motivation

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Pam Chambers

 

She’s built a reputation as “Hawai‘i’s presentation coach,” but in her youth, Pam Chambers was far from that. The former wallflower reveals how a turning point in her career helped her blossom as a public speaker. For more than 30 years, Chambers has helped local professionals and students on their presentation skills through feedback that she describes as honest, gentle and clear.

 

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

 

Pam Chambers Podcast

 

Download the Transcript

 

Transcript

 

I was in the third grade, and Mrs. Zimmerman, our teacher, gave us the assignment of doing a book report. As I began to read, I stumbled on a word, and one of the girls in the class led the group in laughing at me, and I remember deciding this is not a safe activity.

 

It took twenty years after that incident for her to feel comfortable standing in front of an audience again, and she made a career of helping people get over their fear of public speaking. Meet this presentation coach 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 māi kakou. I’m Leslie Wilcox. It’s one of the biggest fears of many Americans: public speaking. For more than thirty years, Pamela Gaye Chambers of Honolulu has been coaching Hawai‘i residents, from children to CEO’s, in how to develop presentation skills. Not just public speaking, proper etiquette, dressing for success, preparing for a job interview, and learning to work more effectively in a workplace environment are only some of the many skills she teaches. Her career began with wanting to help people with speaking disorders. She avoided work that involved public speaking until she took a job that she wasn’t aware required it.

 

You grew up in west Los Angeles.

 

Well, my father was a professor at UCLA. He taught the classics: Greek and Roman history. And my mother was a stay at home mom, which I so appreciated. Some of my friends would go home to an empty house. My mother was always there finishing up a painting or something. And so we were…we had a humble beginning. I mean, I-I teach dining etiquette now, mainly because I had to learn what fork to use ‘cause we only had one fork. Well, we each had our own, but we didn’t have two forks.

 

And you went to public schools in LA?

 

Yes.

 

Where you had your third-grade experience –

 

Yes.

 

– That, that scarred you until you recovered from that?

 

Yes, yes. Emerson Elementary School. And Mrs. Zimmerman, our teacher, gave us the assignment of doing a book report, and I was an avid reader, so I instantly knew I’m gonna do Charlotte’s Web, and I was excited and I wrote it all out, and I couldn’t wait to get up there and read my book report. And as I began to read, I stumbled on a word and one of the girls in the class, her name was Wendy, was a leader of the group, and she led the group in laughing at me for my mistake, and I became flustered and my glasses slid down my nose and my face got hot and I just choked. And Mrs. Zimmerman said, “Go on!” That was her way of supporting me, and I remember deciding this is not a safe activity: being in front of the room with all eyes on me, being vulnerable, being laughed at. This is something I will avoid. So, for the next two decades, I avoided being in front of the room.

 

How did you get out of presentations for the next twenty years?

 

Oh, by being very cunning. If, if there was a school play, I would be absent the day that they were aud-you know, assigning the, “You be the rock, and you be the lead.” And, and I would volunteer to do extra credit work behind the scenes so that I wouldn’t have to be in front. I got very good –

 

Did anyone notice that – what, what you were doing?

 

I don’t think so. No one called me on it; no one said, “Hey you – “

 

You majored in something called Communication Disorders?

 

Right. I was going to be a speech pathologist. That was my plan, to help people who stutter or who have a lisp, or who nasal and they want to change that, or they’re too breathy.

 

And that comes from what? Because you liked helping people, and you were looking for –

 

It came from taking a class in linguistics that fascinated me. It was a class that told you, taught us how to write not phonetically, but in the symbols and – well symbols that allow us to know how to pronounce a word when we look it up in the dictionary. So, the world ‘length’ has a symbol for the ‘ng’ sound, and I was really good at that. I could listen to the teacher say a word, and I could write it in that language –

 

Diagram it.

 

Yes. Yes, and then I thought, “Well, so where do I get more of this?” And someone said in the communications department. So, I joined that department.

 

And found out there was something called Communication Disorders to major in.

 

Yes, yes. And I was able to work with a child who stuttered. I was able to work with an aphasic woman, a woman who had – very elderly woman who had a stroke who could not find her words, and I was supposed to find an aphasic person to work with for my term paper. So, it took me to really interesting places, but then I took a job that required me to stand up in front of groups.

 

Why did you take a job requiring you to stand up in front of groups?

 

I didn’t know they – I, I didn’t know that I would have to. They, they left out that part. I was working for a company called Actualizations, a self-improvement company in San Francisco. That’s where I was the sales manager, mostly doing one on one sales or very tiny groups. But once a month, I would have to stand in front of 300 people and introduce the seminar leader. So once a month I would have to be on a riser in a fancy ballroom introducing Stewart Emory, was his name, and once a month a minute; it’s just not enough to get over anything. So I would quiver and tremble and shake visibly.

 

How did you get over this?

 

Well I, I did the unthinkable. I said to them, “I want to conquer my fear. I need more speaking opportunities, please.” And they said, “Okay. Once a week, you can lead a preview about this seminar, and we’ll get hotel rooms and we’ll maybe attract 20 people that you can speak to.” And that’s how I got over it.

 

That is so smart, because if something is unnatural to you, it’s hard to feel natural, so you do it until it feels natural.

 

Exactly. And I knew and loved my subject. I loved the seminar. I knew the seminar. I knew exactly what I was talking about, which is key. And once a week was all it – was what it took. We were in four cities on the mainland, and Stewart Emory and Carol Augustus, the owners, said, “Who wants to go to Hawai‘i to see if we can get the seminar going there?” And I said, “I would.” I was the only one who raised a hand. Well, if I had known how hard that was gonna be, I wouldn’t be sitting with you right now. it was not easy, coming from the mainland with a bunch of registration cards expecting people to sign up for something they had never heard of. But I got 80 people in the room.

 

How’d you do that?

 

Oh, ugh, it was so hard. I, I was here for three months, and so I was here – they paid for me to rent, you know, a little apartment, and they paid my paycheck and I got the people together. I had a lot of help. I had some support. And at the end of that three months, I realized I don’t want to leave here. I want to…I, I –

 

Even though it was hard to do your job here?

 

Well I, I had made a number of really good friends and I loved everything about it. So, but I didn’t have the courage to quit, so I went back to San Francisco and I misbehaved.

 

Purposely, I take it?

 

Un – subconsciously. I, I can look back, and I look back at the mistakes I made. In my right mind, I would never have done those things that I did. They were egregious. I got fired.

 

You did get fired?

 

I did. My – Carol called me. She said, “It was clear to me by your behavior at the Women’s Workshop last week that you don’t want to be here anymore. So we are releasing you.”

 

How were you acting at the Women’s Workshop?

 

Oh, I left her out of the group photo. There was a group photo of all the people in the workshop, and I had the photographer take the picture without waiting for Carol Augustus to be in the picture. How passive aggressive is that?

 

But you’re not regretting getting fired?

 

No, I, I cried for about ten minutes, and then I said to my boyfriend, “Doug, let’s go, let’s go to Hawai‘i.” So we packed fourteen boxes of things, came here, no place to live. Uh, someone lent us a spare room for a while. No job, no, no nothing. Fourteen boxes of stuff, and we, both of us has – have been here ever since. That was forty years ago.

 

Pam Chambers secured a job in Hawai‘i that continued to put her in a public speaking role. It eventually led her into creating her own business.

 

I ran the Winner’s Circle Breakfast Club in the eighties, maybe you’ve heard of it? It was a weekly motivational meeting held in various places over that ten-year period, and I was the director of it, and I was the emcee. So, every single week I was in front of a hundred people running the breakfast. It was so much fun, and then one day a man named Howard Wolf said, “We have architects who need to be better at presenting their work. Do you think that you could help them?” And I said, “I don’t know. I, I don’t know a thing about architecture. Let’s give it a try.” So we had one pilot class with twelve people, and I talked to them about body language, voice, words and image, and they loved it. So they hired me for several more classes, and that was the beginning of my career.

 

Did it grow because you got feedback and then you would change and evolve?

 

Yes, I always, I always listen. Sometimes I get feedback that’s painful. Oh my goodness, I, I don’t love critical feedback any more than anyone else does, but sometimes I get it. And I vow, ‘let me not make the same mistake twice.’ I got feedback about handling my lei too many times. A woman in the audience counted the number of times –

 

You’re right. you are judged, aren’t you, when you’re speaking?

 

Oh, yeah. She said, “I thought you might want to know that you handled your lei thirty-seven times.” And that is the moment I decided to say to people, “If you plan to give me a lei, which is lovely, I would prefer to have it when I’m done speaking,” because I know myself. I know that I’ll be handling it.

 

This is a really interesting subject because we know that public speaking is the, is probably the number one fear, right, that people have.

 

Right.

 

And um, and so just, just, um, being there for lessons is probably pretty daunting.

 

Yes, it takes a lot of work for me to fill a class. It is a very hard sell. People will go to Toastmasters because that’s very, very easy, and very safe, and they’re not gonna get the level of feedback that they’re afraid they’re gonna get from me. I have a reputation of being, “She leaves no stone unturned.” And that’s not true. I don’t turn over stones that can’t be fixed.

 

Well it is very personal.

 

It is.

 

Even if it’s not – I mean, what’s personal to one is, you know, no big deal to another.

 

Right, that’s right. One man came into my classroom and he sat down and spread his arms; his tall and long arms. He spread his arms. He took a lot of space, and after about forty-five minutes when enough rapport was there among all of us, I said, “I want to give you some feedback about your body language.” And he said, “What?” And I said, “Just freeze. Freeze just as you are.” I said, “Notice how much space you’re taking. Notice that you’re encroaching on the space of the people to either side of you.” And he pulled his arms in, and he said, “Thank you. No one has told me that before.” And I said, “I know. That’s why we’re here.”

 

Because sometimes people just don’t know.

 

They don’t know.

 

And, and it may be obvious to everybody else.

 

They don’t know what they don’t know. And they’re usually very grateful that someone finally told them about something that they can easily fix. Now the voice, that’s not easy. But pulling your arms in, that’s easy.

 

You know, I thought that most people would know, ‘I, I don’t like to speak. I’m fearful.’ But it turns out that some people don’t know they’re bad speakers, and you have to tell them. And, and you’re considered an expert in this area because you, you have to identify, and give them feedback, and get them to change. I, that’s, I, that’s, that’s pretty sensitive stuff.

 

I could laugh for an hour about this, but I won’t. Uh, yes, there’s one woman who I have to break it to her that she talks like Minnie Mouse. She, or a chipmunk. She has a, has a very nasal, up here way, nasal high voice and she does up talk, and so she sounds like a eight-year-old.

 

What’s up talk? Oh, you end up at the sentence.

 

You end with a – with a question. “So like I was at the mall and I met this really cute guy, and like, I wanted to go up to him.” That’s up talk. And she does that, plus she’s nasal, plus her voice is high, and –

 

And she doesn’t know this?

 

I don’t know if she knows it. I, that, that’s something I need to find out. I need to say to her, “So what kinds of feedback have you gotten about your communication skills?” And if she says, “Well, I’m told that I fidget too much.” Then I’ll say, “Okay we can work on body language. Have you ever had any feedback about your voice?”

 

And she says? What if she says, “No, no, not at all” ?

 

Then if she says no, then I’ll say, “Well I am going to give you feedback about your voice, because your voice is one of your four instruments. We have our body language, our voice, our words, and the way we look, and I’m going to be giving you feedback about all of those.”

 

Are people threatened, or do they say, “Oh good, help me.”

 

Yes, most people love feedback because I’m gentle but clear when I give it, and I never give feedback about something they can’t change, and I tell them the benefit to them of changing this.

 

Can you change a nasally voice?

 

Yes.

 

How do you do that?

 

You – it takes a lot of work, but you can do it. I mean, why are there vocal coaches if we can’t change our voice. There, there wouldn’t be vocal coaches if our voice weren’t changeable.

 

You can know you’re not doing well, but you don’t know how to change it.

 

Right. Well, luckily for me, I’ve been in business helping people who want to be helped for thirty four years, and it’s really astonishing because Hawai‘i is, is a place where we’re kind of not supposed to stand out a lot, but those who want to get somewhere in their career, if they realize that there are things that they’re doing in their communication that are holding them back, they want to know what that is and they want to move it out of the way. Resistant people are defensive people, so if people are defensive, they’re most likely to be resistant to any new idea that comes their way about what they could be doing different. So, so resistant people…I don’t get a lot of those in my public classes because usually those are people who chose to be there.

 

It is really, um, I mean, it seems like in most jobs you would have to – even if it’s to ask for a raise, you need to, you know – any, any…it could be a small, seemingly small human interaction with just another person, but it’s still a presentation skill.

 

Yeah, it is.

 

And you still have to tell a story, and, and, and uh, and be able to present.

 

Right. and I tell people if you’re shy and you’re like the way I was, if you don’t want to speak out, at every single meeting, do three things: ask a question, make a suggestion, and offer your opinion. You don’t have to be an expert to do any of those things, but slowly but surely you will be perceived as a participant, not a wallflower. So, do those three things and then be silent if you want, and if you do those everywhere you go, you’re gonna gain confidence. You’ll, you’ll – you won’t mind the sound of your own voice entering.

 

What’s the, the most, uh, startling transformation you’ve been part of?

 

Startling, what a great word. Okay, the one that comes to mind was a woman who was, still is, the CEO of her own company, and she looked like she ran a plant nursery. That’s what she looked like, and when it came time – one of my sessions is about image only, session two. I always ask them, “On a scale of one to ten, how much feedback do you want?” And I tell them what a five would sound like, and I tell them what a ten would sound like, and everyone chooses the ten.

 

They want to hear it all.

 

They want it, ‘cause they realize the ten isn’t unsafe, it’s more complete. So I said to her, “If I had to guess what profession you’re in, I would say you either work at a preschool or you work at a nursery. Maybe the nursery in Kailua.” And she said, “Really? Why?” And I said, “You don’t look like a CEO.”

 

So did you, did you give her styling tips?

 

Yes. She – actually, she asked me to take her shopping, and, and I did. I recommended a hair stylist to her. Here’s the sad part: her husband didn’t like it.

 

Her hair or her new image?

 

Her whole new beautiful, powerful, leader-like image. He said, “I thought you were fine the way you were.” And he was a chauvinistic, sexist, old-fashioned guy that didn’t want a woman who turned heads.

 

What’d she do?

 

She stayed good. And they’re still married.

 

Very good.

 

Yeah.

 

What about a, a man’s transformation?

 

A man – there was a man, also a CEO dressed very poorly: shabby, sloppy, pants too long, unshined shoes. Just, just a wreck. And his HR person, it was, said, “I’d like you to clean up your image, and there’s someone in town who can help you.” And we met, and I said, “I want to take you shopping.” And, oh, it was so much fun because he was so open. I said, “Wear – get this pink shirt. This pink shirt. Not fuchsia, the pale Ralph Lauren pink shirt. Women love it. Get this shirt. Here’s the tie to go with it. Get these pants.” And he put them on in the dressing room and he stood taller and he was so proud of himself, and he, he…those changes stayed. He didn’t go sliding back.

 

Pam Chambers of Honolulu conducts workplace training, holds her own classes, does individual coaching, and writes books on self-improvement. She’s operated her own business for more than three decades and has always done everything herself.

 

You prefer to be solo?

 

Yeah, I really like it. I really like being single and solo and making my own decisions. I am considered – I’m a polite, very polite person, but I don’t want to have to compromise on how I live my life. I think I’ve witnessed many, many people not being able to do what they want because their boss wouldn’t let them. For example, there is someone who wants to come to my class but his boss won’t let him. And I don’t want to have a life like that, so I don’t have a paycheck, I don’t have a pension, but I have freedom. And I just, I value it more than anything else.

 

That is a hard way to live, though. I mean, it, it really takes enormous, uh, uh, I mean you’re always thinking…you, you not only have to plan your content, but you’ve got to get your own business, take care of your own finances.

 

Oh, I know. I have to do my marketing. I have to do my own social media. I have to make my own nametags. I mean, I could probably hire someone to help me, but it would take more time to train them to – than to do it myself. So yes, I do do it all.

 

Really, what you do is a lot because you’re doing different subjects and you’re doing very different groupings.

 

Yeah.

 

And they come to you different ways.

 

Yes. Yes. I love it.

 

May, maybe that’s why you like being solo because you have so much interaction and stimulation in your, in your job.

 

That’s true. I love living alone. I, I love my alone time and I give myself a lot of it. A lot of it, and I, I’m sure it’s because of all that I put out.

 

Right, because you’re…essentially, you’re teaching people how to be more social.

 

More social, more considerate, more aware of others. I teach them don’t be walking down the sidewalk and stop smack in the middle of the sidewalk. Do you think that you’re the only one on the street? Or I’ll say, “Do – are you aware that you just interrupted her when she was trying to give you helpful feedback?” There’s no – nothing that I won’t say if it can be changed.

 

So, I do think that comes from a place of abundance because you’re, you know, you’ll share it, but on the other hand, it’s, it’s expertise that you, you know, that you take a lifetime to build up to get.

 

I – It took me thirty-four years to know what I know now. So, so if you think I’m charging too much for an hour, you’re not paying me for that hour; you’re paying me for all the blood, sweat, and tears I suffered learning how to do this.

 

You like to fly solo and, and you’ve, you built this incredible business, um, and, and basically, you’ve done it a long time so you could retire –

 

I could.

 

But you, but you keep working. What is it that – what is it that’s special to you about Hawai‘i?

 

Oh, so many things, but mainly the diversity: the languages that we hear, the different cultures, the different values. I love it! And, and when I have someone in my class who is fretting because she has an accent, I say, “No, I am not helping you get rid of that accent. We like it. We like to hear something that’s different.” The weather, except it’s been too hot lately. The, the plumerias; the, the weather, the seasons that we have…the roots I have here, the people I know. I know thousands of people, and, and I feel like I belong here. And you’re right, I could retire, but I don’t want to. I want to do what I’m doing.

 

Mahalo to Pam Chambers of Kaka’ako, Honolulu for sharing your stories with us. And thank you for joining us. For PBS Hawai‘i and Long Story Short, I’m Leslie Wilcox. Aloha nui.

 

You’re known for wearing hats. I wonder, I mean, and all kinds of hats for lots of variety, which is not common in Hawaii nei, so tell me about that.

 

Well, I have a – I sent your staff a picture of me at the age of three wearing a beret. Somehow my mom, or maybe my grandmother, put that beret on me, and I always liked that picture. But I didn’t wear hats my whole life. I started wearing hats probably about twenty years ago, and I don’t…I think, oh I, I do know why: because I was really into vintage at that time. I still am. And I bought vintage hats, and I liked wearing them because they got so many comments. “Oh, your vintage hat. I always wonder what hat you’re gonna wear.” Well, I got out of the vintage stage, but I got in the habit of wanting something on my head, so if it’s not a hat, it might be a scarf. If it’s not a scarf, it might be a bandana. There needs – I need something on my head.

 

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.

 

 

 

VOCES ON PBS
The Pushouts

 

VOCES, PBS’ signature Latino arts and culture documentary showcase, is the only ongoing national television series devoted to exploring and celebrating the rich diversity of the Latino cultural experience.

 

The Pushouts
Meet Victor Rios, a high school dropout and former gang member-turned-award-winning professor, author and expert on the school to prison pipeline, who works with young people who have been “pushed out” of school for reasons beyond their control.

 

 

 

CRAFT IN AMERICA
Service

 

This episode, part of the PBS veterans initiative Stories of Service, is the story of craft and the military. From the origins of the Army Arts & Crafts Program and the G.I. Bill to contemporary soldiers and veterans, the program documents the power of the handmade to inspire, motivate and heal. Featured artists are Eugene Burks Jr., Pam DeLuco, Judas Recendez, Ehren Tool and Peter Voulkos.

 

 

 

FRONTLINE
Putin’s Revenge, Part 1 of 2

 

Amid claims he hacked the 2016 election, FRONTLINE presents an investigation of Vladimir Putin’s mounting grievances with the U.S. and his efforts to exact revenge leading up to the presidential election.

 

What Drives KEN BURNS?

 

CEO Message

What Drives Ken Burns?

 

Ken Burns, Photo courtesy of Justin Altman

 

Filmmaker Ken Burns, who’s coming out with an 18-hour Vietnam War film to be shown over 10 evenings this month on PBS Hawai‘i, freely admits that he’s a workaholic; that he’s obsessive in his pursuit of archival material for his films; that his detractors dismiss him as long-winded.

 

And Burns can laugh at himself.

 

As he did when he was being honored as the greatest American documentary filmmaker of his generation. Stepping up to receive a lifetime achievement, he joked that he’d prepared a nine-part response.

 

He had to learn about laughter, since sadness and loss were prevailing childhood themes.

 

Burns, 64, is clear about what drives him and his compulsion to look at the past. It is the death of his mother, Lyla Burns, just before he turned 12. She had suffered from breast cancer for nearly a decade.

 

Burns remembers coming home from school or play every day and telling his ailing mother stories about what had happened, in effect sharing life with her. After she passed away, he recalls watching movies with father, Robert Burns, and seeing him cry, which was something his father didn’t do in other circumstances. That’s when young Burns says he grasped the storytelling power of film.

 

In a short video posted online at creativeplanetnetwork.com, Burns says: “I found myself becoming a documentary filmmaker, trying to tell stories and using American history to tell those stories that I wanted to tell. When you look back at it, the job that I try to do is to wake the dead. And it doesn’t seem too far a leap to understand, from that early decision to be a filmmaker, who I really want to wake up.”

 

From the earliest time that he can remember as a child, he says he knew his beloved mom was sick. He was not close to his father.

 

As a young man, he rejected chasing a Hollywood-type career. He says he innately knew, and was taught at Hampshire College in Amherst, Massachusetts, that “there’s much more drama in what is and what was, than in anything the human imagination can dream of.”

 

Delivering the commencement address at Stanford University last year, Burns explained that delving into history can lead to personal and professional breakthroughs.

 

“The past often offers an illuminating and clear-headed perspective from which to observe and reconcile the passions of the present moment, just when they threaten to overwhelm us,” he told new graduates.

 

Burns wants this newest film with his creative partner Lynn Novick, about the divisive Vietnam War era, to spur national healing.

 

As he told an interviewer from Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee:

 

“We caught something during the Vietnam War – like a virus – and we are still suffering from the effects of that virus today. I’m hoping my film is a bit like a vaccination – that it exposes you to a little bit of the disease to permit you to go past it and heal from it.”

 

I invite you to join me in viewing this new Burns/Novick film series, starting at 8:00 pm, Sunday, September 17, on your TV station, PBS Hawai‘i.

 

A hui hou (until next time),
Leslie Wilcoxʻ signature

 

 

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Crystal Rose

 

Attorney Crystal Rose is a Hilo-born litigator with a reputation for being tough, fearless and strategic. She has taken on complex and contentious civil cases – and the results have helped to reshape the business landscape in Hawaii. “I’ve had the privilege…of being able to work on cases and issues that have been multi-faceted, complex. It really does make me tick,” Rose says.

 

This program will be rebroadcast on Wednesday, March 9 at 11:00 pm and Sunday, March 13 at 4:00 pm.

 

Crystal Rose Audio

 

Download the Transcript

 

Transcript

 

I remember coming to Kamehameha and, you know, it opened my eyes to a bigger city, and all kinds of opportunities that I never knew existed. The classic is, I was so afraid to get on the escalator at Sears because I was sure it was gonna eat my toes.

And you know, that kind of is the local girl coming to the big city. Honolulu was the big city. It really took me a while to get on the escalator.

 

This Hilo native and Kamehameha Schools graduate is now a standout in the big city of Honolulu as a lawyer known for her tenacity and success in some of Hawaii’s most watched civil cases. Crystal Rose, next, on Long Story Short.

 

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

 

Aloha mai kakou. I’m Leslie Wilcox. Her name is Crystal Rose, but flowery is not a word many would use to describe this respected business and commercial litigator. For more than two decades, Rose has taken on complex civil cases, reshaping Hawaii’s banking industry and the island’s largest private landowner. Her peers call Rose fearless, tough, an astute problem-solver. These are traits that Rose didn’t necessarily see in herself when she was growing up in Hilo on Hawaii Island. Rose says her life changed when she switched schools in the seventh grade.

 

Tell me about your parents, and growing up in Hilo.

 

My family, both sides born and raised in Hilo, multiple generations. I was, you know, obviously born in Hilo, went to elementary school at Hilo Union, and then at seventh grade, applied and luckily got accepted and attended Kamehameha Schools at that point in time.

 

And you were a boarder.

 

A boarder.

 

 

In Oahu. From what age?

 

I was eleven when I got there.

 

Eleven, moving away from your family.

 

Oh; for everyone, it’s difficult at that time and that age. And you know, my first year, I think most of us are homesick, and you know, hated it, and I thought my parents sent me to prison.

 

It must have been hard for them, because they’re very family-oriented people.

 

Yes, yes; very hard. But they valued education, and this was an opportunity that they felt would enhance me as their daughter. And so I knew that, and made sure we used it to the best of everyone’s advantages. After your first year, I really enjoyed Kamehameha and the friends I that I had there, and the people I’ve met. They were like my sisters in the dorm after six years. And so, it’s all good.

 

What was life like in Hilo? What part of Hilo?

 

My parents um, lived on a street called Wailuku Drive, which is above Hilo Hospital. And so, my best stories of Hilo was, I went to Hilo Union, and for some reason back then, if you lived more than two miles away from the school, they’d take you home on the sampan bus.   So, there was a group of us that were able to go home every day on the sampan bus.

 

What was that like, riding on—

 

It was very fun.

 

A ferry, essentially, took you home.

 

Exactly; exactly. So, it was quite fun, and I see them now and it warms my heart to see those little buses.

 

Were you quiet, boisterous, athletic, studious? What?

 

Not athletic. Probably in the middle of it. I don’t think I was super-smart, but back then, believe it or not, they had three classes. There was the A Class, the B Class, and the C Class. I was always in the A Class, but I never thought of myself as being the smartest um, kid in the school, if that makes sense. But I think I did well.

 

Did you sit in the back of the class? Did you sit in the front row and raise your hand? What was your personality like?

 

Probably in the middle. You know. You know, just more in the middle, I think. I wasn’t one to sit in the front, and I don’t think I carried the back of the room. Those were for the cool kids.

 

You were not a cool kid?

 

I wasn’t a cool kid.

 

What were you like?

 

What can I say? Uh, I danced hula. Kind of just the normal everyday kid. I enjoyed hanging around after school with the neighborhood kids. We all played. My mom had a bell, and she’d ring us for dinner. And that’s what you did.

 

What did you play? What kind of games?

 

Hide-and-Seek; all kinds of little, you know, kid games.

 

Your dad was a policeman.

 

Yes.

 

Does that mean you had to be a good girl out there, not embarrass your dad?

 

I probably felt that more in high school than I did in elementary school. I didn’t quite focus on it at that point in time. I think in high school, I was a little bit more sensitive to his role. At that point, he had been promoted and he was the district commander of the South Kohala-Waimea area. My family had moved to Waimea, so he had a little bit more prominence in the community, and I think we as a family knew that we had to be a little bit more straight and narrow then. And I think it was good, I was at Kamehameha.

 

Because teenaged.

 

Teenagers didn’t always have to work out.

 

Do you remember what the conversation was about the idea that you would be living on another island, if you just got the chance?

 

Back then, Kamehameha had started in one of its programs called Explorations, so you got to go at the end of your fifth year summer and spend a week there. So, you would then apply in sixth grade. But having come off of Explorations, which was a fabulous experience, and a wonderful program, and I’m glad that Kamehameha still does it ‘til today, I came back like knowing what the school looked like, and met some people that actually became my classmates when I got accepted. So, the conversation, I think, was easier, having had that.

 

What happened at Kamehameha?

 

I was on the honor roll, and I did well certainly, but I was not the top of the class, I was not the valedictorian. But I did do enough to get into college, and all of that. I’m the first in my family to go to college on the mainland, and that was a big deal. My dad is a college graduate, but primarily through UH night school, so he did it, you know, as he was working. And we’re proud of that. But for someone from my family to go to the mainland to college was pretty big of a deal. And back then, we didn’t have the resources where you go to see schools and visit, and all of the decision making pretty much occurred by looking at a brochure and a publication from various schools.

 

So, yet another culture you had to navigate.

 

Yes, yes, yes, yes. But Kamehameha does a good job of doing that. I went to Willamette University in Oregon. There were nine of us from my Kamehameha class that went there. So, you know, there was at least some friends or familiar faces when you were there, but definitely some navigation involved in the transition.

 

At Oregon’s Willamette University, Crystal Rose studied hard, with a double major in psychology and sociology. After graduation, Rose found herself heading to law school at the Hastings College of Law in California.

 

So, I didn’t start with thinking I wanted to go to law school; I ended up there. And I think it was a good decision for me. I spent one study abroad in England, in school in London, and you know, that was another cultural shock experience.   And so, the next was an easy transition, and I went to law school in San Francisco.

 

You know, I notice you got hired by Carlsmith Ball, a leading Honolulu law firm when you were in your second year of law school?

 

Yes. Actually, it’s very typical. Between your second and third year of law school, most large firms—Carlsmith was one, Goodsill is another, Cades does it—they hire second year students between your second year of law school and your third year for the summer. And it’s a good opportunity for the students to get an experience in a law firm, and it’s a good opportunity for the law firms to then kinda handpick the ones they would like to see as permanent attorneys in their offices. So, many of us worked in different firms, and I happened to accept a job with Carlsmith, and then at the end of that summer, they offered me a permanent job. So, when I got out of school, I already had a job, and I knew I was coming home, and that part was easy.

 

That must have been nice.

 

It was very nice; very nice.

 

And then, so you were a young woman working at this illustrious law firm.

 

Yeah.

 

And you … bagged. You left. Tell me about that. After several years.

 

Yeah. I’d been there little over three years, and there was a lot of change at Carlsmith during that period of time. But more importantly, the group I worked with had some conversations about going off on their own, and included me in those conversations. So, there was eight of us that left in ’86. I joined Carlsmith in ’82. I was, you know, twenty-eight years old, and it was a big deal.   It was a big deal.

 

And are you still with the same—well, different partners, but um, same law firm.

 

Same firm. And of the original eight, there’s three of us left. And on January 3rd, we’ll celebrate our thirtieth anniversary. So, I’m very proud of that. ‘Cause, you know, longevity, and we have some staff that came with us, and they’re still with us from the beginning.

 

That’s wonderful, especially since I know that there have been a lot of reductions over the years in legal offices.

 

Correct. So, like I said, it’s been a good ride. You know, I’ve enjoyed it. We have about twenty-something lawyers, and young group, and it’s very dynamic, and that’s good. You know, it’s good for us.

 

Throughout her legal career, Crystal Rose has calmly tackled complicated and contentious cases that made headlines. She represented former Bishop Estate trustee Oswald Stender in a case that helped bring reform to the mismanaged institution now known as Kamehameha Schools. Rose also led the legal strategy for Central Pacific Bank in its hostile takeover of City Bank back in 2005.

 

I’ve had the privilege, and actually the opportunity and I look at it as an incredible privilege, of being able to work on cases and issues that have been multi-faceted, complex. It really does make me tick. I love being in the middle of that, and being able to help strategize a solution that will be the best one, ever. Most of the time, you need to be flexible, ‘cause what you think may work may not, and you have to be able to adjust accordingly. A lot of it has to do with people and responses, and reactions, and where you can take opportunities that are given to you that you didn’t realize were going to happen. And so, yes, I really enjoy that type of work.

 

There’s a lot to what you do. For example, when you were helping Central Pacific Bank take over City Bank, it was an incredibly complex. I mean, there were a lot of numbers.

 

Right.

 

I mean, everything had to make sense for fiduciaries. But I sense it wasn’t just a job for you. I mean, this was a passion, and it was something you believed in.

 

In the restructuring of Central Pacific Bank after we got into trouble, it was very serious. And we got to the point, you know, that some people felt we were, you know, on the verge of being taken over. And it got very close. And I felt very, very strongly that I needed to do everything I could, primarily because you know, nine hundred jobs were at risk. And although shareholder value is important, that was lost at a certain point. But what you cannot lose is the business and the opportunity, and the franchise of the bank, and the people.

 

Why was important for Central Pacific to take over City Bank?

 

I believe the two banks were of similar size, of similar backgrounds, and being in the kind of Asian, Japanese cultural support, and felt that together they would be better and stronger than if they were separate.

 

You didn’t major in business.

 

No; I did not major in business.

 

Didn’t have experience in business.

 

None.

 

So, you emerge as somebody who’s helped to really transform, for example, the banking industry, in the sense of there’s a new bank entity.

 

M-hm.

 

How did that happen? How did you get your business acumen?

 

Obviously, reading, experience, following other businesses. Knowing what you know, and knowing what you don’t know is important, I think. I don’t try to become the financial advisor; I will let somebody explain it to me, and make sure it makes sense, and then I can dive in to the questions I may have. But I think a little bit is just grassroots experience. Been there, done that kinda thing.

 

And then, you waded into the old Bishop Estate. Where you were once a student at the school.

 

Exactly.

 

And then, you’re representing one of the trustees essentially, against the current leadership of the schools.

 

Correct.

 

And the estate.

 

And how that really uh, transpired is, my office at the time was in Alii Place, and I had the privilege of looking out on the capitol and Iolani Palace, and that beautiful view. And one day, I’m looking out of my window, and there is a march occurring by my alumni from Mauna Ala to Kawaiahao. It was the first march of the controversy. And it saddened me, because I thought it was the first time Hawaiians were marching on Hawaiians. And it didn’t seem right, and there’s got to have been a different way to go about doing this. And so, I called Oz; I knew him. His daughter and I went to Willamette together. And so, I asked him if he needed help, and how I could help. And I didn’t expect to be his lawyer, and then he said, Can I retain you?, and I said, Okay, and off we went. And I then realized that that was a situation where the establishment was, you know, pretty entrenched, and you had to do things, unfortunately, a little bit more controversial than I would have liked. But it all worked out in the end.

 

You did arrange a settlement in which your client, Mr. Stender, resigned.

 

Correct.

 

Temporarily.

 

Yes; yes.

 

And permanently, as it turned out.

 

Correct.

 

And how did that help in moving things forward in this very troubled situation?

 

From the very beginning—and Oz was—one of the reasons he’s such a wonderful man and so good about everything was, from the very beginning, when asked by the press, he very strongly felt he would step down, as long as the other four stepped down. We knew that in order to take on the reformation that needed to be done, it had to be done from the inside. He couldn’t quit and then sue them; that would have been not the best strategy. And I think it made a big difference, ‘cause then it wasn’t about him trying to keep his job, versus standing behind the reforms we were trying to put in place.

 

You think that was one of the main pivots in that whole controversy?

 

Yes; yes.

 

Leading to new trustees.

 

Trustees; correct, correct. And if he was in there saying, I’m the good guy and the rest of them are bad, and you need to, you know, keep me and not them, I think he would have had some credibility arguments. People would say, You’ve been there that long, why are you okay, and they’re not? You know, they would just ask. So, he eliminated a lot of questions that would ever have to be asked.

 

Crystal Rose later represented the new slate of Kamehameha Schools trustees in their admission policy giving preference to Native Hawaiian children. She won that case in the Federal courts. More recently, Crystal Rose handled a bitter family dispute over the estate of singer Don Ho, who passed away in 2007.

 

I was hired by the trustees of the Don Ho estate, and it was challenged by some of the beneficiaries. And for unfortunate reasons, we ended up in arbitration. We tried very hard to resolve it outside of that. My goal has always been to be a problem-solver, because you know, fundamentally, people don’t need lawyers unless they come to you because they have a problem they can’t solve. And our job is to solve it; it’s not always to go to court. In fact, sometimes that means you didn’t do your job, or you know, you couldn’t accomplish something in a different way. So, you try all kinds of other avenues before you end up in the court proceedings. Long story short, we ended up in an arbitration, and they upheld the last amendment of the trust. But it was very contentious, and lots of different issues.

 

I suppose when you have access to people in these very personal matters, you learn a lot about how people tick.

 

What I learned from Don Ho’s experience was, he loved everyone, and he told everybody the same thing. So, you know, everyone felt special in his world.

 

And then, when it comes down to the money …

 

They all thought it should be them.   If that makes sense. And he wasn’t dishonest; he just was caring about each person in a different way. So, it’s an example of seeing how everyone’s perspective is accurate, but they never saw it all.

 

When you get to know people in these very emotional circumstances, and I’m talking well beyond the Ho case. But just in general, where you’ve had direct access at a very vulnerable time of their lives, does it help inform you in terms of reading people in the future?

 

Yeah; I think so. I think so. You know, I always want to expect the best in people, and want to give everyone benefits of the doubt. I think that at the end of the day, how you handle yourself can actually—how people can respond. So, you want to make sure that you do so in a respectful way.

 

And they’d better have their documents. ‘Cause that really helps you; right?

 

Yes; yes. Having the documents helps. There’s no question about that.

 

When she is not litigating cases, Crystal Rose is advising some of Hawaii’s major companies. She serves or has served on the corporate boards of Central Pacific Bank, Hawaiian Airlines, Gentry Companies, and Hawaiian Electric Company. In addition, Crystal Rose gives her time to several nonprofit organizations.

 

There’s not one road; each one of them had their own kind of story. I served on the Hawaiian Electric Light Company board, which is the subsidiary of HEI. I just got called one day and asked if I was interested in doing it, and that’s how that one happened. The CPB situation came through doing my legal work at CPB. The merger had occurred, but hadn’t been consummated, and they wanted somebody, I believe, that knew what was going on, and had some inside background. And they asked me if I’d step into being on the board. So, that was likewise a very wonderful privilege, and I’m honored to do that ‘til today. I also serve on the board of Hawaiian Airlines, and when it came out of bankruptcy, I believe they were looking for a few local directors. And they were also in the midst of looking for a lawyer to bring on the case against Mesa, and I met with some board members and the CEO about that, and then they asked me to serve on the board. So, that one has had kind of a different role. And then lastly, I serve on the board of Gentry Homes, and Tom was my first client.

 

Do you sometimes step back and say, I was born in Hilo?

 

Yes.

 

And here I am, hobnobbing and bringing value to major corporations, major institutions, and going up against some very moneyed influential interests.

 

M-hm. I don’t think about it; I don’t think about it in that way. I obviously love my Hilo upbringing and I love my family, that many of them are still there. My husband I have a place in Waimea with some other people that we go to quite often, so my heart can be on that island quite easily. But I don’t kind of look at it as us and them; I kind of feel like everybody does their part to do what they can to make it better place for Hawaii.

 

As she was building her legal career, Crystal Rose married contractor Rick Towill, with strong ties to Lanai, where his great-grandfather was the Lanai ranch manager, George Munro. Together, Rick and Crystal raised two sons who are now grown. When her boys were little, Rose says she was able to handle motherhood and her demanding work schedule with a great deal of help from her family.

Through your major cases and your large caseload, and the many meetings and calls, and unexpected things, you had a family; you had children. How did you make it work? Or did it work?

 

It did work. And you know, many women, or different people will ask me, you know, How did you do it?, quote, unquote. And I will always say there’s not one way to find balance. I don’t think balance is ever found. You strive for it, and you do the best you can. First and foremost, I have a fabulous husband, and he’s always been there for me.

 

What’s his name?

 

His name is Rick Towill. And he’s the string to the balloon. And without him, a lot of what has happened couldn’t have happened. So, I want to first say, I think it starts with your relationship. And then, my kids were actually pretty resilient, and that’s good. I think they’re better adults now from that experience. But I also had a lot of help. My parents from the Big Island to Honolulu, and they were there to help me in all the times I needed. My dad’s name is Charley, and he called himself Charley’s Taxi, ‘cause he picked up the kids all the time, and my mother would have fed them and bathed them, and by the time I came home, you know, the heavy lifting was done, so I had the fun part.

 

Did you all live together?

 

No, no, no. They had a condo in Honolulu, and I lived on the Windward side. But they’d pick ‘em up, take them to their house, and then I’d show up and take ‘em home. Or sometimes they would take them home, ‘cause it was easier. But it’s not easy, and there were very, very trying times. I can’t say I was always in balance, ‘cause I probably wasn’t. And um, you know, during the Kamehameha controversy, my youngest son was six, and he wrote in his school journal that he only got to see his mom in the morning, because I made sure I took them to school, and then he got to watch her on TV, and then he dreamt about her every night. It was very sweet.

 

Oh, it must have broken your heart.

 

Broke my heart; broke my heart. That weekend, I said, Okay, guys, I need to take some time off.   So, it’s hard. But you know, they wouldn’t have it any other way today.

 

And they found their passion in sailing and boats.

 

Yes. And actually, it was during the Kamehameha controversy where I needed childcare during spring break, so I signed them up for sailing lessons at Hawaii or Waikiki Yacht Club. I think it’s Hawaii Yacht Club. And you know, they were nine and six, and their passion for sailing took from there, and so, we are very lucky and fortunate that they found it at an early age.

 

You didn’t have a clue that this would be something special for them?

 

No. My husband and I get seasick in the bathtub.

 

That’s amazing. So, they continued with sailing. So, one of your sons is a …

 

He’s a professional sailor now. And my younger son is a mechanical engineer, working at Navatech, working with their boat designs. So, they’ve both turned out, or luckily have followed their passions, and are doing quite well. So, we’re very, very happy.

 

In her spare time, Rose says she likes to travel, sew, and cook. In her words, you can’t be Portuguese and not like to cook. Crystal Rose’s success has given her the luxury of being picky; she says she focuses on clients who share her values or touch her heart. Mahalo to Crystal Rose of Kahaluu in Windward Oahu for sharing your story with us. And thank you, for joining us. For PBS Hawaii and Long Story Short, I’m Leslie Wilcox. Aloha, hui hou.

 

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

 

And when your parents, the Roses, named you Crystal, did they think they were getting a dainty flower?

 

No, actually, my dad will tell you that the story was, back then there was one TV station, and something that will be dear to your heart, it was KGMB. And they had a show called The Millionaire that they gave a million dollars to someone to then, watch their life thereafter. And that my mother wanted to go to the hospital, and the woman who was given the money that year was called Crystal Sands. And he said, That’s what we should name our daughter. My mother wasn’t quite thrilled, but I think my father prevailed.

 

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