What Do We Need to Know and Understand About Teen Suicide in Hawai‘i?


The leading cause of fatal injuries among 15-to-24-year-olds in Hawai‘i is suicide. On the next INSIGHTS, we’ll talk with local professionals who work with teens, their families and schools. We’ll also hear from Paul Gionfrido, CEO of Mental Health America, who calls suicide “a stage-four event in a mental illness.” He explains that it usually takes years for a person to decide to die by suicide. What do we need to know and understand about teen suicide in Hawai‘i?


Additional Information


Suicide Prevention Lifeline for Teens and Young Adults
1-800-273-TALK (8255)


Crisis Text Line
Text ALOHA To 741-741


Crisis Line of Hawai`I
Oahu 832-3100
Neighbor Islands Toll Free




Into The Night: Portraits of Life and Death


Learn how an astrophysicist, preacher, philosopher and artisanal mortician grapple with universal questions of mortality. Weaving science, cryonics, near death stories and green burials, this film invites us to rethink our place in the universe.



He was genuine, all right


CEO Message

Mister Rogers was genuine, all right

Leslie Wilcox, PBS Hawai‘i President and CEOI love this line from a Jimmy Buffett song: “I got a PBS mind in an MTV world.”


That describes the mind of the late Mister Rogers, too.


In fact, Mister Rogers met a vacationing MTV news producer on a summer stay in Nantucket and asked producer Ben Wagner about his job at the network, which favored short, dramatic edits (“jump cuts”) and quickie soundbites.


Mister Rogers in trademark sweater


Rogers listened attentively and told Wagner warmly: “I feel so strongly that deep and simple is far more essential than shallow and complex.”


Wagner, impressed at Rogers’ gentle truths and authenticity, later produced an award-winning documentary, Mister Rogers & Me.


Right: Mister Rogers in trademark sweater


This month, PBS Hawai‘i presents Mister Rogers: It’s You I Like on Tuesday, March 6 at 8:00 pm. It’s a 50th anniversary celebration of the beloved longtime program that launched in 1968, Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.


Before Fred Rogers became “Mister Rogers,” he watched a commercial TV program featuring people smashing pies in each others’ faces. He concluded there were better things to do with the miracle of broadcast technology.


“You rarely have time for everything you want in this life, so you need to make choices,” he said. “And hopefully your choices can come from a deep sense of who you are.”


One of his choices was to learn how to present a different kind of television.


Gaining TV experience as a floor manager on a kids show starring cowboy-actor Gabby Hayes (a one-time sidekick to Roy Rogers), Fred Rogers picked up counsel that he wouldn’t forget. He asked what the actor thought of as he looked at the camera, knowing there were a lot of people out there watching.


“He said, ‘Freddie, I just think of one little Buckaroo,’” Rogers recalled. “And I thought this was superb advice…He evidently thought of one child.”


Indeed, when Mister Rogers later faced the camera in his own TV neighborhood, many children felt that he was speaking directly to them, one on one. He addressed their unspoken fears – about controlling their anger and frustration; a loved one’s illness; the possibility of spiraling like water into the bathtub drain…


In effect, Fred Rogers turned a mass medium into hundreds of thousands of personal talks. In the television/video industry, we call this uncommon phenomenon “breaking the glass.”


At a national PBS conference that I attended, a speaker asked how many PBS staffers had entered the field because they were inspired by Mister Rogers. Scores of people stood up, many of them in their mid-20s and 30s.


As genuine as Fred Rogers was found to be by those who knew him well, his caring manner was parodied mercilessly by late-night comedy shows.


Rogers shrugged off the barbs, even appearing on the shows that made fun of him.


And he always assured children that “the greatest gift you give is your honest self.”


Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood welcomed us into its cheerful, positive environs until 2001. Fred Rogers died in 2003, at age 74.


His observations remain more apt than ever, including the theme that he shared those decades ago with the MTV producer:


What our society gives us is shallow and complicated. Life is deep and simple.


Aloha nui,


Leslie signature



Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, the pioneering PBS series that premiered nationally 50 years ago, is an enduring landmark in the world of children’s television and beyond. Hosted by Michael Keaton, this commemorative special features Whoopi Goldberg, Chris Kratt, John Lithgow, Yo-Yo Ma and Esperanza Spalding, along with and neighbors “Handyman” Joe Negri and David “Mr. McFeely” Newell.



The Power to Overcome


The film Kū Kanaka/Stand Tall told Kanalu Young’s remarkable story about a courageous journey – emerging from personal tragedy to find a new meaning and passion for life. Some of us make that journey and find our way despite a childhood of unimaginable neglect. Join us for an inspirational INSIGHTS with people who found the power to overcome.


Your questions and comments are welcome via phone, email and via Twitter during the Live Broadcast.


Phone Lines:
462-5000 on Oahu or 800-238-4847 on the Neighbor Islands.




Join our live discussion using #pbsinsights


Have We Changed?


The 2016 Presidential Election will be remembered for many things. The ongoing rancor that drove the energy of this election may be a force that’s here to stay.


What about us? Has the meanness movement reach our shores? Locally, issues like rail, homelessness and GMOs have created disagreement and division among Hawai‘i people. Real tension among families and friends. Dissent between island communities.


Our own political campaigns have become meaner and increasingly negative. Voter apathy is attributed to a loss of confidence and trust in our leadership and the political process.


Have we changed?


Your questions and comments are welcome via phone, email and via Twitter during the Live Broadcast.


Phone Lines:
462-5000 on Oahu or 800-238-4847 on the Neighbor Islands.




Join our live discussion using #pbsinsights


Can-Do Teachers

Can-Do Teachers: Teachers at PBS Hawaii - Terrance T.C. Ching Campus


Leslie Wilcox, President and CEO of PBS HawaiiA Hawaiian proverb tells us:

To prepare for 1 year, plant kalo.
To prepare for 10 years, plant koa.
To prepare for 100 years, teach the children.

Here at PBS Hawai‘i, count us in for the third option!


Our programming for all ages is designed to nourish minds, and Hawai‘i teachers are very much a part of this educational television/multimedia center.


About 80 digital media teachers from all over the state – private, public and charter school educators – recently met for a workshop in our cheerful new building. These professionals are teaching and learning at the same time, preparing their students for the future in a fast-changing world.


The teaching connection at PBS Hawai‘i is baked in. Our very first general manager was a teacher at the University of Hawai‘i at Manoa, Robert M. Reed, who established this organization in the 1960s to show the value of television as a teaching aid.


Several chapters of the Hawai‘i Alpha Delta Kappa organization of women educators have long served as volunteers here, overseeing young keiki and students at our events and handling paperwork. ADK members and tireless retired teachers Jean Kiyabu and Julie Shimonishi have served on our Board of Directors.


Another Board member is the extraordinary Candy Suiso of Wai‘anae High School, who many years ago set the stage for PBS Hawai‘i’s HIKI NŌ statewide student news network, by sharing digital media with her students. They became engaged learners and continue to be a potent force in creative youth media, locally and nationally.


Thanks to generous funding from former San Francisco educator Joyce Stupski and her Stupski Family Fund of the Hawai‘i Community Foundation, we are able to provide the schools’ HIKI NŌ teachers with storytelling mentors and training in journalism and video production.


It was a retired public elementary school teacher, Honolulu’s Karen Watanabe, who actually completed our building campaign by leaving us a large gift when she passed away at age 89. She loved math and liked to play the markets.


Leeward O‘ahu’s Teacher of the Year, the innovative Luane Higuchi of Wai‘anae Intermediate, has written a letter urging islanders to invest in children through PBS Hawai‘i.


We’re most grateful and very proud to stand alongside Hawai‘i’s teachers in planting a “can-do” spirit and learning and workforce skills, in preparing children for the future.


A hui hou – until next time…
Leslie signature


The Forever Wisdom of Dr. Wayne Dyer


Celebrate the late iconic thinker Wayne Dyer’s wisdom, teachings and unique ability to translate abstract ideas into down-to-earth lessons that can be applied to everyday life. This inspirational memorial tribute includes memorable stories, both funny and soulful.


Clarissa Chun


Original air date: Tues., May 8, 2012


Long before winning an Olympic bronze medal in wrestling, Clarissa Chun started competing in judo at age 7. By the time she took up wrestling at Roosevelt High School, Clarissa was unfazed about grappling with both boys and girls. Clarissa talks to Leslie Wilcox about her experiences in what she calls a “fun but gruesome” sport — one that until recently faced an uncertain Olympic future.


Download the Transcript




Gearing up for that match, you would have thought I was crazy, ‘cause I was hitting myself, pulling my hair. I was like, no one’s gonna beat me up but myself. So, I just gotta go out there and compete and have fun doing it. I’m not gonna let her beat me up.


Wrestling is traditionally a man’s sport, but a woman from Hawaii is breaking down barriers with international success in the sport of female wrestling. Olympic bronze medalist Clarissa Chun, next, on Long Story Short.


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


From a young age, Clarissa dreamed about competing in the Olympics, but not as a wrestler. Growing up on Oahu, Chun was a five – time national judo champion, and competed on her high school swim team. As fate would have it, women’s wrestling became a sanctioned sport in Hawaii high school athletics in 1998. Drawing on her judo background, Clarissa tried out for the wrestling team at Roosevelt High School in Honolulu. It was a move that would alter the course of her life.


Really, it was my sophomore year, after swimming State tournament. I don’t know; I always thought that I could do more in swimming. But at four – eleven, I was just, ah, okay, not getting to where —


You didn’t have Michael Phelps sized feet or anything like that?


No, I didn’t have his —




Yeah. So, I was like, oh, I love my swimming team. It was really hard for me to be — I don’t know, ‘cause I’m competitive. I want to be better, I want to do more. And I had friends who did judo, and a lot of them were wrestlers, and come out for wrestling. And I was like, I’ll try it. And it was a nice transition, judo to —


Judo helped you a lot, I imagine.


Yeah; it helped me a lot. I remember not really learning — I learned takedowns and stuff, but never really used it. [CHUCKLE] ‘Cause I would just throw people. Then when I started, it was against guys. It was the first —


There wasn’t a girls wrestling team?


That was the first year they had girls wrestling, but it was just me and another girl, so we didn’t make a full lineup. And they allowed females to wrestle guys during dual meets.


What was it like joining the boys wrestling team?


It was all right. It was nothing to me, really, ‘cause I grew up doing judo.


It might have been new to the boys who wrestled.


Yeah; to the boys. To the boys, it was.


‘Cause either way, I can see a certain mindset where they’d say, one, I don’t want to beat a girl.




And two, I don’t want to be beaten by a girl.


Yeah. So, at first, I think there was hesitation for some of the guys on the team. But I mean, we trained every day together; they get over it real fast. [CHUCKLE]


Is that right?


Yeah. Then it’s like —


There wasn’t some lingering, Oh, why does it have to be around her?


Yeah. No, it was like, I had a great team, so I can’t complain. I can’t say that I had much struggle there.


No resistance?


Yeah. My team would get a kick out of it if I’d win. [CHUCKLE] ‘Cause it’s like, yeah! [CHUCKLE] Poor guy and whatnot. And even still, I’ll see some of my old teammates, and they’re like, Oh, I bet those guys feel different now, like oh, it’s not so bad losing to a Olympian now. [CHUCKLE]


Well, when you would face off with each other, did you do any psychological stuff?




No? No trash talking?


No; I’m not good at stuff like that. I’m not.


It’s all straight – on competition?


Yeah. I don’t know if it comes from my judo background, or just my culture in general that it’s just, I’ve always respected my opponents. I never trash talk.


Throughout her long journey from Oahu to Beijing and to London, Clarissa Chun’s family has always been a huge influence in her life. She says that sibling rivalry with her older brother Shaun helped push her to compete in athletics at a young age.


Your mom and your dad have been so supportive of you. Do you get your competitive fire from them?


No; I don’t know where I get it from. [CHUCKLE] They’re so easygoing.   I mean, yeah, my dad’s super laid back, kinda softs – spoken kinda guy. And my mom’s complete opposite, very talkative. Maybe I get it from her. I don’t know. I probably get it from both in some way or another. But yeah, she’s the one that always goes and goes. She would be the one that would drop us off, pick us up and run all over the place.


Sort of a whatever it takes mindset, which is what an athlete has too.


Right; right.


You’ve mentioned your brother; three years older than you, Shaun.


M – hm.


What part has he played in your sports career? Because I believe athletically he did encourage you.


Oh, yeah.   It didn’t just start and stop at judo. Even growing up, when we were doing judo, he was bigger than me, he would always pick on me. We’d fight a lot.




Physically and just play tricks on me. I don’t know, just be the big prankster brother that he was. [CHUCKLE] But yeah, and still to this day. Well, before I made the decision, when I went off to college, he was like, Why not take the scholarship and try wrestling? ‘Cause I was kind of at a crossroads. I’m like, Missouri? I don’t know. And he said, If you don’t like it, you can always come back and go judo or whatever route you want. And so he kinda helped guide me to that decision.


I heard somebody describe wrestling once. I think it was a collegiate level wrester saying, It’s the tactical manipulation of your opponent to take control, normally through pain.




Would you agree?


Yeah. When you’re on the mat competing, it may sound dirty to say that you want to cause pain to your opponent. But at that level, I feel like … I mean at that level, there’s so many different styles of wrestlers. You can be the tactical and strategic and fluid, you can be the brute and abrasive. I remember, I think, one time I was in Russia, and I felt like I got punched in the eye during my match. And I’m like, Whoa, where did that come from? Like, how? And I was just thrown off for a second. And it just got me off focus like that. And any time you can — not saying that I’ve ever punched anyone in the eye or anything during a match, but whatever her strategy was, it worked. In the wrestling world against females, it gets pretty intense sometimes.


You mean, when females oppose females?


Yeah. It almost seems worse, ‘cause it becomes kind like, claws come out, hair gets pulled. Which is why I chop my hair off. And I even got bit my first round at the Olympics.


What do people know you as, do you think? I mean, everyone has ways of pigeonholing or just have some kind of short description.




What’s yours?


Well, I’ve heard people say that I’m quick, I move fast. There’s a move that they like.


What’s it called?


I don’t even know what it’s called. Actually, I learned it off watching video from the Russians. The men Russian video. Yeah; so just playing around with that with a friend in practice.


What do you do?


I just attack with my legs, rather than my arms. ‘Cause it’s a little bit of judo in a sense, but it’s not really a judo technique. Most takedowns, people would expect that I would shoot with my arms, not with my legs.


So where are you kicking them?


Behind their leg, and I’m wrapping around them, and then bringing my arm behind to secure it in a sense. So, yeah, it’s a little funky, people would say.


So, you just mentioned the word funky. So, I’ve just got to ask you; it’s probably really trivial and unimportant. But I know I’ve met women who’ve said they would never consider going into the man’s sport of wrestling at the time.


Uh – huh.


Because of the stinky factor.


Yeah; it can get gross. [CHUCKLE]   The mats; yeah, it gets funky. And the smell, in each country or region, they have a certain funk to themselves too. But I don’t know, I guess it’s just one of those — it may bother us for a split second, like, Oh, gosh, that’s horrible.




You know.


That’s another of those gruesome things.


Yeah. One of those gruesome things.


Clarissa Chun attended Missouri Valley College on a wrestling scholarship. In 2002, women’s wrestling became an official Olympic sport, and Chun set her sights on Olympic competition. In 2008, she qualified for Team USA and competed in the Olympic Games in Beijing.


I think a lot of folks in Hawaii know what it’s like when you have to go from JV to Varsity in high school, and then you decide if you’re gonna go collegiate, and a lot of people — No, I’m out of there, I’m not gonna perform at that level. And then, of course, you went beyond that.




What’s different about the Olympic level?


Oh …


The highest level of the sport.


Oh, man. I think … and in every aspect, there’s discipline. In high school, you had to be disciplined about schoolwork along with practice. Being at practice and giving it your all in practice. And it carried over into college. And then at the Olympic level, it was even more focused. This is what I do every day; I wake up, I train. Gotta make sure I eat right to fuel my body for practices, to recover from practices. And making sure I do all the right things, meaning sleeping at a decent time. When I was in high school, I was a terrible eater. I would eat all kinds of junk food; li hing mui, everything and anything. And I wasn’t really the greatest at sleeping. I’d get home late and sleep late, and wake up early ‘cause I live so far. I don’t know; at the Olympic level, especially the year before, it just seems the energy becomes more intense ‘cause everyone wants it. Everyone wants that spot. And for women’s wrestling, there’s only four.


Okay; you walked away from the 2008 Olympics empty – handed. You came in fifth.


I know; it was terrible.


But next time, you won the Bronze. Did you notice anything that allowed you intensify or do something different?


Differently; yeah. Well, in 2008, it was my first Olympics. But at the same time, when I lost in the semis, I couldn’t get over it. That match was done but I still kept thinking about that match. I was emotionally … I was on an emotional rollercoaster.


But you had lost before and gotten over losses.




But this was different?


‘Cause it was the Olympics. In 2008, I was like, I should be going for Gold. I could have done — I regretted not giving even a little bit more in my semifinals match. Then my coach told me, That’s in the past, fight for third. You’re still fighting for a medal. And so, I’d be upset that I wasn’t in the Gold Medal match, I’d be sad for myself that I wasn’t in the Gold match. I’d be angry and like, I’m gonna beat up the next person I gotta wrestle. So I was on a rollercoaster ride.


After her fifth – place finish in the 2008 Olympic Games, Clarissa Chun refocused her training beyond the physical aspects of wrestling. In 2012, she qualified again for Team USA and returned to the Olympic Games, this time in London.


And I remember before the 2012 Olympics, I sought out a sports psychologist consistently. I’ve worked with sports psychologists before in the past, but it was sporadic. It was more that I had to find my weaknesses, and then work on them. On and off the mat.


How do you do mental training? I want to learn some of that.




How do you do that?


Breathing techniques or concentration drills, or … let’s see, meditation.


And that’s all about controlling your thoughts.




So that they’re positive in terms of what you need to do.


M – hm; yup. Yup. So, it’s just like visualization. A lot of that.


What do you visualize?


Getting my hand raised.




Hearing the National Anthem.


So, it’s not this —




— boom, takedown.


Well, sometimes.


It’s more like, Hello, everyone.


Yeah. No, no, no.


Gold star winner.


No, no. [CHUCKLE] They just raise their hand.




Like brute style, right? Gladiator. [CHUCKLE] But sometimes it is technique. Feeling the mat, your surroundings, hearing he cheers and the crowd. It’s very detailed.


But you have to be able to do that when you need to.


Yeah. It’s kinda like zoning in, being in the moment. In 2012, when I lost, I felt that well, I gotta keep winning to … basically fight for my medal. My emotions were more focused. I contained emotions, as far as I didn’t go on a rollercoaster ride.


How could you do it the next Olympics, when you hadn’t done it the first one? What did you learn in between?


Just … letting it go, I guess. Letting that match go. I couldn’t let go of it in 2008; and ’12, I could. I just focused on the match in front of me. And preparing for my Bronze medal match, that one was tough, because it was the female that beat me in 2008 for the Bronze. So I was like, Oh … I had to be mentally tough, and physically tough.


I thought I read something about how at some point during that match or the series of matches, you looked at the podium and you remembered you didn’t get to go up there the last time.


Oh, yeah. It was my match against Poland, the girl who bit me. They were setting up the podium behind her.   And I had to beat her in order to go into the medal round.


I see.


So, her back was towards the podium, and I was facing it. So, I kinda passed her. I already had lost the first period to her, and before the second period I kinda glimpsed past her and I was like don’t let this slip through kinda thing. I want to get on there, and I’m so close. And that’s when I did my painful front headlock throw on her, [CHUCKLE] and then pinned her. And I was like, Yay! Okay; next. [CHUCKLE]


I understand you had quite a crowd from Hawaii cheering for you.




How many people came?


I think thirty – eight. Yeah.


Who were they?


My family. My mom, dad, brother, my judo family. So, my old judo sensei and my judo teammates, my high school friends. Even some of my swimming friends that I swam with at Rooselvelt came. My high school wrestling coach and his brother and his family came out. So, I was just very blessed to have such a good solid cheering crowd.




M – hm; yeah.



Clarissa Chun has competed in a host of other national and international wrestling competitions beyond the Olympics. In 2012, she also won a gold medal at the Pan Am Games. Over the years, the sport has taken a physical toll on her, but don’t expect this champion to tap out any time soon.


We sent a little questionnaire to you, just asking you for basic information before you came. And I was so amused by what you said about wrestling. You said it’s a fun, if gruesome sport.








Are you talking about injuries?


Everything. Just training and injuries. I feel you’re lucky if you can walk away injury – free. Meaning, just come out with no injuries at all. Luckier if you can walk away without any surgery to be done. And I know some friends who’ve walked away from the sport without having to get surgeries, but injuries are —


So, you’ve had at least three surgeries.   Four?


Three on my shoulder, two on my knee.


Two on your knees.


One on my elbow. [CHUCKLE]


Were those breaks? What kind of injuries?


Two of them were cleanups, and the rest were tears.


Cleanup from what?


So, my elbow had bone spurs floating around. So, just go in, take those out. Knee was ACL, and then the cleanup was, just shaving of — it would get frayed and get locked up, and they would just clean the bone up.


Same shoulder?


Yeah. Well, three shoulder surgeries. So, there’s two on one side, and one on the other. And those were all tearing. Yeah.


You must be very good at handling pain.




Have you always had a high threshold for pain?


I think so. Yeah, I think so. That’s the only time my family gets concerned. Each time I get a surgery, they’re like, How much longer are you gonna do this? Are you sure you want to continue?


Athletes generally have short competitive careers. Now in her thirties, Clarissa Chun knows that the 2016 Olympic Games could be her last run at Olympic Gold.


And the third time around in the Olympics for you —




I wonder if that means you’ll have further increase in control and awareness.


I hope so.


And ability to focus on just that.


Oh, yeah. I can’t wait for that moment to click. It’s like an everyday thing when I’m in training. Sports psychology is … mental training is just as crucial as physical training. It’s something that I practiced and trained every week.


Have you thought about what, after that?


Oh … I have. I’m just not sure. I even thought about that prior to making this journey to 2016. ‘Cause it was like, Oh, should I go into coaching? There’s this program in New York called Beat the Streets for inner city New York kids. Teach them wrestling. And there’s a wrestling club in New Jersey was well. I thought about that. I’ve had people come up to me and ask me if I want to be a coach or an assistant coach at a college program. I wish we had no expiration date on an athletic career.




I wish I could go ‘til the end of time. But it’s just one of those — I’m at my career in my life where I am like, the older age of competing.


In your early thirties.


Yeah. And I’ve even known some who competed in their late thirties.


You mentioned mixed martial arts a bit ago.


M – hm.


Which is pretty much anything goes.




Would you ever feel comfortable doing something like that?


I don’t know. I get offers, and I get asked a lot. ‘Cause a lot of my friends who were wrestlers are doing it now. A lot of the top guys who compete in MMA were top level wrestlers, and they try to get me to go to that side. [CHUCKLE] I call it the dark side. No, I’m just joking. [CHUCKLE]


But it has some appeal to you?




Because you like to compete.




And that’s anything goes.




You can bring out your whole arsenal.


Yeah. It’s funny, ‘cause when I talked to my mom and dad about it, and even my brother, but more my mom and dad, and the look on their face; they’re like, Ooh. ‘Cause that’s a whole kind of different beast to them. ‘Cause wrestling, there’s still rules.




In MMA, there’s rules, but a lot less rules. You’re getting kicked in the face, hit in the face, punched, whatever. You’re getting choked out, someone’s trying to rip your arms off, or break your knees, your ankles, whatever. And I mean, when I think about it that way, I’m like, Whoo! [CHUCKLE]


Especially when you see them making big body, tan – ta – ra before.




And they say, I’m gonna kill that guy.




You think, Wow, you know, actually, they could.


Yeah. [CHUCKLE] They’re beasts, right?


Is there anything you regret giving up or sacrificing for this Olympic dream?


No. I enjoy every moment of the Olympics, from making the team to even after making the team. Or even after the Olympics is done. After my first Olympic experience, I was like, What winter sport can I do? [CHUCKLE] Because I want to go to every single Olympics, and I absolutely love the spirit of it. I love how each country can come together. I love how each sport can come together within each country. I don’t know, I just love everything about it.


Women’s freestyle wrestling Olympic Bronze Medalist Clarissa Chun recently signed with a new coach in the hopes of expanding her wrestling repertoire. When we talked with her, she was preparing to return to the U.S. mainland to begin another round of training. Expect to see Clarissa Chun go for the Gold in the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Mahalo to Clarissa Chun for sharing her story 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.


I’m looking forward to the six o’clock morning practices sometimes. It’s just I’m ready for that routine, I’m ready to get back in shape and start doing what I love. I mean, I’m enjoying my time at home, but it’s just each day goes by, I think, How can I better myself for 2016?


Al Harrington


Original air date: Tues., Nov. 20, 2012


A Cup Half Full


From humble beginnings in American Samoa to a hardscrabble life in Hawaii, Al Harrington has always been able to find the positives in life: a loving, supportive family; teachers who taught the value of a good education; and friends who helped him survive when the going got tough.


Download: Al Harrington, A Cup Half Full Transcript



Original air date: Tues., Nov. 27, 2012


A Life of Gratitude


From humble beginnings in American Samoa to a hardscrabble life in Hawaii, Al Harrington has always been able to find the positives in life: a loving, supportive family; teachers who taught the value of a good education; and friends who helped him survive when the going got tough.


Download: Al Harrington, A Life of Gratitude Transcript




Part 1: A Cup Half Full


I think you see things as blessings, when other people would say, you know, My life just got torn up.


Yeah, for me, I like the cup being half full, rather than being half empty. And I’m not sure where that came from, but it’s always been a kind of a natural thing for me.


And you’ve needed that cup as you’ve gone along, haven’t you?


Right. [CHUCKLE]


A cup half full; we’ve all heard the expression, but how many of us really live on that side of life, the positive side, making the best of everything that’s thrown at us? That is the life of Al Harrington.


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


Aloha; I’m Leslie Wilcox. Have you ever taken stock of the people who have influenced your life? Your teachers, friends, loved ones, all those who have helped make you who you are, and in some instances, maybe even saved your life. Al Harrington, star athlete, teacher, actor, entertainer, started his life as Al Taa. He counts his blessings every day, and he never forgets the people who have filled his cup of life.


Where were you born?


I was actually born in American Samoa, in a little town called Malaeimi, which was next to the Mormon town called Mapusaga, which is about fifteen from Pago Pago, the major harbor.


And your family, at some point, established the Mormon Church in American Samoa.


Yes. My great-grandfather was amongst the first big chiefs, a chief called Suapaia. That was the title name. And he was amongst the first to be converted into the Mormon Church. But the conversion was interesting, because what happened is, one of his sons, Uncle Salu, had fallen off a horse and had wounded his leg rather seriously. And so, like us Polynesians do, we had the spiritual people come and bless him, and do the herbs, and all of these things. But he still never healed. So, on a Sunday afternoon, the family gathered together at my grandfather’s house. And just a week before, they had brought the Catholic priest in, ‘cause we were all Catholics at that particular time. And he was supposed to have blessed my uncle, but the wound did not heal. He still walked with a limp. And on that particular Sunday that I just mentioned, two Mormon missionaries—[CHUCKLE] and this is interesting. Because in the old days, the Mormon missionaries were called kaupoi. Cowboys.




Because they all came with jeans and boots, and a lot of them wore these cowboy clothes. So, one of my uncles said to my grandfather, he says, Let’s call the local kaupoi, let’s call the kaupois come in. [CHUCKLE]   And I’m saying it just like the Samoan accent, kaupoi. It’s not cowboy. [CHUCKLE] So, they bring the two missionaries in, and they asked them, Okay, we want you to bless our uncle … my son, my grandfather. [CHUCKLE] And so, they do that. And a week later, he’s walking normally. So, being the kind of spiritual, simple faith people we are, we says, Well, maybe this more right than the other one. [CHUCKLE] So, we convert.


So, the transformation.


So much of Hawaii’s culture comes from people who emigrated here from other lands. Chinese, Japanese, Filipinos, and Samoans; even Hawaiians came from elsewhere. Many moved to Hawaii to find work, to follow family, to reap the rewards of a mid-Pacific paradise. And some, like the family of young Al Taa, later Al Harrington, were compelled to move because of their faith and a hunger for higher education.


So, we become converted in Western Samoa. And then the Mormon leadership was preaching to us as we get converted. We should leave Samoa and go get educated. Get education either in America, or Hawaii, and come back and build Samoa. So that’s how we get oriented towards coming to Hawaii. So that’s why in about 1950, in the 50s, late 40s and late 50s, there’s a grand migration of Samoans coming from Samoa to Hawaii. Part of it is the Mormon conversion.


And your mother was part of that.


And my mother was part of that. What happened was, my—[CHUCKLE] this is a great social drama that takes place. ‘Cause my father at that time was supposed to have been one of the great athletes of American Samoa.

Well, knowing you, I believe that.


Right. Well, there’s a line, there’s a line there. And, amongst the first to graduate from the Marist Brothers School, which is a Catholic high school. It was supposed to be one of the finest high schools in the Pacific. So he graduates, and he courts my mother, marries her, and then has me and my sister, and another brother that dies. So it’s me and my sister. So, after the marriage and settlement and so on, he’s supposed to come to Hawaii, and then work here, and then send for us. So, that’s what happens. That’s how we get to Hawaii. He comes here, and he works. But the human drama is such that when he gets here, he falls in love with this wonderful Hawaiian woman.


Oh …


The Kalama clan. See, part of the Kalama’s, Leimomi, and she was gorgeous, beautiful Hawaiian lady. And then, he ends up marrying her, and then my mom [CHUCKLE] comes here and finds out that, you know, this has happened. This is the human drama. And my mom, being the warrior woman that she is, goes to work as a nurse’s aide. Because in Samoa, she worked as a nurse’s aide on the Island of Tutuila. And she earns enough money to send for me and my aunt, Auntie Tino. But she and I come on the Mariposa to Hawaii.


And your sister is with your grandmother?


And my sister is with Grandma. Mele is with Grandma. So we come here, and then we begin our life here. And Mom is working as a nurse, and Auntie Tino goes to high school, evolves as a person, and then I go to Liholiho School in Kaimuki. ‘Cause we lived on 10th Avenue.


And you actually lived in lots of different places as you grew up.




Why is that? All over the island, it seems.


[CHUCKLE] I don’t know, but I’m not sure for all of the sociological reasons, but I only knew that, okay, Mom would say, You go stay with Dad for a while, and then I would go and stay with my dad and my stepmother, Leimomi. I was very blessed. I was very blessed with people like my stepmother Leimomi, ‘cause she was very educated. Kam School graduate, had scholarships, potential scholarships to go to University of Michigan and other places. But she met my dad, and she settled down. But she was very education-conscious, conscious of speaking proper English, and et cetera, et cetera.


Your life sure changed a lot quickly.




I mean, lots of movement. I think you see things as blessings, when other people would say, My life just got torn up.


Yeah, for me, I like the cup being half full, rather than being half empty. And I’m not sure where that came from, but it’s always been kind of a natural thing for me.


And you’ve needed that cup as you’ve gone along, haven’t you?


Right. [CHUCKLE]


To go through those transitions.


Right. So, this is what happens. I’m going between the two families, and I’m acquiring great knowledge in the Hawaiian community with Leimomi and my dad. And then, my mom now marries Harrington, who was here as a soldier. And Mom meets him on the beach, which I remember clearly, ‘cause we were all on the beach having family picnic.


And what happened?


And then, this Haole guy was out Ala Moana Beach by the reef, and he couldn’t get on his surfboard. So, I was about three years old and I’m watching this guy, we’re all watching this guy. So my mom swims out there, and helps the guy get on the board, and then invites him to come have dinner with us. So he never leaves. [CHUCKLES] So, they end up getting married, and then he becomes my stepfather. Milburn R. Harrington, who came from Iron Mountain, Michigan, up there in the upper peninsula. And through him, I acquired even greater insight in the use of the English language.


Yeah; at what point did you learn to speak English?


This is happening. This is happening as I’m going—


You’re a toddler.




You’re young.


Yeah, I’m moving back and forth. And part of it was just the fact that my dad was there, and he spoke very properly. I don’t really remember exactly when this took place, but he said to me at one time, he says, If you go Downtown, you see all the guys who work in the office, they all speak English. All the guys that work on the street, they speak Pidgin. So if you like work on the street or you like work in the office, you better learn how to speak English. So that kinda stuck. You know, that kinda stuck. So I tried, you know, I tried.


Did you speak Standard English in the home?


Yeah. Except with my mother, when she got mad at me, she swore at me in Samoan.


So, Al Harrington’s life in Hawaii as Al Taa had a tumultuous beginning—a broken family, constantly being shuffled from one home to another. And yet, he always saw the positive side of what other people would have seen as an upheaval. But Al Taa’s real journey had not yet begun. That journey started with Mrs. Abreu.


In first grade, I had Mrs. Abreu, this great Portuguese-Hawaiian woman. Big buggah. [CHUCKLE] She sit down on the chair, hang over, some stuff. But all of us small kids, we were afraid of her, ‘cause she was huge. And if you don’t get things right, man, she slap you, Mrs. Abreu. So, I figured out that if I could read well, she going like me. So, Dick and Jane books, yeah? So, I would take the Dick and Jane books, and I learned how to read before the reading lesson took place. You know, either night before, I would look at the books.


And did your parents tell you, you gotta study, you gotta work hard?






No, no. They didn’t. That doesn’t come in. It comes in more in the relationship with the teachers. Because I wanted the teachers to like me, you know.


So that you would have a pleasant time in class.




Or, so that they would respect you?


Well, part of it was respect, part of it was just needing some affection, needing some care, somebody to like you. Mrs. Abreu probably was the first affection that I’m getting outside of the family. You know, biological parents and non-biological parents. I mean, mother and father. So, she’s this big Hawaiian lady, great big smile. When she looked at you and smiled, you know, her whole face smiled. Made you feel, you know, like, Hoo, I’m good. [CHUCKLE]


So, you wanted to please Mrs. Abreu.


So, I wanted to please Mrs. Abreu. And so, that’s the beginning of my move towards academic excellence. It wasn’t just because I was interested, but I wanted to please her.


All Al Taa, later Al Harrington, was trying to do was to make Mrs. Abreu happy. But, Mrs. Abreu’s class was the beginning of Al’s journey into educational excellence. And he did so well, other teachers and school principals took notice.


So, I go to Laie, I’m living with my father and Leimomi. My mother. I feel such great affection for that lady. [CHUCKLE] So, we moved to Laie. And then, I go to Laie School, and the teacher there, Mrs. Enos, is another one. I remember teachers, ‘cause they were all good to me. So, Mrs. Enos says to the principal, I think his name was Kanahele. He was a Kanahele. And she says to him, Maybe we better move him up to the next, because we might hold him back at this grade. So, I go to the fifth grade. And that’s how I skipped the fifth grade, because again how important teachers are to kids. Because when I think about the teachers that were good to me, that’s what gave me a leg up. Gave me a leg up in dealing with the social challenges and economic challenges to come later. And then later on, we move from Manoa Housing to Halawa Housing, and then I go to Aiea School. At Aiea School, there’s the principal, Griswold, Charles Griswold. These names stick in my head. And, Charles Griswold sees four of us that are going to Aiea School, Aiea Intermediate, and he says, Four of you should go and take the test to go to Kamehameha. Because, he sees some potential in us. Again, a teacher’s vision, right? A teacher looking at a student and saying, Okay, there’s potential here, let’s see what we can do with it. So, the four of us go to take the test at Kamehameha, we all pass the test, and we’re all getting ready to go to Kamehameha School. Except, Kent was the president, Colonel Kent of Kamehameha, and they write me a letter saying that, you know, Sorry, the other three can come, but you cannot come because you’re not Hawaiian. Now, living in Halawa Housing, you’re running around with all these bla-la’s, all these bruddahs. We’re doing all kind crazy kind stuff together, and you don’t know if you’re Samoan, Portagee, Filipino, or whatever. We’re just running together.


So, all of a sudden, you became aware of this distinction between you.


Yeah; exactly.


How did that feel?


Sore. [CHUCKLE] Sore; yeah.


So, they started going to Kamehameha.




And there you were.


Of the three guys, Danny Fuller was one of the great football players who eventually goes to Purdue, University of Purdue. But Griswold says to my dad, since I didn’t get into Kam School, You should go take the test to go to Punahou. And I said to him, I no like go to that Haole school. And my dad says, Well, maybe you gotta go over there and learn how the Haoles do stuff.


Now, which dad is this? Your stepdad?


This is my adopted father; my stepdad.


So your Haole stepdad is saying, You should check out the Haole school?


Yeah. Because he’s a policeman at Wahiawa precinct, but we live in Halawa Housing.


Because he had so many kids?


[CHUCKLE] Yeah. Because now, there’s nine kids, you see? Now, there’s nine kids and I’m the oldest of the ten. So he says to me, Maybe you ought to go. And I told him, I no like go that school. It happened then, that the captain of his precinct in Wahiawa was Curtis Iaukea’s father.


Oh, Curtis Iaukea was a Punahou grad.


Yeah, Punahou grad.


The wrestler.


Yeah. My dad goes to Curtis Iaukea and tells him about what happened.


Did your dad take offense that you said you didn’t want to go to a Haole school?






My dad didn’t, because he had a sense of what Hawaii’s … that’s one thing about my dad, my stepfather, or adopted father was, he had big picture vision of things. And so, he understood what the situation was. So, he goes to Curtis Iaukea, his captain, and he tells the captain about that I want him to go to Punahou. So the captain comes to my house in Halawa Housing. And Curtis Iaukea’s father was big. I mean, when he walked in the door, he closed the light. No more light come through the door, ‘cause he’s big. As a matter of fact, the Iaukeas were consultants to Kamehameha. I mean, that family goes back to Kamehameha the Great. So, Mr. Iaukea walks in the door, and I look. I’m sitting at the table. [CHUCKLE] I said, I hope this buggah no give me lickin’. [CHUCKLE] So he walks in the door, he says, Eh, your father said you no like take the test to go Punahou. I says, No, I no like go the Haole school. And he looked at me; he says, I went Punahou. And then he looked at me and he says, So you better go take the test. So then, I said, Okay. [CHUCKLE]


So, Al was fulfilling his family’s calling to go to Hawaii to get educated. Who could ever have dreamed that this young man, the future overachiever, Al Harrington, would have the opportunity to enter one of the most prestigious learning institutes in the Pacific. As it turns out, there were many who believed in the young Al Taa.


So, there; I go to take the test at Punahou, I pass the test, and then I become influenced by some other people that eventually makes us see a bigger picture again. Amongst them, one was Dr. Fox. Dr. Fox, who was president of Punahou School. There were us Hawaiian boys that went, people from Hawaii that went to Punahou, and he kinda took us under his wing.


You’d already distinguished yourself athletically as well?


Yeah, I began to. [CHUCKLE]   ‘Cause in Halawa Housing, we’re not far from Japanese Camp, plantation camp and Borrinke Camp, Filipino Camp. And so, we all used to play baseball up in Aiea Community Center. But the best organization of baseball, and any sports, was the Japanese community. So, we were then playing in Barefoot League, playing baseball. And they were all very well organized. So, I began to play baseball.


No football?


Then, I started also playing Barefoot League. And I was only thirteen.


But people noticed.


Yeah. ‘Cause I had big feet. [CHUCKLE] But some kids that came out of there were already playing in high school. And it happened that Mr. Iaukea had heard that I had been playing in the athletic sports in these various leagues, local leagues. And so, that’s why when I went to take the test at Punahou, he kind of pushed the fact that I was also a good athlete. And at this particular time, you know, so many things happened. ‘Cause Dr. Fox was president of Punahou School, but he had not won a ILH championship in football. In baseball, he had, but in football he didn’t. But he loved football, so that’s why at this particular time, he was trying to recruit whatever Polynesians or whatever athletes he could get to play football. So, that opened the door for me also, besides the fact that I passed the test.


I read accounts of your playing football at Punahou at that time, because you were admitted.


M-hm; yeah.


As Al Taa, that was your name then.




And I know the longtime sports columnist, Bill Kwon called you up.




A man among boys, because they would pile on you, and if they managed to stop you, they’d untwist themselves from on top of you, and then you’d just get up and say, Eh, good going, good tackle. But you were hard to stop.


Well, I wasn’t the only one. Had others, like Danny Fuller, and the Abreus. There were some Abreus that were playing, and Yonamine, Wally Yonamine was before us.


What was your position?


I was a running back. I was a running back. But yes, it was nice of him to say that, but had other guys that were great too. So, that took us to Punahou.


And what about your concerns about no like going to the Haole school?


Again, you know what it is? Teachers. Having good teachers at Punahou. I remember these guys. Brogan taught me English. And this guy taught me Shakespeare. And he starts to speak in, this poetic sense of the English language. And I took to that. I said, Wow. You know. Rich; it was Mr. Rich who taught me Western Civ, and the fall of the Roman Empire, and all this kind stuff about the Mongols coming down, but made it colorful, made it real. And then, I had others who taught me economics and stuff like that. That’s what became intriguing, is the teachers that were there. There was Brogan. Kiefer was another one. And then Iams, James Iams was the athletic director.


How about social life? Because you’re a kid from Halawa Housing.




Son of a police officer.




Adopted son.




Or, he was soon to adopt you, but you were step kid to a police officer.


Never knew what Haole people were. ‘Cause us guys, we were out in the districts out in Halawa Housing. Everybody is one color, or we’re all mixed. And to be there, and then all of a sudden to see, wow. The management people were mostly Haoles at that time. Some Japanese, but mostly Haoles. So, what my father had told me, you know, began to ring true, you know, that all these guys that speak good English are the ones that are in management. Everybody else is doing the manual work. So then, I moved more in that direction, because of teachers, because of my dad.


What about friends? How about making friends there?


Oh, yeah. I made some great friends.


And when you were in sports, it is a family that welcomes you, right?




So you did a lot of stuff with fellow football players.


Yeah; yeah. The Espindas, AK Espinda and their family, they just kinda took me in. Charlie Henderson, whose father was president of Castle & Cooke, and you know, I would sleep at his house. And they had maids. And I’m looking, and then I remember this is really interesting. I went to this party at Lou Ann Dunkley’s house. And I walked in the house from the kitchen, and right as you get out of the kitchen you see this big freezer. The same kind freezer I saw at the Pake store down in Aiea. I look at the freezer, I said, Holy cow, these guys get one store in the house. So all of that kinda stuff then impacts me as to, Okay, how come they got that, and we no more that?


And what were your friends at Halawa Housing saying about, how come you never hang with us anymore?


Right. So my mother, the warrior woman that she is, I started to get famous as a football player, so the headlines were, Taa did this, and Taa did that. My mother looks at that, and she says, How come Taa, it’s Taa? He no support you. She said, Your daddy support you, Harrington support. [CHUCKLE] So, she goes to the courts and has my name changed. Changes my name to Harrington. So, I come home the summer of my my freshman year, I’m going into sophomore, and she says to me, Okay, that’s your dad now, your name is Harrington. I said, Oh, okay.


We all have difficult times in our lives, and when those difficulties do occur, we can choose to hide from the problems, or we can embrace them and learn from them. Al Taa, now Al Harrington, chose the latter. He chose the cup half full. For PBS Hawaii and Long Story Short, I’m Leslie Wilcox. A hui hou kakou.


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


People who know you well, they use a couple of adjectives to describe you most. And I think it goes without saying, you know, they feel like you’ve got a good brain and great athletic ability, but they say what really sets you apart is your hard work and your tenacity.




Where does that come from?


That comes from my mom. It’s the warrior spirit of my mother. My mother, when she make up her mind that this is going to get done, it gets done. And you know, I believe that if I don’t do as well as you do, I can either out-work you, or I’m gonna out-hustle you.


Part 2: A Life of Gratitude


I’m basically born in a grass shack.




Literally. In this little village of Malaeimi. And then I get a shot to come here … go to school, and then I go back to Samoa on a mission, and I see these kids carrying bundles of bananas and stuff to cook, and watching them. And I look at that, and I said, By the grace of God, that could be me. That could be me. But we were given a shot at it. We were given a shot at it.


And sometimes, all you need is that one shot. Al Harrington took that one shot…that opportunity, along with the many more that followed…and turned them into a life filled with teachers, mentors, academic, athletic and entertainment success, family, and gratitude.


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


Aloha mai kakou. If you mention the name Al Harrington to ten people, you might get ten responses as to how they know of him. Some may remember him as a star football player at Punahou in the 1950s…some may recall that he played the role of Ben Kokua in the original Hawaii Five-O. And others may fondly remember his cabaret show during the heydays of Waikiki. For every one of those roles that Al has played in his life, he can recall the person or persons responsible for his success…and the moments when these people changed his life. A life filled with gratitude.


So, your mom had said, You’re now Harrington. And you said?


Right. Oh, okay.


Just like that?


Just like that. Okay. Because … of his goodness. My dad, the Irishman that adopted me was such a big picture guy, and he knew—I mean, here I am, I’m raising his kids, all these hapa kids in the family. And I’m helping him as much as I can as a boy. But he was good to me.


Tell me how that went over with the Halawa Housing kids.




Because you went to the Haole school—




—and now you have a Haole name.


Right. So, I go to school the next—the fall of my sophomore year. And they’re saying, Al Harrington is now the running back at Punahou. And everybody in the town is saying, Who—wow, they got one new Haole kid at Punahou. And then one time when the name … the kids in Halawa Housing began to realize, ho, my name Harrington now, one of those kids came up to me when I got off the bus and he hit me like this. He said, So what, you like be Haole? Come over here, I teach you how to be Haole.


[CHUCKLE] What did you do? What did you say?


So, I had to fight my way. And then of course, we had a few bumps and grinds here, and then after that, then they accepted it. [CHUCKLE]


And how did you feel about it?


Well, I felt good about it. The real truth is I felt good about it. Because I really loved him. He never underestimated my intelligence. He always thought that whatever I wanted to do, you could do.


So the Samoan boy formerly known as Al Ta‘a was now Al Harrington. The boy who was born in a grass shack was enrolled in Punahou. With the help of so many, Al’s life was changing…his potential for success was rising. And then along came…Stanford University.


Charlie Henderson was—they lived in Diamond Head. I mean, ho, that house. It’s right next door to the Dillingham, what you call, estate. So, I used to go there and spend the weekend there. Charlie Henderson’s father, Mr. Henderson, was really good to us guys that came and spent the night. I remember sitting down having breakfast, and Charlie is showering, and the old man would come and sit down and have breakfast with me. And he would talk to me, you know. Talk to me, in his pajamas. The buggah would come and sit down, talk to me and tell me [SNIFF] ask me about what—how or day is, and how we’re doing in school, and all that kinda stuff. So that makes an impression.


Yeah, you mattered.


Yeah. Exactly. And I don’t have to, ‘cause he could buy me. The guy had enough money, he could buy my—the Halawa Housing, he could buy that building. But here he is, he sits down and talks to me and he says, Well, you guys gotta get ready for college, Charlie’s gonna go to Dartmouth. And then when it comes time for me to go to college … it’s—becomes a part of it, because the group of guys that I’m running with, running around with, they’re all oriented towards that already.




In Halawa Housing, I would have gone to Waipahu School, and I would have said to myself, Oh, I going be one mechanic, I going to do something else. But the orientation is different at Punahou.


So, you believed you were going to college, but you didn’t know how you were—




—get there.


It’s funny, ‘cause I came home one day and I said to my mom, I said, Ma, dakine, Mr. Iams and the athletic director, they said that I should go college. And my mom …




What is that? ‘Cause … she’s just from Samoa. She said … I said, That’s a school after high school. So we get ready for it. And then, my dad, he got the big picture, and he says, That’s good, let’s get ourselves ready for that.


I suspect Mr. Henderson admired you, because of what—




—you could do on the football field.


Part of it was that, because Punahou had not taken the championship in twenty-nine years, and here his son is on the team that was on the verge of making it [SNIFF], of doing it.


And it was an amazing group of guys, and—


Oh, yeah.


And you were the standout, I would say.


Well there was a lot of standouts, you know, Brooks was on that team.


Oh, that’s true; that’s true. Okay; so it was a fabulous team.


Yeah. Yeah. Curtis Iaukea was on that team, the Ane brothers was on that team.


Wow; okay.


Yeah. Then you had AK Espinda, who eventually goes to Purdue, and all of these kids what you call, Wendell goes to Cal, University of California. All of us, from there, we go on to bigger and better things, and Punahou was good to us. And then, I find myself at Stanford.


Stanford came calling.


Can you believe it?


Did you have other choices too, besides—




—Stanford? What’d you have?


Well I sound like I’m bragging. But I could have gone to Ivy League schools like Princeton, Harvard, Yale. So they sent me up there to go visit these schools. And they sent me up there when it was so cold … froze my okole off up on the East Coast. So immediately, I said, I no like go school over here. So then, Dr. Fox comes in, and he suggests that I go to Stanford. And I was—at this particular time, I had become fairly close to Dr. Fox, because he was [SNIFF] there as a counselor and all—helping all of us as members of the team. So then, that move me in that direction.


Most times, our successes define our lives. When we conquer, overcome, adapt, and succeed, we usually take a step up. But those rare occasions when we don’t succeed can also be defining moments…forcing us to consider other options, to seek a totally different direction.


Tell me about playing football at Stanford. What was that like?


Oh, my … [SIGH] … challenging. Very challenging. I found that I became much more comfortable in the classroom, and I began to get a little bit tired of football.


Why? What happened on the football field?


I wasn’t as successful as I wanted to be, number one. Number two, I didn’t know how to handle the coaches. I was the darkest guy on the football team.


Did you feel counted out by them? Did you feel minimized?


See, if I say yes, then it sounds like I’m complaining. If I say no … then it’s not the true picture, completely true picture.


So they did minimize you?


From my point of view … from my point of view, there was a little bit of that.


Why? Do you think they didn’t think you were smart?


I’m not really sure. I think a lot of it, too, was my own insecurity. There were some insecurity. As much as you say to yourself that you’re secure in the situation, but there are some subtleties of things there. So, I became very much comfortable doing what I was—I got more success in the classroom.


Really? Wow.   And yet, it seemed like sports was such a—




—natural for you, all along.


Yeah, it was. There was a naturalness. But …


Did you not get opportunities?


Yeah. I think we got the opportunities. It’s hard to put your finger on it, because the human being is full of all kinds of inconsistencies.




And so, if—when I come to that part of my life, there’s still some parts of that experience that I have not articulated.




I’m still in the process of articulating it. Yeah.


When you left Stanford—




—I understand the Baltimore Colts—




—wanted you, and you could have played with the great—




—Johnny Unitas.


Well, I wasn’t that high in the draft. So there was great possibilities that I could have gone there and not make it. So, but the possibility of going on a mission … I could make it. [CHUCKLE]




I could—yeah. [CHUCKLE]


You could work for free for the church.


[CHUCKLE] Right. So that’s basically—and it made my mother happy.




When my mom said to me, when she started to cry on the phone, and saying, Oh, we’ve been missionaries all ov—for years, and so be—make me so happy if you went on a mission.


And you had a BA in history from—




—Stanford University.


That’s right.


So, you were ready to go.


I was ready to—I was ready to go do something. I was also what you call, accepted to various law—to a number of law schools. So, I could have gone to law school also, which I did when I came back.


Oh, how long did you go?


I went for one semester, and then, my dad had a business and he went broke in the business. He had gotten into a business with this guy, another cop, and then it was cracking rocks, the rocks that they have up on St. Louis Heights. And then they crack the rocks so they can set the foundation for the houses up there. So, he got into this business, and then the guy ran off with the money. So, he was about to lose the house that we lived on St. Louis Heights. So, then he called me, and then I said, Okay. So, I left law school, and … I—


Did you like it? Did you really miss having to leave?


Yeah; I did. ‘Cause the semester exams had come out, and I was not far off from the top. Not, you know—above the middle of my class. So I left. But I always thought that I was gonna come back. But I—


And what; did you crack rocks, or what did you do?


[CHUCKLE] Well, I got out—I got out there, got off the bus going back to my apartment. I ran into Ellis Brooks Chevrolet in Mabanis [PHONETIC] Boulevard. And there was sign says, Salesman Wanted. So I get off the bus, I go into the car dealer—Gere [PHONETIC] Chevrolet, Gere Chevrolet. I walked into the Gere Chevrolet, and I filled out the application, and the guy comes out and he looks at the application. He says, Okay, we’ll call you. Don’t call us, we’ll call you.


Oh, so you were thinking, I’ve gotta make money for my dad. That’s what I—




That’s what my job now is.


Yeah; that’s right. M-hm.


Wherever I am, I’m making money.


Yeah; exactly right. [SNIFF] So, I filled the application out, and the guy says, We’ll call you. And … of course, Martin Luther King still hasn’t done his thing, right? So, this still counts. So, I’m walking out of the Gere Chevrolet, and in walks this Chinese guy. His name’s Ray Lim, and he comes in the door. And he looks at me, he says, Eh, brah.




[CHUCKLE] You’re Al Harrington. I said, Yeah, yeah.




You was at Stanford, right? Yeah. Where you going? What you doing here? I says, I was just applying for the job over there. And the guy says, And what? The guys he going—they going call me. He grabbed me by the hand, takes me right back into office, and he says to this guy—the guy’s name was Grant. He said, Grant, this is Al Harrington, he played football at Stanford. You remember, up there, Palo Alto. And he says, Yeah, I know the school. He says, Well, you gotta give this guy a job. And he says [INDISTINCT] the manager looks up and he says, Okay, we can start him next week. One person.


One; oh.


One. Well, that changed. Ray Lim becomes the guy that saved my family. So, I go in there, and I start selling cars that week, and two years time, we get the man out of hock, the old man out of hock.


When you listen to Al Harrington talk about all the different lives he’s lived…student, athlete, car salesman…it’s like watching the film, Forrest Gump, and the many coincidental lives that Forrest lead. Every turn that Al’s life took was by the good graces of people willing to lend a hand, or a good word. And being in the right place at the right time.


This is when I meet Heather, my first wife. I meet her, and then we get married. And then, the movie Hawaii is being filmed. Okay. They asked me to come home—to come home to be a part of the casting crew. To help in the cast, the cast situation. So that’s what brings me home. I come home with—I get married, and I come home with Heather. And we do the movie, and we make good money. And Heather is pregnant. So, I gotta make up my mind whether the movie’s over, and whether—I gotta make up my mind whether I’m gonna go back to Hollywood and play the game in Hollywood, and read for parts, et cetera, et cetera, or go back to law school.


Yeah, because now, you have these valuable contacts—




—in the movie business.


Right. Exactly. And so, I’m down at the shopping center, and I run into Dr. Fox. And Dr. Fox says, Eh, Al, good to see you. He says, What are you doing? I says, I just got through with the movie Hawaii, and I’m thinking of going to Hollywood. He says, Oh, no, no, no, no, this is what you’re going to do now. You’re gonna go back to the university and get your teacher’s credentials, and you’re gonna come and teach at Punahou. And so the life changes again. And so, I go to Punahou—I mean, I do exactly that. I get my credentials, and then I start teaching at Punahou. And I love it. Absolutely loved the process. James Scott, who is president of Punahou School, was one of my students. Hoo, make me feel good.


Did he act up on you?






Because he was a good student. I mean, he was not only a good student, but a good athlete, and a good person.




And then Nainoa Thompson; he was one of my students. When I think about those kids, I said, Man, I just hope that one day in that classroom that I said, Maybe one thing that might have changed their mind.


Now Al Harrington is teaching and coaching future leaders of Hawaii…giving them direction and knowledge. But this striking Polynesian man was not finished with life. Where most of us would have been content to accomplish all that Al had done so far, Al was still reaching.


And while doing the teaching and the coaching, I’m doing motivational speaking for various schools. And in the audience in one of those speeches that I do, is the casting director for Hawaii Five-O. Ted Thorpe was his name. Ted Thorpe. And he comes up to me after the speech and he says to me … [SNIFF] … I have a script that you might be interested in. And he gives me the script, he says, Read the script over and call me. So I take the script, read it. And … it’s bad guy, but it takes a lot—I mean, it takes good—bad guys to make the good guys look good. So, I get that part. And then, I’m in the door of Hawaii Five-O. And meanwhile—or I’m teaching and loving it, and then pretty soon they give me a part every year, every season, for four seasons.


Different bad guys.


Yeah; different bad guys. So and that then begins to move the other way. And then, I get involved in doing luaus, because I wanted to make more money. And the lady that opens doors for me in the entertainment field is Mrs. Flanders, Josephine Flanders. Remember her?


Who taught you ballet.


That’s right.


What were you doing, learning ballet?


Because when we were playing football, I had read in a book about this guy named O’Shesky at the University of California who took ballet and as a result, strengthened his legs. And then, I meet Mrs. Flanders, Josephine Flanders, and she loves the idea, because a football player she would never get anybody like that taking lessons. And so, she begins to teach me about the whole idea of drama in school. Josephine comes back when I’m teaching at Punahou, and my kids are born, and I don’t have enough insurance to get ‘em out of the hospital. And then, doctor—Dr. Fox gives us advances in the insurance thing so I could bring the child—get the children out of the hospital. And then, I’m looking for other ways of making money. And so, Josephine is at this particular time, is the entertainment director at the Hilton Hawaiian Village. And she has a luau there twice a day—twice a week. And her head luau person is, Ray Kinney, who, this great, great, kupuna of Hawaii that was able to take on music into all corners of the world. And he’s back home now, he’s retiring, and he’s doing just the luau. And he does a fantastic job. So, she asked me to support him. So I go and I watch him. This where I learned how to handle the visitors. ‘Cause he’s working directly with the visitors, and he’s working with this mana of aloha that is able to touch them. Ray Kinney and Josephine Flanders gave me an opportunity to come into the market. So while I was teaching school, I would do one luau a week.


That’s such a good part of island life.




And some people say it makes us very provincial, because everyone’s afraid to offend each other. But also, when you … you’re gonna run into people again, and again. And in—




—your life, they’ve come back around—




—and around, and it’s been a good thing for you.


Oh, yeah.


They’ve been really helpful to you.


Well, Josephine—


And vice versa.


Josephine she just took a liking. Just like Mrs. Abreu. She just took a liking. And then, I got Mr. Griswold at Aiea School. And then at Punahou, there was Dr. Fox. And all of these people, they come into your life, they touch you, they raise you up, they give you an opportunity to see another side of the situation.


If you’ve ever been up late at night, and turned on a good western, you may have seen a familiar face…Al Harrington, born in Samoa, raised in Hawaii, found success in Hollywood playing Native Americans.


I love cowboy movies. I’ll watch—




—any Western, any time, any place.


Me too.


I’ll watch it ten times.




You show up in the Westerns—




—as an Indian, again an again. And you have the speaking part.




I wonder how that was? And you do a great job. You—


Oh, I mean, the Indians wanted to take me home.


[CHUCKLE] You know, I’m just thinking. Hawaiians wouldn’t like—




—an Indian playing—


Playing Hawaiian.


—a Hawaiian. So, how did the Indians feel about you playing an Indian?


Well, first of all, they didn’t know.


Oh, they had to know.


Well, there was certainly—and there was a part where me and the Filipinos were getting all the Indian parts. And the—




[CHUCKLE] And the Indians were getting mad. ‘Cause some of the Indians that came to try out for the parts, they couldn’t read, because they came from the reservations, and the schools sometimes weren’t as good—


Oh …


—in the reservations. So, they leaned towards us, who could read. So, we began to get the parts. But then, the Indians started to make a little bit of—make noise, so the union passed a law that you—if you’re gonna play Indians, you gotta show what reservation you came from.


That’s a problem for you.


That’s a problem for me.




So … when I did White Fang, when I—


White Fang II.






Yeah. When I did White Fang II, the director wanted me—I mean, after all the readings, yeah? [CHUCKLE] I go for the reading for White Fang II, and it’s like a Quonset hut in Disney—Disneyland—I mean, Disney Studios. [SNIFF] And I walk in there … uku paila Indians.




Every Indian you can think of is sitting there, waiting to get to read.


And they’re going, He’s not an Indian.


No, no, no.




No, no. They thought I was Indian. And so, the whole room goes through the reading. And lo and behold, I’m the last guy that is being chosen. And then in order for me to get the part, we have to go to the Haida—Haida Council, ‘cause the chief is Haida, and ask the Haida Council if I, Al Harrington, could play this role. And they had to give us approval. Probably have to give them a stipend for the movie. [SNIFF] So … we go the Haida Council, myself, the director, and the producer. And the Council comes in, and in the Council … there’s about ten of ‘em, is one guy that looks familiar to me. And I’m looking at him, he’s looking at me. And I find out that he used to come to my show in Waikiki.


Oh …


See, he used to come with his family, and I used to tell Bob them, When my friend the Indian come, just let him come in, take care of them, because he’s my friend.




Yeah. See? So, we are introduced to the chief.


And you’re paying it forward. I can just—




—feel it coming. [CHUCKLE]


We’re introduced to the Council, and the chief gets up and says, Hey … that’s my brother. That’s my brother Al Harrington, he’s from Hawaii. And he says, He can play the part. So there it is. I’m given the role of the chief of the village, because of that thing that happened. So yeah, you don’t know. So much of life is being in the right place at the right time, one person moving in one direction.


But you were willing to take the chance.


Yeah. You gotta be open.


And go on merit.


Go on—be open for the opportunity. Be conscious, be conscious. It’s like … he says, From the time of conception … to the time that you’re born in that nine months, you do nothing. Everything happens for you. Why not let things happen for you also after you’re born? Sometimes, we try to make things happen, and we don’t follow the pattern … that is destined for us to follow.


With angels on his shoulders, Al Harrington has followed his destiny. And through his eyes, we were privileged to get a glimpse of a life filled with gratitude, lessons learned, and valuable friendships. For Long Story Short and PBS Hawaii, I’m Leslie Wilcox. A hui hou kakou.


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


I remember my grandfather, my grandfather on the Kalama side … in Laie. People walk by the house, Tutu Kalama … Grandpa Kalama is on the porch. People walking by, they go, Hui! Hele mai, hele mai, come, come have some—have some—something to drink, have something to eat with us. And you hear that. And that’s what this is all about. In the end, Hawaii creates the situation by which that can happen. And the host culture laid the foundation. And that’s what we were doing when we were in Waikiki. Trying to convey that.