew that I loved the spotlight. And I was flunking English, and she said: You know, you going flunk English, two things going happen. You know, Augie, two things going happen. Either you going pay attention and listen to what I’m gonna tell you, and you going do it, or you can get lickin’s from your dad. Pick. I said: Uh, I pick yours. So, she said: I want you to enter the speech contest. And I went: Speech contest? Only the nerds enter speech contest. I’m a tough guy from Kam IV Housing; I ain’t doing speech contest. But she’s like: You know, you love talking, you love telling jokes. You know, and she spent time with me after school, which I thought was like: Wow, who does that? You know, and she helped me with my speech, and I did Rap Reiplinger, Room Service. My eighth grade speech contest. And it was so awesome, because she taught me how to prepare, how to get focused. You know, and I remember coming in that morning—and I share this story with a lot of kids in the middle schools. I come in, curtains close, I walk backstage, and all the nerdy kids looking at me like: What you doing here? And in my mind, I’m going: You like me punch your face now?

 

 

But because I prepared, I was focused, you know, and there was a confidence that I never felt before. Because yeah, I like talking, and I used that to get out of situations, but I never knew that using that was going, like, take me to the next level and help me see what I always wanted to become. Because in the fourth grade, I saw Andy Bumatai do comedy at the Maui War Memorial. He was opening for Yvonne Elliman. And I went: Wow, who’s this guy? So, I always wanted to be a comic. So, when I did the speech contest, I kinda …

 

Was this at Dole Middle School?

 

Yeah; was at Dole Middle School. You know, when I saw him make three thousand people laugh, I knew that’s what I wanted to become. So, doing the speech contest helped pave the way to what I really ultimately wanted to become: a standup comic.

 

So, kudos to …

 

Mrs. Murakami.

 

–Mrs. Murakami. And what about somebody else?

 

And at Farrington, Mr. Gary Kau. You know, you have electives, and of course, growing up in public housing, my dad wanted me to do automotive. Couldn’t do automotive because I forget which screw goes where, being dyslexic. Just flunk me; just flunk me. Or I never show up. I said: That’s okay, I flunk. And then they sent me to ROTC. I have ADHD; I cannot even stand at attention. And then, finally, like, I asked Mr. Kau; he was walking down the hallway. I said: Eh, can I come to your drama class? And he was like: Yeah, love you in drama. And I was like one of two boys.

 

And what did your dad say? ‘Cause you know, who can make money from drama class.

 

Oh, my gosh. Really? You really like hear what my dad said? I told: Dad, my elective is drama. He looked at me; he goes: You māhū? I go: No, Dad! I was like: No, drama. He’s like: Drama? Ah!

 

Little did he know it would be a career.

 

Yeah. And you know, my dad and my mom are like my biggest fans. So, you know, if you watch any of my DVDs, they’re in the front row. You know, and it’s so awesome to do the things that I did, and watching Mom and Dad in the front row.

 

The stuff they used to scold you for.

 

Yeah; yeah. So, you know, Gary Kau was a big influence in my life. And you know, my boxing coach, Donald Tsark.

 

Now, how did you get into boxing?

 

I always loved fighting. And we had to. I mean, I grew up in public housing. My mom is White, Leslie. My mom has blond hair, blue eyes, Irish, Portuguese, my dad is Filipino, and we lived in Kam IV Housing. So, we got picked on every day. Either people was teasing my parents, or they was teasing us. So, my dad made me and my brothers go outside and box, so that all the neighborhood kids see that that we could defend ourselves; right?

 

Yeah; ‘cause there must have been some much bigger kids living there.

 

Yeah; yeah.

 

Yeah.

 

So, we did good at boxing. I went to the gym, and you know, I loved the whole aspects of boxing. I love boxing; I love the discipline and how it helped me see the world, really. You know. My coach told me: If you train hard, Augie, you going be the first person in your family to go to the mainland. I went: Oh, yeah. And I worked hard, trained hard, I went to Los Angeles, saw Disneyland. And that was it. Another, you know, awakening for Augie. You know, like, ho, if you work hard and you train, you can see the world.

 

Your world got bigger.

 

Yeah; yeah. So, you know, I’m very thankful for those people.

 

Hawai‘i comedian Augie T started working long before his comedy career began. He learned at an early age that if he wanted money, he would have to work for it.

 

I started working very young. You know, I grew up in public housing, so there was a side of me that, you know, knew that I had to get money; I had to have money in my pocket to get stuff, because we never have anything. So, I sold papers, and I worked at Jack In the Box when I was fifteen years old. And I saw: Kapi‘olani Medical, part-time, with benefits, seven twenty-five. And I went: That’s the same amount of money my dad makes. So, I went, I applied, sixteen years old. And Mrs. Kawamoto at that time, who was the director at Kapi‘olani Medical, was like: How old you? I was like: Sixteen. And I was just like: I need this job, I like this job. And we made a deal. I said: If I sick, I call in sick or I’m late once, you can fire me. And she thought: Oh, that’s a easy bet. And I ended up being there for sixteen years.

 

And how did you get there?

 

I caught the bus.

 

What gave you the confidence to go as a teenager and apply at Kapi‘olani Medical Center?

 

Well, you know, I boxed all my life, and so, boxing gave me a discipline. Like, I know like, in order to make it in life, you have to work hard, you know, and to achieve your dreams, you gotta be dedicated and focused. And you know, I understood all that from boxing. And then, in high school, you know, I made my girlfriend pregnant. That kinda threw a wrench in the machine, and it forced me to work. But I always knew how to work; I always knew that, you know, you needed to do something to get money. And, you know, I was just driven to just work hard, and provide for my family, even at one young age. So, you know, that helped. For most kids, and I tell ‘em, you know: You might not be as lucky as I was. You know, I was just kinda motivated to get on the bus.

 

But you were paying child support as a teenager?

 

At sixteen, I became the Golden Gloves champion. I boxed; I was like PAL champion. At sixteen, I entered the Golden Gloves, I won the Golden Gloves. At one time, I was ranked seventh in the U.S. for boxing at junior flyweight. And then, I made that mistake. You know, I don’t call it a mistake, because I love my son, but like I did, I made a mistake and made my girlfriend pregnant. And with that, came responsibility. So, my dad was like: Eh, boxing; you have to go work, because I’m not supporting your kid. It was tough working at Jack In the Box, you know, knowing that you have to pay for medical. And I wanted my son to carry my name, so it was important for me to work hard, so that I can be a good example for him growing up. But I wasn’t making enough money. So, I applied at Kapi‘olani Medical. I got on the bus, and I wanted one interview that day. I told her my story, and I said: I’m determined, I want to work. And you know, the rest is history. I stayed there for sixteen years. The day I graduated from Farrington High School, I got part-time with benefits. Now, having benefits is like, a lot. You know, they were able to cover my medical expenses, and because I worked at the hospital, the hospital paid for the other half. So, I was able to, you know, take care my son and, you know, provide. So, you know, that for me was big, providing. Because even as a kid growing up in public housing, I never wanted to be part of that vicious circle, and I saw a lot of that happening. And there was a side of me that said: Yeah, Augie, you screwed up, but now you gotta take responsibility, and you gotta work. Yeah? And that’s what I did.

 

So, did you marry after you had the baby?

 

Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. And then, you know, we divorced later on in life, and you know, that was tough, challenging. You know. You’re not expecting that kind stuff to happen, but it does. You know, I worked hard, and I still never stop myself from achieving what I wanted to become ultimately.

 

Augie T embarked on his dream of becoming a standup comic in 1991, after he won an open mic contest at the old Honolulu Comedy Club. It didn’t mean he could leave his day job, but new doors started opening for him.

 

Two weeks into doing comedy, I bumped into Andy Bumatai at Kapi‘olani Medical. You know, the guy that I saw.

 

Where you worked; right?

 

Yeah; the guy that I saw in the fourth grade do comedy. So, I’m pulling my machine out of the elevator, and I go: It’s Andy Bumatai. And I probably passed him like, four or five times, then he went: You like talk to me? Just talk to me. And then, we ended up talking like, the whole night. Guys come up to him always saying: Oh, I like be one comic, how do I become a comic? But I wanted to be a comic. He was my idol; right? And we spent hours talking.

 

He told you: You don’t have to swear.

 

Yeah.

 

You don’t have be profane in your act.

 

M-hm. Yeah; he invited me to do comedy in Waikiki. And I wanted to be the Eddie Murphy of Hawai‘i. I wanted to be that guy. I wanted to be different from all the comics. And he said: You not going make money doing that; you gotta work clean. And that’s the best advice someone gave me, because I’m still working. Twenty-five years later, I’m still working. You know, and so, I’m always going be thankful to Andy. You know, and honestly, soon after that, two weeks later, I bump into Booga Booga.

 

Okay; now, younger people won’t know who Booga Booga is. But fabulous, fabulous comedian troupe.

 

Yeah. Rap Reiplinger, James Grant Benton, and Ed Ka‘ahea. And of course, you know, Rap passed away, but my dad took me to a food product show; Rap was performing. He signed my arm; I never wash my arm for a week. You know, because I loved what he did. And of course, I did Rap Reiplinger at my speech contest in the eighth grade. So, I did comedy. Meet Andy Bumatai; two weeks later, I bump into James Grant Benton and Ed Ka‘ahea. I’m like: Oh, my god; can I be your light boy? So, I was the light boy; they took me on the road, and they realized like: Eh, this kid knows all of Rap’s lines. So, I became the last unknown member of Booga Booga. Did several, you know, performances with James and Ed, and man, they became my mentors. Later on, you know, Frank Delima, we toured together. And Mel Cabang; Mel Cabang gave me an advice. We were on Kauai, and he was like: You’re performing too much; be yourself, be yourself. ‘Cause he saw talent, he said: Just be yourself on stage.

 

Which is not easy to do.

 

Yeah; because I thought I had to be, you know, really you know, um …

 

Amped up.

 

Yeah. I had to draw these huge pictures. Like: Ah, just be yourself.

 

I just wonder how many people who intend to be comedians have any idea of how much hard work it is.

 

Yeah; it’s tough. You know, at the end of the day, you can be funny, but if nobody’s listening to you talk. You know, and like I said, twenty-six years, this year, and people still coming down to the shows, sitting down, they like hear.

 

How has your humor changed over those twenty-six years?

 

Yeah; you can tell. I mean, when I first started, I was like the moke action guy. You know, a little older now, I’m seeing life differently. You know, there’s a lot of observance.

 

You do more social observations.

 

Yeah. I talk about my kids, I talk about my family. You know, that way, you cannot get in trouble.

 

You can get in trouble talking about your family.

 

You can. You can, by your mom. That’s it. You know, you shouldn’t say that, Augie; so stupid, you. You know, but they love it. You know, I have a overachieving daughter that created B.R.A.V.E. Hawai‘i. It’s a anti-bullying foundation. My stepdaughter does my bookings. Bo and Taj, you know, they help Dad look good; they do my hair. They both are hairstylists, and I talk about them. They’re both, you know, openly gay men. You know, twelve, thirteen years ago, talking about your kids being gay was like, almost like, whoa. But now, I get stories on how people say: Aug, because was so easy for watch you accept who your kids are, made it easy for me. So now, I get guys, construction workers, cops: Augie, I like tell you something. What’s that, brah? Eh, my boy māhū too. All right. Yeah!

 

How was that for you? Did you immediately accept when they told you they were gay?

 

Yeah. You know, at the end of the day, that’s your kids. That’s why it’s so hard for me to see parents that, you know, like, disown their children. That’s your kid, that’s your blood, you know. Yeah; I might not agree with everything, but that’s my kid at the end of the day.

 

So, you didn’t have to go ask for advice, or agonize about it.

 

No; I already knew. I always tell people: I knew from the beginning. Leslie, I’ve become the gay expert. Honestly. People ask me: You know, how you know your kids gay? I go: Watch how they run. I was like: My son was—

 

That’s a stereotype.

 

Yeah. I know, but he was flapping his wings when he was running. I was like: Why you gotta flap your wings? Do this. So, you know. But it’s comedy, and it’s healing. You know, and that was my way of dealing with that, you know. And my son tells everybody: You know, my dad, he over-exaggerates. At the end of the day …

 

That’s comedy.

 

Yeah. He loves me, and I’m okay with it, calm down. You know, so …

 

But it takes a while before people feel secure enough to be able to laugh at something or with something.

 

Yeah. You know, after my dad got sick, Mom and Dad moved into the home, and you know, every day, I get to pick on my mom. Just watch my YouTube page, Leslie. You’ll be like: I cannot believe he said that to his mom. You no like use stereotypes, but my mom is Portagee. My mom is—oh! She says the most funniest things. We were up in Makawao at a silent auction, and my mom was like …

 

Trying not bid?

 

I’m like: Ma, how come you get your hand covering your mouth? This one silent auction. No, you can talk, Ma; you can talk. How come they call ‘em one silent auction, if you can talk, Augie? Stupid, yeah, this kind auction. Why don’t just start talking auction; why gotta be silent auction?

 

Comedian Augie T can find humor in almost any situation and make people laugh. But that doesn’t mean he thinks everything is funny, or that he hasn’t wrestled with his own demons.

 

You have a life coach.

 

Yeah.

 

How did that happen and what does that mean?

 

Ooh, man. It was a really dark time in my adult life. You know, I was helping a company. I help him build his company, did really well, and then out of nowhere, he just kinda left.

 

Mm.

 

Left me. You know, like how I going support my family now? Because I have bad memories of growing up poor, that’s like my biggest fear; like, not being able to provide for my family. So, I was talking to somebody, and they referred me to my life coach now. And we talked, and a lot of those fears is because of growing up.

 

It goes way back, doesn’t it?

 

Yeah. And you know, there’s so much good in us, and there’s so much bad. And when we learn how to manage all of that, you know, and I think we don’t ever stop learning. We should be coachable all the time, you know. So, yeah, I have a life coach, but I have other coaches—my wife.

 

And you listen.

 

Yes.

 

You always have, actually.

 

I try, with my wife.

 

So, with the life coach, did you find out anything that was kinda one of those aha moments?

 

Yeah. Oh; you know, you don’t want to ever look back. You know, and I think I learned that you develop a lot of your thinking from age zero eight. And was hard going back, looking at, you know …

 

You developed ideas that you still held many years later.

 

Oh, yeah. And you cannot blame your parents for that. You blame yourself. You know, you drew that pictures.

 

For example? What do you mean?

 

Well, you know, my dad loved to drink, like every local dad. You know, City and County worker. And I remember coming home on Friday, and I would see the blue tarp in the back yard. And I went: Oh, no! They going drink, going get loud, going get fighting. You know, and I used to have nightmares. You know. Not so much the drinking, but the arguments after, you know. And I really blocked it out I think because of that, you know. And a lot of the insecurities of like, why I wasn’t, you know, cuddled by my dad. You know. So, it’s kinda weird how you block that off, but you made this really bad picture of life. You know. Because you know, you saw bad examples, and … you know.

 

Did you consciously change that with your sons?

 

I did. You know, luckily, I have a very understanding wife that goes: Augie … ‘cause was tough. I’m not gonna lie to you, and I talk about that in the act. Because you know, it is. You know, I say in my act: Parents don’t go to bed at night; please let my son be a ballerina. You know, and that’s funny, but you know, we want the best for our children. And was tough, and you know, yeah, of course, you going block ‘em out, because you heard all the negative, you heard the bad things, you know. And it’s so weird, because as my dad got older, he became more accepting. ‘Cause you know, we had five brothers. If we, you know, ate one certain way; Eh, how come you eating that way? What, you māhū? Everything was like that; really harsh. You know, so of course, you drew pictures of that, and you never like be that. But you saw a lot of that in you. So, was tough, you know. But you know, like I said, at the end of the day, because my dad never love the way I wanted him to love, of course, you going love your children differently.

 

And adversity really provides some of the best stories.

 

Yeah.

 

They’re probably some of the best humor you could have.

 

Yeah. Yeah; that’s why it’s getting harder, because you know, my kids successful. They’re overachievers.

 

If you were sitting now in Kalihi Valley Housing with the young Augie …

 

M-hm.

 

If you could talk to your young self, what would you say, and how would you say it?

 

Get ready for a ride. It’s going be an amazing ride. It’s gonna take you through ups and downs, but you going be okay.

 

Comedian Augie T continues to work as hard as he has since he was a multitasking teenager, starting with his radio program every weekday morning before going on to his day job. And on top of that, he has television spots, and weekend performance gigs. Yet, I don’t think he’d have it any other way. Mahalo to Augie T Augie Tulba, of ‘Ewa Beach, O‘ahu, for taking time out of your busy schedule to share your life stories with us. And mahalo to you, for joining us. For PBS Hawai‘i and Long Story Short, I’m Leslie Wilcox. Aloha nui.

 

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

 

Have you evolved very much as a comedian, do you think?

 

No, I think I’m still that innocent local guy.

 

You’re not that innocent, but you …

 

Well, I play that on stage, only because I do see life like that. When I say innocent, you know, I like the stereotype, I like talking to a lot of my cousins. Really don’t take things, you know, serious, they don’t see the world the way we see it. They don’t watch news, so when you ask them a question, you know, you always get that local guy. Eh … You friends with Guy Hagi, you guys do the Cheap Eats. You know. That’s the guy I love doing, because you know, I’m so familiar with that guy. And when I play that guy on stage, people love it, because everybody has an uncle like that. So like, I like looking at the world that way. That very innocent local guy, you know, that when you guys did the news—remember doing the news, and you guys interviewed that one local guy, and you know going be funny, because he’s like: Yeah, uh … He don’t know how look at the camera. That’s the funniest for me, you know. Yeah, it’s a stereotype, yes, but it’s innocent, and it’s fun. You know, so I like playing that role.

 

 

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