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LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Paula Kerger

 

As the longest-serving President and CEO of PBS national, Paula Kerger oversees media content that’s distributed to more than 330 public television stations. Growing up in rural Maryland, Kerger had dreams of becoming a veterinarian, but in adulthood, found her calling in the nonprofit sector. In addition to reflecting on her childhood and career, Kerger shares her thoughts on leadership, finding your path in life, and navigating an ever-changing media landscape.

 

This program will be rebroadcast on Sunday, Mar. 29, at 4:00 pm and 11:30 pm.

 

Paula Kerger Audio

 

Download the Transcript

 

Transcript

   

The greatest opportunities in life are when you take the risk. And I always say it’s, you know, akin to jumping out of an airplane. I’ve never done that by the way. But, you know, you don’t have to jump out of an airplane. You know, you can live a very happy life without doing that. But if you want the exhilaration of an experience, then you’ve got to be willing to lean forward and let go.

   

She’s the President and CEO of the national Public Broadcasting Service, PBS. Meet Paula Kerger, visiting from Virginia, next on Long Story Short.

   

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

   

Aloha mai kākou, I’m Leslie Wilcox. My guest is a fellow President and Chief Executive Officer in public television – on a much larger scale. Paula Kerger heads the Public Broadcasting Service, PBS. Headquartered in Arlington, Virginia, the national nonprofit media organization provides wide-ranging, high-quality programming for more than 330 locally owned public television stations, including PBS Hawai‘i. During Kerger’s tenure, PBS has markedly grown its audience and brought to American homes the blockbuster television series Downton Abbey on MASTERPIECE, The Vietnam War film by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick, and the educational children’s series Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood. Kerger has headed PBS since 2006, making her the longest-serving CEO in the organization’s history. Before her grown-up ventures in public-service fundraising and educational media, Kerger spent her childhood in a country town outside Baltimore, Maryland. There, a special family member taught her a thing or two about responsibility and serving others.

   

I had no idea what I wanted to do when I was a kid. I loved being outside. I loved animals. So actually, my first idea was that I wanted to be a veterinarian because I loved, you know, working with animals. We had dogs and cats. I had a horse when I was little.

   

How old were you when you had a horse? And that’s every – I mean this is a stereotype, but many, many girls dream of having a horse.

   

I think most girls dream of having a horse. And, you know, the thing was, my aunt had horses and I was very close with her. She and I are only about twelve years apart. So she in many ways was more like a sister to me. And, you know, so I rode from the time I was little. I have pictures of me probably, you know, a year or two sort of propped up on the horse behind her. And so every year, like for Christmas Horse was my Christmas list. That was actually all I asked for. And so I think I was like eleven or twelve, twelve maybe when I got the horse and I got the horse at that age because my parents felt that I was old enough that I would be responsible for taking care of it. And it was I think that, you know, I’m not suggesting every parent go out and buy their child a horse. And we lived in the country. I kept the horse at home. But every morning before I went to school, I had to carry heavy water buckets down to the barn and feed the horse, put the horse out, you know, bring it back at night, brush it and take care of it. And I think that kind of responsibility, I mean, you can do this with goldfish as well.

   

But I think, you know, whatever it is, I think that there’s something about having that kind of responsibility, particularly when you’re young. The other thing about horses that are interesting is that they’re really large animals. And there is – I think that especially for girls, it’s empowering. Girls develop deep bonds with their horses. I certainly did with mine. And both the freedom of being able to ride and, you know, to have this relationship with an animal that you’re not controlling in the same way that I think sometimes you might be tempted to try to control other things in your life. You develop mutual respect. And that’s what I think is also was really important in my relationship with my horse.

   

Did you name your horse?

   

My horse came with the name and his name was Raven. This was before the football team. But he was… he was really wonderful.

   

Can you see how that discipline and that relationship translated to your later life?

   

Yeah. I mean, I think I’m a highly responsible person. And I think part of that is you learn those lessons early when you have the responsibility of a horse or a dog or an animal or I mean, I don’t mean to put children in the same bucket, but when you have the responsibility for someone or something else, that has to come before you. And so, there were many afternoons that I would want to do something with my friends or maybe just stay inside and read or whatever. But when someone is counting on you or something is counting on you, that has to come first. And I think that’s a really important lesson to learn at a young age. That sense of something larger than me.

   

One of the biggest human influences in Paula Kerger’s life was her grandfather, who lived next door to her childhood home in rural Maryland. His diverse interests and skills set the stage for what would come much later for Kerger.

   

Grandfather was a professor. And so he was a scientist, but he was also a great artist. And I think that those two pieces of him really influenced me a lot.

   

Right brain, left brain.

   

Yeah, exactly. He really helped kindle my interest in science. He was a physics professor. And so he did a lot of work in microwave technology. In fact, he started the public radio station in Baltimore. And so I think my path into public media was perhaps destined because of his influence. But he also was involved with the local theater, and he was involved in all the tech work. But he was a great storyteller. Some of my greatest memories when I was a kid was sitting with him and he would just spin these amazing stories about make-believe stories about animals in the woods and all these other kind of things. And it’s just, I think it was probably one of the most fundamental formational things for me is growing up with someone that had that great creativity that shared that with.

   

I’m sure grandparents who hear this will be very pleased.

   

Yeah.

   

And your parents, what were they like?

   

My mother worked out of the home and my father was an engineer. And so, he also was very science-based. He was more of an authoritarian type. He went to the Citadel, which is the West Point of the South, for those that don’t know what that is.

   

Hardcore discipline.

   

Very hardcore discipline. And so I think that’s also where my grandparents actually then came in.

   

They were the refuge.

   

As I think is often with kids. You know, the parents are the ones that set all the rules and the grandparents are ones that bend them a little bit. But I grew up in a house where music was really important. We had a lot of Broadway show albums and we listened to music a lot and we were very engaged in the community. Both of my parents were very big volunteers. And so from the time that I was little, I was involved in everything from going door to door to raise money for the heart fund, to – my father was a football coach. And so, you know, I would – probably the most mortifying thing I ever did when I was a kid is when practice was canceled because of the weather, he would give me a list of all the boys to call to tell them they didn’t have to show up for practice. And most of them were about my age. And it was just mortifying to have to go through and call everybody at home and say, you know, to come to practice, goodbye.

   

That’s funny. Now, speaking of the make-believe stories your grandfather told, the schools you attended in that rural area also sound like a make-believe land.

   

I know.

   

Featherbed Lane Elementary?

   

I went to Featherbed Lane Elementary. It’s like, where did you go to school? I went to Featherbed Lane Elementary. And then Johnnycake Junior High.

   

Johnnycakes? Where does that name come from? Johnnycake Junior High.

   

Johnnycakes oh, or something – this all goes back actually to the – in the case of Featherbed Lane, I think that’s probably more Revolutionary War. But Civil War, you know, and Johnnycakes were something that were made that actually soldiers carried in their packs. And I think that, you know, people find them so unusual. But I think it’s a reminder that that part of the country, Maryland is one of the original colonies, has a very different history than Hawai‘i. And so I think part of even the names of those schools are reflective of a different culture.

   

And what was high school?

   

High school was a normal named high school.

   

Okay.

   

So I went to Randallstown High School, and Randallstown was the adjacent town. So that’s like a regular school name.

   

After high school, Paula Kerger’s love of science and animals inspired her to work toward becoming a veterinarian. But things didn’t quite pan out the way she wanted.

   

Veterinarian school, at least now – it’s harder to get into than med school.

   

Well, that is what happened when I entered college because I realized as I was applying to college that how difficult it was gonna be uhh, to become a veterinarian. So when I applied to college, I actually applied for pre-med. And I have an uncle that’s a pediatrician and I have a great, I think she must be a great aunt, who was a very early doctor. So I also had a little bit of that in my family and I thought, okay, I may not be able to get into veterinary school, but maybe I can get into medical school. I mean, how weird does that sound?

   

But anyway, so I started pre-med and I really loved it until I hit organic chemistry, which I failed. And I, you know, it’s the great leveler I’ve come to find out.

   

That’s so true. How many people have said that?

   

Yeah, organic chemistry. And then suddenly I was in an existential discussion in my head about my future. And I decided that I would take a lot of humanities classes because I was really interested. I loved from the time I was little, I’ve loved to read. And in fact, one of my earliest memories was getting my library card and my town was small. We didn’t even have a library. We had the bookmobile. And I remember going to the bookmobile. And you had to be able to sign your name to get a library card and practicing and practicing –

   

Ohh..

   

– so I could get my library card and then the whole world opened. And so I’ve always loved to read. So I took a lot of literature classes. I took some comparative religion classes and so forth. And it was, you know, it was just great. But then I thought, I’m going to live in my parents’ house for the rest of my life because there’s no jobs I’m preparing myself for. So, I went into business school and I’d been working. I started working when I was 16. My first job was at McDonald’s. And I’d worked through college and I’d worked for a group of banks. And I didn’t really think I wanted to work in finance. But I knew that if I had a business degree – I was really interested in marketing. And I thought, you know, maybe there’s some path and there’s some way. Graduated from school with my business degree, not a clue what I was going to do with my life. And I tell kids this all the time because I think a lot of kids think that you need to have your life planned out. And I was, you know, I had this now-checkered college career. All of my really difficult science courses at all colleges, electives. I had this, you know, I’d taken other classes that I think ultimately it’s funny, when I back up and look at my college life, I actually have a pretty well-rounded, you know, generalist degree based on all the things I did. But I started looking for a job. And at the time in the want ads and I mostly was looking for marketing jobs and I went on some pretty terrible interviews. And one day, I stumbled on an ad in the newspaper for a job working for UNICEF in Baltimore, which is where I’d grown up. And I went and interviewed for the job, was completely unqualified for a job. It was running their office in Baltimore. But the guy who interviewed me called me back and he said, you know, you’re not qualified for this job, but would you be interested in coming to Washington and working for UNICEF in our office there? And I took that job and it was just an amazing moment because I never realized you could work in the nonprofit sector. I thought that’s just something you did. I thought that you volunteered and you did these things to pay back. But it just never – I’d never really put the pieces together. There were actually people in those organizations that actually managed them and did the work.

   

Paula Kerger’s nonprofit career would take her to New York City, where she’d always dreamed of living. After working in fundraising at several nonprofit organizations, including the Metropolitan Opera House, she received a challenging and life-changing job offer – to head fundraising at the New York City flagship PBS station, WNET. At the time, the station was going through financial woes.

   

They had started a big capital campaign. Our station in New York had had a lot of difficulties. They’d gone through a couple layoffs. And I thought, you know, this is gonna be a very difficult job and, you know, all the other jobs I had interviewed, I knew for sure that I was going to be successful in it. And this one, I wasn’t quite sure. They’d had all these financial issues and it wasn’t- I wasn’t really clear that it was gonna be successful. But I think oftentimes the greatest opportunities in life are when you take the risk. And I always say it’s, you know, akin to jumping out of an airplane. I’ve never done that by the way. But, you know, you don’t have to jump out of an airplane. You know, you can live a very happy life without doing that. But if you want the exhilaration of an experience, then you’ve got to be willing to lean forward and let go. And you don’t get there by yourself. A lot of people help you. And I imagine that it has to be the most amazing experience. And you don’t have to ever do it again, by the way. But, you know, it also can change your life. And so for me, it was that job. You know, I took the job and it was really difficult. But it changed my life. I did that work for a few years. We raised a significant amount of money for the station. And then I was starting to think about, oh, I wonder what I might do next? And the then-president said, would you be interested in becoming our station manager? That was the second really risky decision for me because suddenly I was gonna be the boss of people that had been my colleagues. And that’s the hardest, I think, career change when you move into a role where suddenly you’re in a different relationship with people that had been peers. And it was really hard, but it was again, coming into public television was hugely important. That probably was the pivotal move because it was from that position that I actually got the call to come to PBS.

   

Now, there are very few people who run national organizations, especially those with a lot of constituencies. I mean, you have 330 or so public media stations that are members of PBS.

   

Yeah.

   

And then of course, there are politics and there are filmmakers. I mean, it’s daunting. I mean, I can just imagine people saying I could do this part of it, but not that, not this and not all at the same time.

   

It’s complicated. And I always say, you know, if you want a lesson in humility, run a federated organization, because that’s how we’re structured. I think a lot of people don’t understand PBS.

   

Essentially it’s a co-op.

   

Yes, it’s like a co-op we’re a- we’re a federated system. So every station is individual, locally owned, locally operated, locally governed.

   

And many fiercely local.

   

Fiercely local, fiercely independent. And the stations themselves, as you know, formed PBS as an opportunity to bring together the resources and create scale across the entire country to invest in programing and content that would enrich all.

   

So essentially they’re the bosses, but you lead them.

   

Right.

   

That’s unwieldy.

   

So a lot of responsibility, not absolute authority.

   

I mean the mission makes a big difference. But there are a lot of differences in how our 330 stations operate.

   

Right, and as people travel around the country and see different stations, you see that not every public television station is exactly the same, which is what makes it, I think, such an unbelievably important and rich organization because we are absolutely anchored at the local level. And I think of this station in particular, you do so much great work-

   

Thank you.

   

–that really talks about this community and the people that are here. And you’re able to do that because you’re from here. And the people that are in the station live here and are committed to making this community as vibrant and important as all the people that live here expect it to be. And that’s what our best public television stations do.

   

Your job right now is pretty much managing change – change in many aspects of the organization as you look at the country and media platforms and what people are interested in, how they communicate.

   

Yeah. We are right now in an extraordinary sea change in media as there’s so much change in the way that people are consuming content. And for those of our stations who have been very happy being just broadcast stations to be pushed to understand that, yes, people will watch programing on their television station, but they’ll also stream and they’ll also be able to acquire content in multiple ways.

   

The whole concept of broadcasting has vastly expanded.

   

It has been completely stretched. And so, to get people to agree that the world has changed and that we’re going to work together is complicated. And you can only do it if you build trust. And that’s why the job — I’ve been in the job 14 years, to be honest, because it has evolved so much. When I first took this job, Apple had announced that they were going to sell episodes of Desperate Housewives for $1.99. And you think about that now and it’s like, oh!

   

That’s just you know, that seems so long ago.

   

It seems so long ago.

   

No Facebook; Netflix was sending you discs in the mail. I mean, the world was completely different. And the fact that it continues to change to me makes this really exciting. And to encourage this whole generation of younger people that are coming into public media to really think widely about what we can be is really exciting.

   

PBS National President and CEO Paula Kerger says that being the head of an organization, especially one that reaches across the country and requires extensive travel, can be lonely. But she has support from a key person in her life.

   

You can’t be a leader and make everyone happy all the time. I mean, that’s the — and again, I talked to young people who are thinking about their careers or actually as I’ve mentored people that are making career decisions. You have to be really honest about what it means to be leader. It’s lonely at times because you- you are very much aware that the buck stops with you. You also need to make the right decisions for the organization. And sometimes those are very hard decisions, particularly when it relates to other people. But you also need to be compassionate. You need to listen really carefully. I think you need to be able to make decisions. I see leaders fumble because they can’t, you know, they need more information, more information. You’re never going to perfect information, but you need to be able to move with deliberate haste and be able to work with your team in charting a direction and provide that leadership.

   

What does it look like to be this national leader with all these constituencies and- and a personal life and you’ve got external stakeholders, you’ve got so many people within the system.

   

Look, I was a first time CEO when I took this job and I looked to people that I trusted, as I have through my entire career. Actually I still do even 14 years into this job, you would think, I know what I’m doing. I do think I know what I’m doing. But we’re always coming into circumstances in our lives that are new and different and challenging. And so I think what has made the biggest difference for me and I think has really also contributed to the richness of my life is that I look to people that I trust that I can talk to. My husband is one. He’s been my biggest proponent. Oftentimes when I’ve looked at jobs and haven’t been sure that —

   

Is he in education or media?

   

Well, he is a — he’s a writer, but- and he worked for Norman Lear years ago. But his advice is really more about me personally. And, you know, I think that many of us and I think unfortunately more women have a tendency to do this, is we hold ourselves back. We wait for someone to tap our shoulder and say, here, we want you to take this opportunity. Or we will tell you all the reasons why we’re probably not the right person.

   

As you did in that job interview.

   

Well I’ve done it at multiple interviews. Let me tell you maybe why I’m not the right person and not recognizing that no one interviews for a job that’s perfect in every way. And he is a, he has been a great supporter of mine, in part because of the way he was brought up. His father died when he was 5 and was left with six kids and her husband, it was a traditional family, didn’t let her work, and suddenly she had six kids and no money. And he tells a story which, you know, again, this is in our lifetime, Leslie. She worked overnights, so she’d be home to put the kids on the bus to go to school. She wanted to get a credit card and she went to the bank and they asked if she had an uncle or brother that could come and co-sign ’cause she was a woman and she was at the bank with her 10 year old son, and the bank officer said, I have an idea. My 10 year old husband cosigned a credit card so she could get her first credit card. He’s had that credit card ever since.

   

He signed as a 10 year old?

   

As a 10 year old.

   

They allowed him to?

   

Because he was a boy.

   

Ohh.

   

And so I think that, you know, when- and so when you come up like in that kind of story and you watch your mother really struggling to put food on the table and to keep the family together, it changes you. And he has been my biggest advocate because he looks at me and he looks at what I’ve accomplished in my life and knows that I don’t always get, even to this day, the benefit. I can’t tell you how many events I go to, and people say, oh let me introduce you to the president of PBS, and they shake my husband’s hand. Still to this day –

   

To this day.

   

– you and I both know this. And so I think that we’re blessed in our life. We have people that are our “yes.” And he has very much been my “yes.” So that’s probably the most personal story I can tell you.

   

And you’re always traveling or you’re often traveling. You have long work hours, but that still works for you. A longtime marriage.

   

Longtime marriage.

   

With your high school sweetheart.

   

With my high school sweetheart. And, you know, it’s like I prioritize my life. And even as much as I love my job, my husband does come first. And I think that, you know, again, I think about life is all balance. I believe that, you know, you have your professional life, which is important, but it is not your entire life. I think you have your personal life and your personal relationships, friendships, family. That is very important and that has to be cultivated. And it doesn’t just happen. I see a lot of people that get into trouble because they just assume family will always be there. You know, you have to nurture that relationship. Your physical self, I think is really important, and your community self what you give back. But I think that you don’t always have it in the equal balance. But I think all of those pieces are what makes a whole person. And when I finally leave this world, I want to feel like I’ve made this world a little better. Which was the- the “a-ha” moment when I got my very first job and I realized I could earn a paycheck and actually feel like I’ve done something that made a difference. And that’s really the core of me.

   

Paula Kerger, President and CEO of the national PBS, is gamely navigating changes of many kinds in the media industry—including technology and media formats, generational preferences, increasing polarization of opinions, and funding sources. She wants young people who are trying to chart out the rest of their lives to know that there’s no such thing as a straight-and-narrow life path. Life, she says, is truly a journey. In her words, “why would you close any doors?” Mahalo to Paula Kerger, visiting Hawai‘i from the East Coast, for sharing her story with us. And mahalo to you for joining us. For PBS Hawai‘i and Long Story Short, I’m Leslie Wilcox. Aloha nui.

   

So I was in umm, International House. I got a call one day umm, from a headhunter asking if I’d be interested in working at the Metropolitan Opera. Now, I love music. Didn’t really know a lot about opera, but I’ve always wanted to work in the arts and almost talked myself out of the job, you know, because when I went to the interview, I said, you know, I don’t really know anything about opera and I’m not sure I’m the best person for you to hire. This is not the way you should conduct an interview.

   

And how old are you at this point?

   

Oh, I was 30, I guess.

   

Okay.

   

And the guy that was interviewing me who was the head of development at the Met said, “Do you like music? Do you like opera?” And I said yes. I said, “I just don’t know as much as I’m sure other people that could be interviewing for this job.” And he said, “We don’t want fans at the stage door. We want people that are really serious and that really are interested in this work.” If one had asked when I was a kid, “What would I have thought my career path?” Working at the Metropolitan Opera? Of course not. I mean, that was just crazy.

   

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

   

 

[END]

   

 

 

FINDING YOUR ROOTS
Beyond the Pale

 

Henry Louis Gates, Jr. explores the Jewish heritages of actor Jeff Goldblum, radio host Terry Gross and comedian Marc Maron, uncovering previously unknown stories that show each shares much more with their ancestors than a religious tradition.

 

 

 

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Alice Inoue

 

Inoue is the founder of Happiness U, an organization with a mission to teach others about achieving life balance and fulfillment. Her childhood in San Francisco and Taiwan left her feeling lonely and out of place. After working several dozen jobs in Japan, she moved to Hawai‘i on a whim. Inoue reflects on how her curiosity and entrepreneurial nature led her on an untraditional path to her current position of helping others find their life’s purpose.

 

This program will be rebroadcast on Sunday, Feb. 23, at 4:00 pm and 11:30 pm.

 

Alice Inoue Podcast

 

Download the Transcript

 

Transcript

 

In the 60s, being mixed was not really something that was- that you would be proud of. It’s- I think when I came to Hawai‘i, it seemed to be celebrated almost like, wow, you’re hapa. And it felt like very normal. But it wasn’t, growing up. It wasn’t normal. And living even in San Francisco, it didn’t feel like I was part of a San Francisco culture.

 

She calls herself a T.C.K. Or third culture kid who never fit in anywhere. Yet she says she overcame all the negativity she felt toward herself and the world around her. And today counsels people on how to be happy. Meet this life 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 mai kākou. I’m Leslie Wilcox. Alice Fong Inoue of Kaka‘ako, O‘ahu has had many jobs in her life, including teacher, television show presenter, astrologer and feng shui consultant just to name a few. Currently, she’s an author, a life coach and the founder of Happiness U. That’s an organization whose mission is to teach people how to balance their lives so they can be happy. Alice Inoue always says she was anything but happy when she was growing up. Born to a Chinese mother and German Irish father in San Francisco, she felt out of place, whether she was in America or in her mother’s homeland in Taiwan.

 

First, I just want to ask you used the expression that was the first time I’ve heard it; third culture kid.

 

Oh, T.C.K. Yes, third culture kids. So a third culture kid is someone who was raised not in the country of their origin. And the culture of a T.C.K. Is such that you become- you create your own culture. So if you think about it, I grew up speaking English in Taiwan, which was a Chinese culture, and going to an American school and then later going to Japan. So-

 

And speaking Japanese.

 

And speaking- Yeah. So I never felt like I really fit in anywhere. And so that is a very common thing for T.C.K and T.C.K.’s. I think Hawai’i has a lot of T.C.K.s because Hawai‘i culture is not like mainland culture either. Like Obama’s a T.C.K. There’s a lot of- and now- now we are adult T.C.K.s.

 

Kind of like being between cultures.

 

Yeah. Yeah. So I don’t feel like you belong to any culture. I don’t feel like I belong to any belief system. I don’t feel like I belong anywhere. In fact, I feel that I am-

 

To this day?

 

Yeah. I don’t feel like I belong anywhere. Yes, I feel like I’m me. And either you get me or you e- you- you resonate with what I do and what I talk about or you don’t. That’s kind of it. So I don’t feel like I- like I don’t feel like I belong to Hawai‘i or I don’t feel like I am. I live in Hawai‘i. I love Hawai‘i. It’s supported me. I’ve had amazing learning experiences here. But I- but I’m not from here. So when people say, where are you from? I really feel like there’s no answer to that.

 

So you grew up in San Francisco until you were eight, but you didn’t feel like an American?

 

No, I don’t really remember much of that. And in fact, I somehow got teased as a child because somebody saw my mother being Chinese. And so the words such as Chinese pig, and so I was very much extricated from American people. So I never had a really good childhood in America. Then going to Taiwan, I had brown hair. I was different from them. So I was very much not connected to any culture. And so I never felt like I was one or the other.

 

You said your mother’s from Taiwan. What about your dad?

 

My dad, he was uhh- He was a merchant marine from Rhode Island. And so he was twenty six years older than my mother and met her when she was working at like a bookstore in Taiwan or something. And somehow they connected and brought her to America. So this is in the 60s.

 

So were hapa kids in San Francisco?

 

No…

 

Not really huh?

 

I think back in the 60s, being mixed was not really something that was- that you would be proud of it. I think when I came to Hawai‘i, it seemed to be celebrated almost like, wow, you’re hapa. And it felt like very normal. But it wasn’t. Growing up it wasn’t normal. And living even in San Francisco, it didn’t feel like I was part of a San Francisco culture.

 

And then in Taiwan, it didn’t feel normal either.

 

No, because then again, my father was American and they’re all Chinese and I lived with the whole bunch of my mother’s family, relatives and Chinese cousins. So I was always the odd one because I was part American.

 

Why did you move to Taiwan after-

 

So what it was, was I believe that my mother and I- my father was a merchant marine. So he would be away a lot and left my mother and I in San Francisco. And I think she must have missed home or something. So he thought, well, I travel all over the world on the ship anyway. Why don’t you just go live near your relatives in Taiwan? So that’s why we- I grew up over there. I went to an American school, but I lived with a whole bunch of Chinese relatives.

 

After Taiwan you moved back to the United States to go to-

 

-College.

 

–college?

 

Yes. So at 16, I graduated from high school and I moved back to go to college. And I still didn’t know who I was. I didn’t feel American college scared me with all the Americans. And they were very American. And I didn’t feel American even though I spoke English. And I was very unhappy. I- I was umm… I started eating. I gained a lot of weight. And I was just unhappy. And even though there’s nothing to be unhappy about, it was my reality. And the final… Week of school. Back then, we passed notes. We didn’t have text, right? And some classroom- somebody passed a note. Had my name on it. I didn’t know who it’s from, but I opened it up and the note said, you’re always so unhappy. Do you ever- do you even know what happiness is or something to that effect? And I looked around. I didn’t know who it was. But that, I believe, was sort of the catalyst to me recognizing, huh, is there such a thing as I didn’t know that I was putting out that vibe? I had no idea-

 

It’s how you always were right?

 

Yeah. I complain and blame and feel sorry for myself and cry. So I didn’t know that- that- that you could search this or I didn’t realize that I was giving that out. So I believe that kind of started the trigger. And then after college, I went to live in Japan and it was just, I think, little- finding little pieces of myself along the way.

 

After graduating from the University of California at Santa Cruz, Alice Inoue spent the next four years living and working in Japan. Then she decided, on a whim, to move to Hawaii.

 

You’ve said that you’ve had 30 to 40 jobs, which is astounding. And I remember you’ve said that when you were in Japan, you had eight jobs simultaneously.

 

I’m kind of entrepreneurial by nature. So I- I didn’t know the word entrepreneur. You don’t know that word when you’re growing up. But it- when I look back so in college, uhh, I just learned how to cut hair. And so I started cutting people’s hair for money. So I used to make money, just cutting people’s hair in the dorm bathrooms. And then going to Japan, it was- I was there to teach English as my first job. But I also know how to play piano. So I started teaching piano. I also spoke Chinese, so I started speaking Chinese. Umm, I also cut hair as I would start cutting people’s hair. So I started to pick up all these different jobs based on the skills that I had. And I really enjoyed that. And my life has just been a series of one thing after another. Not for any other reason other than I really get excited by learning new things and then being able to share them with others. And if I can use that to- as a profession, even better.

 

And did you get tired of what you were doing? Is that why you stopped?

 

New opportunities would come up. And I think that…

 

You don’t have time for everything.

 

Yeah, so it’s just the situations would change. And I just wanted to do something more. I would just- it just kept evolving.

 

You’ve lived in Hawai‘i for- is it 30 years now?

 

30 years, exactly. This year I was living in Japan. And I watched a television show of Konishiki and Konishiki is a sumo wrestler that was very, very popular at that time. And there was a show about him coming to Hawai‘i. And I watched it. And it’s- it’s funny because I didn’t know anything about Destiny or Syncr- I didn’t know any of that. But all I knew was like, Hawai‘i, I want to go to Hawai‘i. And so back in- this is 1989. I call the travel agent and uhh, booked a flight to Hawai‘i. When I got to Hawai‘i, I- I… Had never felt more comfortable in any place in my whole entire life. It was as if I’d come home and that’s the only way I could describe it. And the taxi driver said that if you’re a first time to Hawai‘i, you have to go to Waikīkī. You have to go see Diamond Head. So I remember being in front of the Duke Kahanamoku statue and laying there thinking, gosh, I have an American passport. I would love to live in Hawai‘i because I had already been in Japan for about three years- four years at that time. And at that moment, a newspaper classified ads blew by and basically blanketed my body. And when I looked at it, it had all these help wanted ads. I thought, oh, my gosh, maybe I could work in Hawai‘i. So I took my quarter and it was by that police station on Kalakaua.

 

When pay phones-

 

-Pay phones-

 

–Took a quarter.

 

Yes! And I called and I got an audition. And then I had to go to Liberty House at that time, bought an outfit, auditioned or not auditioned. What is it- interviewed. And then I got the job and I moved to Hawaii within a few weeks.

 

Wow.

 

And not knowing anybody.

 

And many people were between islands, maybe between coastlines in America. But you. That’s a big move.

 

It was huge. And I think just-

 

To do it alone.

 

Yeah, I was alone and I didn’t know anybody. And it was kind of a- I don’t know why.

 

That was a great leap of faith, would you say?

 

Yeah, it was. And it was just right. It just felt right. And it was uhh- it was a rocky start in the beginning. But 30 years later, here I am.

 

Once you got to Hawaii, how did you make a life for yourself besides landing a job first thing?

 

So when I first moved to Hawai‘i, I didn’t know anyone except the person that had hired me. And we didn’t have Internet back then. So you couldn’t really research people so you don’t really know about them. So the first company I worked for… It was during the time of that real estate boom. That was uhh, a lot of Japanese were buying buildings and buying condos here. So it was a kind of a real estate company. And it was it was difficult only in that they weren’t as ethical as uhh- as you would think a company wer- was. And there’s just a lot of complexities that came. So imagine coming to Hawai‘i with beautiful weather, just people that are so welcoming and then working at a company where the only person I knew was the boss. And his idea of work was, you come in at eight o’clock in the morning and you don’t finish until midnight. And I didn’t know any other way. I didn’t know about labor law. I didn’t know anything. So it took me a good year before I kind of got a little bit more entrenched into the community and realized like, oh, this is not how you- how you have to- have to live.

 

You married somebody very well known here.

 

Yes. Yes.

 

Egan Inoue.

 

Yes.

 

Racquetball champ and martial-

 

Martial-

 

Mixed martial arts practitioner.

 

Yes. Yes.

 

And that’s why your last name is Inoue now.

 

Yes. People always ask that. So I don’t have any Japanese blood in me per say. But through Egan, I got to keep his last name. And so I love- I love it. And he’s a- he’s an amazing friend and amazing person. Taught me so much about life and success. And if you want something and you want to be the best at something, you have to put time into it.

 

So you’re born Fong, now what was your-

 

You want me to tell you my real- maiden name?

 

I’ve seen Fong associated with you, but-

 

That’s just my middle name.

 

OK.

 

So my last name is Leary.

 

Leary.

 

L-E- and I never felt like me. I never liked that name.

 

Fong is your mom’s-

 

-Umm, I think-

 

–name?

 

–it was my my grandmother’s name. So Alice Fong Leary is how I was born. But Alice Leary never really had a good life. I’ll just say it just never seemed to go my way. Even when I first came to Hawai‘i and I was starting to do auditions. I never got anything as Alice Leary. I think I did- I counted it, like fifty-two auditions for different commercials and things and I never got it. Then as soon as it became Alice Inoue, everything changed. I did get a- that sort of started- and I think it’s because in Hawai‘i it was a familiar last name and it kind of integrated me a little bit better.

 

And you obviously feel comfortable with it because you- you’re no longer married to Egan, but you keep it.

 

Yes. Yes. Yes. It’s- it’s- it- it really has worked well for me because I got involved in the Japan market working for Japan TV news. So it really match. And I also speak Japanese. So it just sort of matched. And I kept it. And I- I just I feel like Alice Inoue now.

 

You know, there is a time you were known by tens of thousands of people in Hawai‘i, but they weren’t necessarily local people. They were people seeing you in their hotel rooms.

 

Yeah!

 

And you were terrific. I saw you doing news on visitor- Visitor Television.

 

Yes, it was called- it was Japan TV news visitor, it was O‘ahu visitors bureau television. We had these different uhh, shows that would air in twenty-eight thousand hotel rooms to all the visitors that came. So we did these daily newscasts about jellyfish or just different activities going on. So it was known much more to the visitors that came to Hawaii than people that lived here locally.

 

And then you besides being an anchor, then you went off and did a field reporting show where you were doing sports, and surfing.

 

Yeah! So that was our Fuji Television. So we wanted to show the visitors to Hawai‘i that it’s- there’s so much to do. So we did something like 39 or 40 different things. Everything from scuba diving to skydiving to anything that you could do as an activity in Hawaii. I got to do it. So we called this sh- we called the show Do Sports. And that was really helpful to a lot of the businesses locally so that we could showcase the things that could be done in Hawaii that you might not have known about.

 

You’ve said that you’re a- you’re an introvert by nature, but all these things you’re talking about really require the ability-

 

-Yeah.

 

–to present in front of people and bring it and- and depend on others for-

 

Mhmm.

 

–for your success, especially in television.

 

Yeah.

 

How do you-

 

Yeah.

 

How does that correlate?

 

So interesting. Like when I take any sort of test, if you- out of 30 questions, 29 out of 30, I’m more introverted. So I’m- I’m what you would call a learned extrovert. So by understanding that what I need is time alone, then I make sure that I have a lot of time alone. And when I say learned extrovert, it’s Toastmasters. It’s all these different ways to learn how to speak. I mean, people wouldn’t believe it, but in college or all the way through college, I never once raised my hand in class to ask a question because I was shy. And uhh, it’s the only reason that I can get up and do what I do is because I love the information that I’ve learned and I love nurturing people. And so I want to share information so that forces me to get up. And the more people I want to reach, the more confident I have to be in speaking to large groups. So it was- it’s a- it was a learned expanse. And in fact, every single time I have to get up to talk, I go through a complete challenged internally to be able to to present.

 

Alice Inoue’s career in tourist television and as an on camera talent and spokesperson for local businesses was flourishing in Hawai‘i. Then an unexpected turn of events changed all that. And off she went on an entirely new life path.

 

During those years, I felt that I had really become successful in some way. I was busy filming every day. We’re doing these shows and I had sponsorships from different companies, large companies that would pay me money. And it was wonderful. And I thought that this was the- this is who I am. This is what I do. I just introduced Hawai‘i and I try to showcase Hawai‘i to the- to the Japanese market and that I felt really good. And somebody uhhm, gave me a gift certificate for an astrology reading. Now, I wasn’t into it. Not my thing, but some gives you a gift certificate, you go. So I went and this- this man started telling me about myself. But my mind was like, well, you read that in the newspaper. I was on the cover of midweek. You read that there- so your mind doesn’t let you believe it. And so anyway, he pulls out a bunch of data and this is in 1997 and he says in April of 19- of the year 2000 you’re going to have a career change. You’re gonna go on a career change because of this planet. So I was like, mm ok. Do you remember Palm Pilots back in the day?

 

Yes. Palm Pilots.

 

So I was very modern in 1997. I had a Palm Pilot. So I- I clicked forward three years and I wrote in there, astrologer says, Pluto changes my life. And I almost did it facetiously. Wrote it in there April of 2000. And I kind of put it away and forgot about it. Then as we got towards that time period, I started losing sponsors and losing shows and I was doing a variety of contracts and shows. But it was fine. I still had my full time job that Japan TV needs- news. And then they came in on April 1st of the year 2000. And my boss at the time said to me, Alice, we have good news and bad news. The good news is that we sold the company. Now, I didn’t even know the company is for sale. Good news was we sold company. The bad news is they didn’t purchase your- your little newscast. And so we’re going to have to let you go so you can go get an employment. And so without the vehicle of television, nobody is gonna- I- sponsor. There’s- it was pretty much my whole identity. I didn’t- I didn’t know who I was without television.

 

And blindsided-

 

-Yes, I had no idea.

 

–And not to have any warm up on it.

 

Yeah. So I remember going to unemployment. And as clear as day. Glass- you pull out a form and it says, how long did you work that? Right. You have to write down your work. And I turned on my Palm Pilot and the pop up came up that I had written three years ago that said that your life would go through a career change. And I just thought, oh, my God. And it was one of those moments literally where that chicken skin moment, that realization that this was destined. Kind of like it was so foreign to me. But all I knew was I made a commitment in that moment that I wanted to learn it. I want to learn how to calculate somebodies life. I wanted to- because I felt safe in that moment, because I was scared of- what am I gonna do? Who am I?

 

But it felt better to believe that this was preordained.

 

Somehow, yes. So in that moment, I felt very like, wow, how do- how do you do this? And I was curious. I think that was it. I was very curious. So from- and from there unemployment, I went to Borders and I bought like four hundred dollars worth of like astrology. Like- and I was on unemployment. I had no work. So all I did was study. And that- that was like the birth. And that was literally 20- 20 years ago. Yeah, basically 20 years ago. And that started this whole new journey of wanting to understand the divine workings of human beings, of the universe, of life and why things happen. So that began this- this sort of segment of my life that I’m in now.

 

You also did feng shui?

 

OK, so the- the- the way it goes is like I started and I said, wow, how do you figure this out? So I started learning the- the- the- the- about astrology and cy- life cycles that say it’s more about timing. When did- when do you move? When do you change jobs? When- when do you transition? So learning about life cycles. And then, well, the next thing, if the planets have something governing us, then what about your environment? So then I got into Feng shui. So I went to learn about feng shui. And once that- whenever I learn something, I delve so, so deep into it that I learn it and I embody it. And then I- I was- I was a astrology and feng shui consultant for a while. Then people would say, you know, I can’t help it because I’m a Scorpio, or oh, I talk too much because I’m a Gemini. So people would give these excuses or they would say things like, I don’t have money because my bathroom is in the wrong place. That kind of thing. And I started thinking, you know, no, it’s not. You can’t blame the planet, can’t blame your environment. It’s you. So then I got into life guidance, meaning how do we create our life? So, yes, the planets are there. There’s a sun in the morning, the moon at night. Yes, our environment is there. If it’s uncluttered, we probably feel better. But it’s really up to you. And so that’s how I moved into life guidance. And that’s where I started discovering that we have so much more… Power over our lives than we think. Things don’t just happen to us, they happen for us. And how do we look for the good in situations and how do we train ourselves to be able to kind of live a life that we want.

 

And you found answers for all of those things?

 

Kind of. I found answers that satisfied me. Yes. And then uhh- then I used whatever I’ve researched, whatever I’ve learned. I’ve read hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of books and spent thousands of hours studying. And I’ve come to understand that we- there- things do happen for a reason, if we can find that reason, because then we can move forward. So, yes, I feel like in my case, I found answers.

 

You know, I notice you’re really keying in on, you know, why do things happen? When do they happen? How do we know?

 

Mhmm.

 

I’m just kind of looking back at your childhood, because so often what we do, we don’t even realize that at the time. But umm, something happens in our childhood and-

 

Yeah.

 

–we- It really- it influences what we do later.

 

I’m living in places that didn’t accept me. So if you’re not accepted socially, what do you want to do? You want to be alone, right? So when you’re alone, there’s a lot of time and a lot of umm, things that you start to discover about yourself. And so what I- what I- what I tell people too, is a lot of your purpose lies in what you used to love as a child, because sometimes as adults, we get into just doing what we have to do to make money, pay the mortgage. We kind of get into life and we do things because we have to. Not necessarily because we love it. And when we- when we’re trapped into it, our life kind of gets a little bit dimmer. It’s not as- it’s not as fun. But if you go back to when you were a child, what are the things that you love to do. Uhh, I used to love solving puzzles. I used to love dissecting animals. Uhh, so I- all the things that I love to do as a child. I feel that I’m doing them now as an adult. So it- its-

 

But you did them as a child for a sense of escape or to make yourself happy.

 

Yeah. Because I just enjoy doing these things. I loved magic tricks. I loved- I just loved anything that I could do on my own. And I- I remember umm, wanting to, to help people. But if nobody likes you, nobody wants you to help them. Right? So I would put these uhh, kind of stuffed animals or figurines and I would pretend like I was their counselors or their- their- their guide. So I would premake these questions that they had for me and I’d put questions out of the hat and I would pretend like I was helping them in life. I wanted to be like a Dear Abby. I loved Dear Abby. I used to read that all the time. Living in Taiwan, we used to get some sort of American newspaper and she was in there. And used to love- And I always thought like, I want to be a Dear Abby.

 

And so interesting, so by feeling unaccepted, you resorted to your own devices to find out what cheered you up and-

 

Yes.

 

-satisfied you.

 

Yeah.

 

And that- that- that’s a theme that remains to this day.

 

Yes. Because everything that I find and I do alone. And I- and I find it to be valuable to me. Or I want to come out and share it with you. So I feel like I’ve been interested in many, many different things. And because of that, I’ve learned a lot. In 2013, I uhh- and then I started writing books. I wanted to share what I learned at the end of the year with people. So I started writing books. So I- I had a plan. I wanted to do a book a year- book a year. And I got to my sixth year. I was going to write my sixth book. I couldn’t seem to figure out what I was going to do and I couldn’t move forward. And I asked myself, what do you really want to do? Because everything was going well. Many clients- I was speaking. I was- I had- I was doing fine in that business. And the answer came back. I just want to teach people to be happy. I just want to teach people to be happy. And in that moment of recognizing that, I had the idea, what if I could have a school, a school where didn’t you learn- Where you learned all the things that you didn’t learn in school.

 

Which you wish somebody would- So many things you wish somebody had told-

 

-Yes!

 

–you a long time ago. Someone, please.

 

Yes!

 

But you do find out by hard knocks later.

 

Later. So what if we could learn how to move through betrayal? What if we could learn resentment and guilt? And why am I feeling guilt? All of these emotional things that- and what is my purpose and why am I here? And how can this happen? What if we had a school that we could teach those thing? So immediately I decided physical, mental, emotional and spiritual classes. Spiritual classes like what’s my purpose? Umm, mental stress, overwhelm- emotional guilt, like all of these things. These are teachable. These are things that I’ve- I’ve learned that I can share. So that was my breakthrough. And I opened Happiness U in September of 2013. And so we have a location where people come and they learn these things. There are hidden blessings in everything, hidden benefits and everything. And if you can find the benefits and find the blessing, that’s where you thrive. We find that silver lining. That’s where we recognize that life is about growing.

 

At the time of this conversation, in the fall of 2019, Happiness U was still teaching its life lessons after seven years at its Kaka‘ako classroom in Honolulu as well as online, mahalo to Inoue of Kaka‘ako, O‘ahu for sharing her life story with us. And thank you for joining us. For PBS Hawai‘i. And Long Story Short, I’m Leslie Wilcox. Aloha Nui.

 

You have a longtime relationship with another well-known person who is Alan Wong, the restaurant tour.

 

Yes.

 

So, of course, I want to ask you immediately-

 

Yes.

 

–what everyone must ask you. Who cooks at your house?

 

That is the number one question. I cook. I’m in charge in-

 

-You cook for Alan Wong?

 

–the kitchen. I do. I do. And he is one of the best people to cook for because he appreciates it. And in the 20 years that we have been together, he has never once said, why did you cook this this way, or this is overcooked. He’s never done that. He’s- he’s a- he’s just so appreciative. And so I get to keep the kitchen. That was the one thing we got together. I like cooking. I love cooking. I love nurturing people. And I thought, oh, my god, you’re a chef. The only problem is like, what am I going to do? Like, I need a kitchen. He’s like, you can have the kitchen.

 

[END]

 

 

 

FINDING YOUR ROOTS
Slave Trade

 

Henry Louis Gates, Jr. journeys with film director Ava DuVernay, actor S. Epatha Merkerson and musician Questlove to the unexpected places where their ancestors were scattered by slavery, upending their notions of African American history.

 

 

 

Connecting through Storytelling

 

CEO Message

 

Leslie Wilcox, PBS Hawai‘i President and CEO

Over the course of 13 years as CEO of PBS Hawaiʻi, I’ve had ample opportunity to experience something very delightful about our viewers:

 

Many of them are every bit as compelling in communicating as our professional storytellers.

 

Good storytellers know their audience. They know how to connect with emotion and imagination. I think that’s why many of our programs evoke strong responses; and it’s why our viewers’ letters “get” to us.

 

In correspondence, some of our viewers relate family stories passed down through the generations, describing intimate conversations at pivotal times of history, such as the overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy, the Pearl Harbor attack and closely fought elections.

 

CEO Message: Connecting through Storytelling

 

It’s a wonderful exchange – viewers writing to amplify something they saw in one of our programs, or to add context, or to riff on a related thought. Often they’re telling of their own experience, after a story that aired on PBS Hawaiʻi has struck a chord in their life.

 

Responding to PBS NewsHour coverage of the crackdown on immigrants seeking shelter and work in the U.S., a Honolulu viewer wrote that more immigrants should be welcomed: “My grandfather, who came from Japan, worked from morning to night for three dollars a day. I am third generation and educated … I will not work at a job where I get dirty. I will not work at a job where I get smelly. I will not work at a job that requires me to carry more than five pounds. I am a typical third-generation immigrant.”

 

Another viewer reached out after seeing the American Experience episode about the Pacific search for Amelia Earhart. Just as if she were having an in-person conversation, she noted that the investigation didn’t seem to include the hypothesis that the ocean had swallowed all trace of evidence.

 

“I think that is really what happened,” she wrote. “But empirical research is never really satisfied with a ‘nothing’ outcome. There has to be something ‘real.’ And more importantly, there has to be ‘closure,’ which may not be true.”

 

As author Annette Simmons said, “Story gives people enough space to think for themselves. The story develops and grows in the mind of the listener …”

 

We’re all the richer for connecting through storytelling.

 

Mahalo nui,

Leslie signature

 

 

FINDING YOUR ROOTS
Secrets and Lies

 

Henry Louis Gates, Jr. helps actors Sigourney Weaver, Justina Machado and Amy Ryan unearth surprising revelations about their family histories, forever altering how they see themselves.

 

 

 

NORMAN MINETA AND HIS LEGACY:
AN AMERICAN STORY

NORMAN MINETA AND HIS LEGACY: AN AMERICAN STORY

 

The child of immigrants, Norman Mineta’s uniquely American story charts a path from the shame he experienced as a Japanese American inside a U.S. internment camp during World War II to his triumphant rise to political prominence that has shaped every level of government, and made him one of the most influential Asian Americans in the history of our nation. His distinguished career has been a continuous unmatched slate of firsts, including 20 years in the United States Congress and eventually serving in the cabinets of two presidents from different political parties: Bill Clinton and George W. Bush. Still thriving today in his 80s, he is celebrated as a bipartisan visionary who preached political civility, yet was a bold change-maker with a deft political touch and an inclusive vision of the future.

 

Preview

 

 

 

FINDING YOUR ROOTS
This Land Is My Land

FINDING YOUR ROOTS: This Land Is My Land

 

Henry Louis Gates, Jr. reveals the unexpected family trees of entertainer Queen Latifah and actor Jeffrey Wright, redefining their sense of the black experience — and challenging preconceptions about America’s past.

 

 

 

CRAFT IN AMERICA
Quilts

 

Learn about contemporary quilters as we celebrate the role quilts have played in our country’s story. Featuring Susan Hudson, Victoria Findlay Wolfe, Michael A. Cummings, Judith Content, the International Quilt Museum and special guest Ken Burns.

 

 

 

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Susan Scott

 

One of my favorite Hawaii newspaper columns is about the marvels of the sea – and who would guess its writer grew up in a land-locked state? As a kid, Wisconsin native Susan Scott would page through National Geographic magazines, imagining herself traveling to distant lands. When she moved to Hawaii, she was afraid of the ocean. Today she loves sailing her own sailboat to distant shores. On LONG STORY SHORT, I get to talk with Susan about her discoveries and delights in living on and near the ocean.

 

This program will be rebroadcast on Sunday, Jan. 12, at 4:00 pm and 11:30 pm.

 

Susan Scott Audio

 

Download the Transcript

 

Transcript

 

My neighbors were two sisters; they called them the old maids in those days—it was in the 50s, and they subscribed to National Geographic, which was the enormous of my attraction to go over there to their house. And I would sit on the couch, I remember it vividly, and page through the National Geographics, which we did not have. My family were not readers. And they would explain things to me. And I remember Easter Island was a big one. I’m going there, and I’m going here, and I’m going here, I’m going here.

 

Susan Scott of Oahu has been to those places she dreamed about in her childhood, and then some. She’s a familiar name to those who followed her weekly Ocean Watch column in Honolulu’s major daily newspaper, which she’s been writing since 1987. Susan Scott, next on Long Story Short.

 

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

 

Aloha mai kakou. I’m Leslie Wilcox. In addition to her regular Ocean Watch column in the Honolulu Star Advertiser, Susan Scott has written seven books about Hawaii’s wildlife, including publications about plants and animals that live in the ocean as well as on land. Yet, having grown up in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Susan Scott knew very little about Hawaii when she and her husband, Dr. Craig Thomas, decided to move here in 1983.

 

What was it like for you, your childhood? How would you characterize it?

 

My childhood was very loving and happy. We had a big extended family until my mom remarried. And she married a man who was not very enamored with children or really comfortable around children. And I was the oldest, so we didn’t get along that well. He was pretty strict with manners, and all kinds of things that I hadn’t really ever heard of before. [CHUCKLE] So, we had a hard time of it. They were heavy drinkers. Everybody in my family drank. All four grandparents, all my aunts and uncles; everybody. It was a drinking culture. It is a German-Scandinavian community, and drinking was an enormous part of the culture. I didn’t know people didn’t live like that until I left home. I just decided pretty much when I was fifteen that I was not gonna have children, and that I was gonna have a different life.

 

At fifteen?

 

At fifteen.

 

What did they encourage you to do with your life?

 

They encouraged me to be part of the extended family, and work in factories, and stay there. And I think the vision was that we would all stick together and do the same thing. But whatever it is, I don’t know what happens, but I think some kids just grow up with the travel bug, an adventure bug. And that was me, and I really, really wanted to do that a lot. And everyone thought I was crazy. They didn’t get it. They still don’t get it.

 

I left home when I was eighteen, and the first time in my life I heard a foreign language. I heard a migrant worker in Milwaukee who had been through our county to pick cherries, and he asked me a question in Spanish. I remember it vividly. I was dumbfounded. I could not believe how beautiful this language sounded. And so, he was lost, and in a little trouble, so I took him home where I lived, in a little commune kinda thing with some other hippie kids, and we found someone who spoke Spanish, and on the phone, and he said what he was looking for, a bus station and a place to sleep for the night. But it was this enormous thing. I’d never heard Spanish, I never heard any other language, really.

 

It was all Caucasian people in your small town, too.

 

Yeah; yeah. And I’d never seen Black people, or Asians, or anyone. And so, just leaving was just a really wonderful thing for me. And you know, I certainly had ups and downs as an adolescent and as a hippie, kinda wandering around, wondering what to do. ‘Cause I didn’t go to nursing school until after that. And then, that’s when I decided if I went to nursing and got an RN, I could go back to Europe and maybe live and work in Ireland. When I met Craig, uh, which was in 1980, it was the end of that whole hippie thing, and he was really instrumental in helping me stop doing drugs and alcohol, and smoking, and all of those things.

 

How did you meet?

 

I met Craig in the hospital. He was an intern, and it was his first week there, and it was my last week there.

 

And where was this?

 

In Denver. He had gotten a residency there, and I had gone to nursing school in Denver. And so, we had just met just barely as we were both off going to do different things. I was going back to school to do something else.

 

You had decided not to be a nurse.

 

Right; I decided not to be a nurse.

 

Why not?

 

I think it was too indoors for me. I think I really had an adventure outdoor travel bug.

 

And it’s kind of hard, isn’t it? I mean, devote years to this training and this education, and you did it for a good reason, then you decide it doesn’t work for you?

 

Well, it was only two years.

 

Still, two years.

 

It was an associate degree. Yeah, it was two years. I didn’t feel that I could do it. I’m not sure why, exactly. I worked in seven different departments in seven years. I was a nurse for seven years. And I finally thought, I don’t think moving around the departments is gonna do it for me.

 

And even though it helps with my travel bug, you decided, No, try something else.

 

Yeah. It just didn’t work for me. And I did my pre-med courses after that, at the University of Colorado. And then, Craig finished his residency and really, really wanted to come to Hawaii and rest, and have some time off before he started working. And so, we came to Hawaii in 1983 just for the summer. And that was it; we’ve never, never even considered living anywhere else. But we always said if there’s another place we find—‘cause he likes to travel, obviously, too. If we find a place better, we’ll go there. And we still say that, but you know, the places that we’re going now are wonderful, and I really enjoy the South Pacific and the other islands, and Mexico, and the places that I’ve been sailing these last few years., but I would never leave Hawaii.

 

What was it about Hawaii that made you know, We’re gonna stay here, we’re putting down roots?

 

Well, part of it is, I feel really at home here. I think the culture is American, and there’s a lot of wonderful things about America that I really like. But I also think that the multicultural part of Hawaii really spoke to me. Well, I went to Chinese New Year and had a fantastic time. We just loved it so much. You know, we watched the lion dances and the dragon dance, and we had Chicago hotdogs. And all this different ethnic mix is really, really fun, and I appreciate that all the time. I like the mix here. And I feel like I’m always kinda traveling while I’m here at home and meeting people from different places. So, it really works for me.

 

The multi-ethnic cultures and people may have been Susan Scott’s initial reasons for wanting to stay in Hawaii, but there was something else here that she hadn’t discovered yet, something she probably would never have guessed would become her life’s passion.

 

When you came here, you enrolled at UH Manoa.

 

I enrolled at UH Manoa because I was so afraid of the ocean. And Craig and I both really liked Hawaii and the cultural part of Hawaii, and we loved Oahu.

 

You were afraid of the ocean?

 

I was afraid of the ocean. Well, I grew up in Wisconsin and went to school in Denver. I had barely seen the ocean. So, I didn’t know what a tide was. And when people said the surf was up on the North Shore, I didn’t know. I remember thinking, Up where?

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

What does that mean? [CHUCKLE] So, it was interesting to go to school, and thinking I would just take a couple of courses. And I had just come off the really hard pre-med schedule, which I’d finished, and so, it was really fun. And I had all these different people from all over the world at school. My lab partner was from Singapore, and I met a lot of local people who made fun of some of the things I said, and about the ocean, and they thought that it was just crazy that I thought, wana, for instance, was really a cool interesting thing. ‘Cause I had thought that sea urchins were plants.

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

I had no idea. So, the more I learned, the more interested in got, and I finally ended up with a degree in biology and a certificate in marine journalism from the Marine Option Program. So, I’m a very proud graduate of MOP.

 

Well, what is your job?

 

I’m a freelance writer. And so, I’ve contracted with the Star Advertiser, the Star Bulletin for many years, to do a weekly column. And one of the things the editors were interested in the beginning was that I would have the science point of view from the animals. So, I could write about the marine animals and marine science in a way that reporters probably wouldn’t. And so, those were sort of my sample columns, and the editor who hired me said, Well, let’s just try this for a while and see how it goes. And that’s the only contract I ever had.

 

And as the Star Bulletin dissolved, here you are with the Star Advertiser.

 

Star Advertiser; right.

 

You continued along with them.

 

Well, I was lucky. I made the cut.

 

You did.

 

Yeah; I was very lucky.

 

From being afraid of the ocean to essentially spending your life around it.

 

Right; exactly.

 

In it, on it, around it.

 

Yeah. I think part of the feedback I get for my column and my books is that the sense of wonder is still in the writing. And I feel that; that’s very genuine.

 

And the curiosity is the case there too.

 

To me, I feel like I’m in a movie sometimes; just even walking on the beach, I don’t have to get in the water. And I feel so lucky that I not only got to study and learn the science part of marine biology, but that I get to live it. You know.

 

Well, I love your column. And you know, I think so many people read it and say, Ah, I always wondered about that. In fact, I was gonna tell you that there was this period, I think it was a month; it was one June, I can’t remember which June, but I remember thinking, Everything you’re writing about this month, every week I open it up, and it’s something I really, really wanted to know.

 

Oh, that’s great. Oh, I’m glad to hear that. Yeah; I get really good feedback from the column, and it really keeps me going, keeps me interested. I think I’ll be a little old lady going into the newspaper, still writing about my experience with the ocean. But it is a lot of fun.

 

A lot of it is based on observation. You see something, and you wonder about it.

 

Right.

 

You do the research, and then you talk with people.

 

Well, and I have lots and lots of really interested readers, like you, who write me notes and say—

 

Yeah; what is this?

 

I found this, can I send you a picture? Or, Have you ever heard of this? And uh, I just feel really lucky that I have so many readers now. And I have readers in Australia, now that it’s online, the newspaper’s online. I got an email from Switzerland last week, and another from Malta.

 

And there are infinite things to learn about the ocean. It covers, what, three-quarters of the Earth’s surface. You’ve got a lot of material forever.

 

I’ll never run out of material. Yeah.

 

Tell me about some of the columns that have resonated most with your readers.

 

Well, I think that sailing columns resonate the most. And it’s interesting, ‘cause I worry the most about those being boring to people. Probably because I feel like the column should be about discovering marine animals, and I think the thing I like writing best about is, what you said, finding something and wondering how it works, and then discovering, like, Oh, my gosh, this nudibranch has its own little garden on its back. Which we have right off on the North Shore, we have a bunch of these. And so, if I’m writing about sailing, it feels more like a little bit of a travel log. Like, I did this, and then I did this, and then I did this. And I think, I’m probably driving people crazy. It’s like, Oh, big deal.

 

What’s the latest new thing you’ve learned?

 

Chitons; I’ve never seen a Hawaii chiton. And so, when my friends emailed me that from California and I looked it up, I looked it up in the Hawaii books I have and said, We have those. They wear a girdle. [CHUCKLE] This is called a girdle that goes around. I found a website by Sam Gon, who’s the Nature Conservancy biologist here, and who I’ve meet several times, and so, he had something about chitons, and trilobites. He calls the chitons trilobite imposters. [CHUCKLE] Pretenders, or something. ‘Cause he gets emails from people that say they found a trilobite.

 

Chiton; so that’s C-H-I-T-O-N.

 

Right. That was all new for me. I spent two days doing it. So, I don’t earn very good money, because I spend so much time writing each column. But I have really a lot of fun doing it. And then, I think if I quit the column, would I still work so hard at getting all the little details and getting it right? And I don’t know.

 

Gives you a reason to give structure to your positive wonder about the world.

 

Well, it does. It does.

 

Makes you more alert, too, I would think.

 

It does. ‘Cause I’m always thinking, Oh, I’ve gotta write about that.

 

Right.

 

Well, then I have to remember what kinda day this was, or what beach it was, or was it rocky beach, or sandy. A lot of my observations are not actually in the water. Which is one of the things a lot of my readers write and say, I’ve never been in the ocean, I don’t swim. I love your columns, because I can relate to it through your eyes, but I don’t feel like I have to actually get in the ocean to know about these things. ‘Cause I don’t always get in the water, either.

 

And meanwhile, you’ve been writing books as well. I’m fascinated by All Stings Considered. And I know everyone has asked you, I’ve asked you, when you get stung by a Portuguese Man ‘O War, which is very common, there’s always someone willing to give you their home remedy.

 

That’s right.

 

But do any of the remedies work, or is it just time that works?

 

Well, I had a doctor friend that used to say, tincture of time was the best remedy. And what we say for almost all jellyfish stings.

 

Almost all.

 

The reason so many things work, and everyone has so many different remedies is because it’s a self-limiting injury that goes away by itself anyway. Craig and I did some studies with the City and County lifeguards, and we had a really good time. We had unmarked bottles, so it was a blinded study, so no one knew what they were putting on. And then, we had victims of jellyfish stings fill out a questionnaire; spray this on and tell us on a pain scale how it was. And so, we had a statistician from City and County running the numbers, ‘cause we wanted to make sure we weren’t making something worse. And we had meat tenderizer mixed in a concentrated form in water, and we had Sting Aid which they were selling at the time in all the stores, and fresh water and sea water. Sea water was our control. And the statistician called us, I remember the day, and said, I think you might as well stop the study, ‘cause the sea water is so far ahead of all the others. So, that told us that it was statistically significant. So, don’t do anything. Rinse it off with sea water and go home.

 

Sea water seems to be an answer to so many things.

 

Yeah; it really is.

 

I always remember a prominent coach who had a progressive disorder, and I asked him what he was doing for it. And he goes, The ocean is my therapy, and it’s made me happier than anything could have.

 

Well, I could say the same thing. Yeah. There is something about sea water. And even walking next to it works for me. [CHUCKLE]

 

Yeah.

 

I don’t have to actually get in it.

 

Discovering new wonders about the ocean and wildlife and writing about them has never stopped being exciting and fulfilling for Susan Scott. Yet, after doing this for eighteen years, she came to a point in her life where she needed to do something different.

 

You know every type of animal you could ever find in a tide pool.

 

Yeah; exactly. Well, I’m still learning. That’s the fun of it. So, I still really find the thrill of it and the joy of it.

 

As your life has gone along, you’ve actually gotten more and more, well, immersed in the ocean.

 

Right. Yeah; I started sailing. I didn’t know how to sail before I met Craig, but uh, in 2005, I sailed to Palmyra. I learned how to sail.

 

Wait a minute; that’s a big jump.

 

Oh.

 

First, you’re afraid of the ocean.

 

Yeah.

 

And then you’re sailing with Craig, and all of a sudden you’re sailing to Palmyra?

 

Well, I had a big midlife crisis. I had a really, really hard menopause shift in hormones, I think. I don’t know; I felt crazy. And I think a lot of women have these hormone times in their late forties and fifties, and people do think they’re crazy. People thought I was crazy. I felt like I did lose myself. I thought, I don’t know who I am or where I’m going, or what’s happening. I had been trying to write a novel, and like most novel writers in the world, it was rejected, rejected, rejected. And that’s normal, but I took that so hard. I took to my bed and didn’t get up for days. And I’m not like that at all. And so, I had a really miserable time with it, and that Women’s Health Initiative study came out that said hormones are bad for women, so I was not on hormones. And finally, I said, [CHUCKLE] I’m going somewhere. My life feels like it’s over anyway, so whatever happens, it’s gotta be better, it doesn’t matter what I do. So, I learned how to sail a boat by myself, without Craig, which was the first time. And a lot of people said, Well, he taught you how to sail, or you learned how to sail with him. Taking it myself was an entire different universe, and making all the decisions was really different.

 

Were you a solo sailor going across the ocean that way?

 

I got a job with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as a volunteer in Palmyra. They really needed some help doing a study there, and it would take four months. But they didn’t have any way for me to get there, or a place for me to live when I did get there. ‘Cause Palmyra is a pretty remote camp. And so, I thought, Well, I have a sailboat. I’ll just go there. I’ll sail there, and I’ll live on the boat, and then I’ll see what happens after that.

 

How long did it take you to sail there?

 

It took me a week to sail there, with some big catastrophic boat failures, actually. And I sailed with a biologist friend, a young man who’s still a very dear friend. And he had never been on a sailboat before or never sailed. So, the two of us were really novices. And we made it to Palmyra. We managed to patch the boat together enough to sail there, and Craig sent down the parts to fix it.

 

What was that failure? What happened?

 

The forestay broke. Which for sailors, if you know boats, is what holds up the mast and the sails. And so, we managed to save the mast.

 

It broke in bad weather?

 

It broke because it was put together wrong.

 

Oh!

 

Here in Honolulu. It was new. That’s a very big deal. It’s about as bad as it gets without getting a hole in the bottom of the boat where it’s sinking. But we did fine. We didn’t know much then. I know a lot more now. I think I’d be a lot more calm now.

 

All the elements are bigger than yourself, and can combine against you.

 

Yes. And I learned too, that you’re really dependent on the boat for your life, but you’re also dependent on your wits to fix the boat, because things break all the time. The most common conversation among sailors is what big thing broke, and what did you do. And I wrote a book about it called, Call Me Captain, which is a really big part of my life. I’ve been writing that for a long time. And University of Hawaii Press is publishing it.

 

It’s so hard to write about yourself, I would think.

 

It was very hard. I actually had a wonderful editor from San Francisco, a really good editor who’s a professional editor, and she helped me. And I think the big part of her, besides being a good editor is, she didn’t know me personally. And so, she could say, I can’t picture this; I don’t know what were you feeling. And so, I rewrote with her over years.   And the UH Press does not usually publish memoirs.

 

Oh, congratulations.

 

So, I feel very lucky. So, I sailed to Tahiti from Palmyra, and then to Australia. I really got the bug.

 

That’s amazing.

 

I had different friends help me. I never sailed alone until I got to Mexico. And in the Sea of Cortez there’s only seventy-five miles across, and so I started sailing alone there. ‘Cause I thought, Oh, I’m never gonna be that far offshore. My big problem with going offshore alone is, if something breaks that’s beyond my strength, I don’t feel very strong, and as I age, I feel less strong. I lift weights, but it doesn’t make me feel capable. And on the way to Palmyra, when we had the big boat failure, I really needed Alex’s strength.

 

You’ve seen some amazing visuals at sea. I know you’ve described spinning dolphins.

 

Right.

 

What else at sea have you seen that’s amazing?

 

Well, one thing that I saw that was amazing, but I didn’t really realize it until later when I looked it up and read, it was pilot whales. And pilot whales are among the very few—I think there’s only two species, maybe three, in the world of animals that have menopause, and females live long after they stop reproducing. And pilot whales are one of them; Hawaii’s pilot whales. So, when they swam up to the boat, on my trip to Palmyra, they were the only whales that came to the boat. And then later, when I read about them, I thought, Well, there you go.

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

They were coming over to see me, and that was a really good sign.

 

How’s that going for you? [CHUCKLE]

 

That was good.

 

Do you sleep well on the boat in the middle of the sea?

 

No. I don’t sleep hardly at all. I sleep; I feel like I’m not totally exhausted, but when I get somewhere, I sleep a lot. But I’m always on call.

 

And yet, you love being on a boat where you don’t sleep much?

 

Well, I’m not offshore that much. So, the trip from Mexico to the Marquesas that I did this year was a twenty-eight-day crossing. And that’s really a long, long crossing. And then, the rest of the year was just little trips, so you know, a day or two. And then when you get where you’re going, it’s a wonderful, peaceful anchorage usually, and you can sleep just fine.

 

How big is your boat? Tell me about your boat.

 

Oh, the boat’s thirty-seven feet. It’s French ketch, and it’s easy to single hand. It’s set up so you can single handed maintain the sails and do what you need to do by yourself. But it’s also roomy enough to sleep comfortably six people. So, there’s three separate cabins. It’s a center cockpit boat with an aft master cabin, and a center and a forward.

 

So, you could conceivably go alone, although that’s not advisable.

 

I could go alone. And people do go alone. I think part of it, too, it’s a social event. You know, it’s been really a good social thing for me to have, to be able to skipper the boat, and have friends come along. And as a biologist in Hawaii, I have a lot of friends who are really good on the water and they’ve been on research vessels, and they know the water, and they’re not afraid of big waves. And so, they may not necessarily know a lot about sailing, but they do what I tell them, and we’ve had a really good time.

 

You like being the skipper?

 

I do like being the skipper. I do. Sometimes, there’s times when I think it’d be really fun to just be on somebody else’s boat and let them worry about what’s going wrong, or where we’re going, or should we go all night, or should we pull in. But mostly, I like it. I enjoy it.

 

And you’re telling me menopause is what triggered all of this?

 

It is. I think, Leslie, I would have never gone on that sailboat by myself, unless I was really desperate and miserable.

 

I’m wondering if those people who you said thought you were crazy; did they think you were even crazier when you started taking the sailboat out virtually on your own?

 

That I was crazy when I got home?

 

Well, no; you know, once they heard you were—

 

When I got home, I was fine. [CHUCKLE] It cured me. [CHUCKLE] I think getting outside of my own self, and I think if there’s a lesson there, and I would never presume to tell anyone else what to do with their own. Menopause or misery, or midlife or early life crisis; I felt as confused and mixed up as I had when I was a teenager, with all those hormone storms and things, and trying to figure out what I was gonna be, where I was gonna go. And I came from a place where I really wanted to do something different, but didn’t know what. And this was the same kinda thing. And I thought, whatever happens, I’m losing it here, so it’s gotta be, it’s gotta be good. And if I never come back, or Craig and I don’t stay together, well, that’s just life.

 

Susan Scott has made it through many challenges. She continues to sail and explore with the same passion and wonder that she’s always had, and through her writing, we all get to tag along. Mahalo to Susan Scott of Oahu for sharing her stories with us. And mahalo to you for joining us. For PBS Hawaii and Long Story Short, I’m Leslie Wilcox. A hui hou.

 

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

 

Where are the places you’d still like to go?

 

Well, I’ve never seen the pyramids of Egypt, and that one of the pages of the National Geographics of the Imer [PHONETIC] sisters. And we talked about the pyramids. I remember that, and Easter Island, which I did get to see the moai. So that was good. So, I would like to go to Egypt, but there never seems to be a very good time, politically. I’m never sure.

 

Because think the open ocean is safer than Egypt.

 

Oh, I do; I do. I think it is.

 

[END]

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