Fred Hemmings


Fred Hemmings has lived life as a waterman, an entrepreneur and a lawmaker – but he says he’s most proud of being a “local boy.” He shares his experience growing up in Honolulu in the ’50s and ’60s surfing alongside Duke Kahanamoku in Waikīkī, and how his time as an amateur surfer led him to a career that championed professional surfing.


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


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Have you ever had a spill, where you thought you were gonna die?


Yes; yeah.


Held underwater?


Yes; it’s the worst way to die.


Do you know which way is up when you’re down there?


No, because for a minute, you’re in sheer terror, thinking you’re gonna die. And one of the things you tell yourself on a big wave wipeout is, you don’t take your death breath. There’s a point where your body says you gotta take a breath, and it takes a breath, and you swallow water and you die. So, it is an absolutely terrifying feeling. Yeah. But you only feel it if you live.


Fred Hemmings has had many death-defying experiences that he lived to tell about. Waterman, entrepreneur, lawmaker; he’s done it all. And not for love of money; mostly for the sheer enjoyment of doing it. Fred Hemmings, 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. Ask anyone who Fred Hemmings is, and you’ll get a wide range of answers: legendary surfer, channel winning canoe paddler and steersman, professional surfing contest producer, marathon runner, national television sports commentator, State Representative and State Senator, and back in the day, a Punahou School football player on a renowned championship team. Retired now, Fred Hemmings has been all of these things during his lifetime. Yet, for all of his endeavors and accomplishments, there’s one description that he is most proud of: local boy. It speaks not only to his family roots, but to his pride in his island home. The third of six children, he grew up in Honolulu in the 1950s and 60s in a landscape that is unrecognizable today.


I count as one of my greatest fortunes, besides my family, being born and raised in Hawai‘i. My roots are very deep in Hawai‘i. My mother’s side of the family, which is Portuguese, got here in 1881 from Funchal, Madeira, Portugal of a Portuguese island. And my dad got here in 1925 from New York City, as a young boy. We were a home of modest means. We weren’t by any means wealthy. And you know, we lived rather frugally. It was an interesting time. Lived in Kaimukī; born and raised in Kaimukī. Kaimukī boy.


You also lived in Kāhala, though.


I lived in Kāhala uh, when it was pig farms, and farms.


And it was all muddy, it had dirt roads.


Oh, there were basically three paved roads: Aukai, Kāhala Avenue, and Kealaolu that goes along the edge of the golf course. I lived on the next road up from Aukai; it was called Farmers Road, and it was a dirt road.


And there was a reason it was called Farmers Road.




People don’t realize that now, perhaps.


Yes; yes. Between Farmers Road and Kaimukī, there was no houses, because there was no subdivision. And it was three-acre farm lots.   Bishop Estate, which owned it all, had three-acre farm lots. And my grandfather, Arthur Freitas, a gentleman of Portuguese ancestry, and a great bon vivant, what a character he was. He raised horses. So, we had three horses, and we lived on a three and a half acre farm lot along with mostly Japanese farmers who were growing lettuce, cabbage, and other things in Kāhala. But Farmers Road was a farmers’ road. I went to Star of the Sea, a Catholic school, you know, my early years, a kindergartner. I went to Star of the Sea when it was still across from the old Keokara Store. There was no Kāhala. Keokara was on the corner of what now would be Kilauea and Wai‘alae Avenue. And across the street was the old Hung Wai Gee that then turned into Star of the Sea School. And so, it was the old Hung Wai Gee. Classic; you know, the wood buildings and all of that. So, that’s where I started school.


Your mother was Portuguese.




Your dad, English-Irish.




What was your family culture like?


You know, there’s really something funny. As rough and tough as my father was, hard-drinking, you know, a real rugged guy, the facts are that Portuguese women, they’re even tougher. But she was real quiet, you know, but ultimately, my mother would rule the day. And she instilled in us a lot of the values that I think have been an asset in my life. Most especially, I think values that come from what I call the holy trinity of humankind. You know, we’re physical beings, and we nourish that through exercise and good health and eating habits. We’re intellectual beings; we nourish it through education. But most importantly, I think is, we’re spiritual beings, and who we are, the goodness of who we are is our spiritual being. And my mother, in her own way, being a Catholic and being the way she was, she nourished honest, hardworking, spiritual values that I think endure throughout the betterment of humankind. So, she was something special.


What were you like as a kid? You said your dad was rough and ready; were you?


We all had nicknames; my dad named us. My sister was Big C; my brother Mark was Butchie. My nickname was Bully Beef.




I was a bully beef kinda kid. You know, I was a rough, tough, rolling around, rough ‘em up kid.


Does that mean you were a bully?


No; it just meant rough.




Yeah, yeah.


I know what you mean.


Bully, bully, bully boy, you know.




Bully boy kind guy.


So, you’re always ready to wrestle, or whatever it was.


Yeah, yeah. Yeah. And being a hard-headed young boy of Portuguese ancestry, if anybody would give me any grief, you know, I wouldn’t back away. I got in my fair share of fights when I was kid.


When you say your fair share, what does that mean? In connection with Portuguese ancestry?


Well, you know how kids are. No, kids argue about all kinds of different thing. And you know, like if I got off the bus in Kaimukī from Punahou, I was all of a sudden a Haole getting off the bus from Punahou. You know. When I was at Punahou, I was Fred Hemmings the Portagee. But when I got off the Punahou bus in Kaimukī, because I was getting off a Punahou bus, I was a Haole. So, guys would make remarks. Eh, Haole; eh, Haole. You’re too young to remember this, but they’d say: Eh, you like beef?


Oh, I remember that.


You remember that? You like beef? Eh, punk, you like beef? And I’d say, yeah.


And it was because of your ethnicity?


Because they perceived me as a Punahou Haole. It was stereotyping of the worst sorts. You know.


And on the Punahou side, they said what?


I was a Portagee; Fred Hemmings the Portagee.


And what did that connote in those days?


I wasn’t one of them. You know, I’m a kid, and I’d say: Well, I’m really not one of these guys, I’m not a wealthy Caucasian; I’m a Portagee at Punahou. You know. And I was on financial aid, and I worked in the cafeteria. One of my claims to fame is, my Aunt Min Marciel introduced the malasadas to the Punahou carnival.


There you go. So, did that do the trick? Did you feel like one of the bunch?


Nah … I’ve always taken pride in my Portuguese heritage.


And you distinguished yourself at Punahou as an athlete.




In those days, football was everything.


Oh, gosh.


And you surfed as a recreational fun thing.


I grew up in a surfing family. My dad and Lex Brodie surfed together in Waikīkī as young boys. They both went to Roosevelt together. And so, my playground when I was kid wasn’t on a baseball field or anything; it was the surf at Waikīkī, where I learned to surf. And one of the greatest blessings in my life is growing up in the shadow of Duke Kahanamoku and the other beach boys. But my father wanted me to be a football player. ‘Cause he played football at Roosevelt, I was gonna play football. So, I got involved in Pop Warner Football, and I did pretty well at it.


What position did you play?


Funny story; let me tell you. I found out in my senior year at Punahou when I played with Charlie Wedemeyer, the ILH championship was a real big deal back then.




‘Cause that was the only game in town. I found out I was pretty fast and could run well. ‘Cause I was linebacker and, you know, all these little, scrawny little running backs would come out of the backfield, and I’d nail ‘em like a heat-seeking missile. I should have been a running back, but I had polio. Four of the children that were alive in the early 50s, we all had polio. And so, my father decided in his mind that I was a plug, that I couldn’t fun fast ‘cause the polio was lumbar polio, and my legs were quite weak for a while. I had to do a lot of things at Shriners Hospital to rehab my legs. Didn’t cripple me, but it made me not be able to run fast. So, my father said: You’ve gotta play on the line. So, I ended up playing on offensive center in middle line, which is kinda fun. Not as fun as running with the ball and making a touchdown, you know, ‘cause linemen, they don’t get any credit. We just block and get our butts kicked. But it was great.


When did you get polio?




So, you were just a little kid.


Yeah. It was just weak legs for a while, and I eventually rebounded out of it. And within two or three years, you know, I was running and jumping around like any normal kid.


But your dad had a sense that you could use your legs, but not fast.


Exactly. In his mind, I was a plug. And he’d call me that, too.


Oh; what did that do? Did that make you feel bad, or did it make you want to …


Oh, I believed him. Yeah. That’s one thing parents should really learn is, be careful of what you say to your kids. ‘Cause they’re more than likely gonna believe you. And so, always plant seeds of confidence and goodness with your kids.


So now, you realize that you could run fast, and knock people down.


Yeah; by the time I was a senior at Punahou playing with Charlie Wedemeyer, I was playing on the line now. We used to play both ways; offensive line, and then defense. I was a linebacker, and I could run down the little backs, and you know, like I said, nail ‘em. And I said: Eh, I’m not that slow, I could have been a running back.


And that was a great team you were on.


Oh, it was unbelievable. I’ll never forget, Leslie, what a thrill. November, Turkey Day of 1964, we took a bus with a police escort to the old Honolulu Stadium. We warmed up on our field, not in the stadium, and they were all wondering where’s the Punahou team. And we took a bus. We ran off the bus through the portal, and right onto the field to play the game. And I was one of the captains. And we beat Kamehameha. We were tied; we’d gone through the whole season, Kamehameha had lost a game, we’d lost a game. So, Turkey Day was for the championship. And there were twenty-five thousand plus people in the old Termite Palace, which was the stadium. There were folding chairs along the edge of the field so they could maximize the crowd. And we ran onto the field, and at the end of the game, we won twenty to six. We beat Kamehameha for the championship. Which back then was a real big deal; ILH champions.


Fred Hemmings grew up surfing in Waikīkī. He competed in amateur surfing events around the globe, winning many of them. This was during the 1960s, when the surfing craze was taking over the nation, and Hemmings saw an economic opportunity.


I didn’t go to college. I went to college for one year at UH, and then I quit to start professional surfing and start the business of professional surfing. I went surfing, basically. But I’m telling all my grandkids, and as I told my children: You’ve gotta go to college if you want to be successful. But as fate would have it, not going to college was, in a curious way a blessing for me, because I didn’t have an occupation. I could go where my nose took me in life. I surfed with the greatest surfers of the 20th century and in the 60s. Joey Cabell, Paul Strauch, and then a guy who was the first Pipeline which history has forgotten, a guy named Butch Van Artsdalen, and myself were the Duke’s surf team.


You also mentioned that Duke Kahanamoku was perhaps one of the greatest citizens of Hawaii you’ve ever met.


When I was a little boy, back then, lot of local guys would call the younger boy: Eh, boy. You’d never say the name. He wouldn’t say Fred; Eh, boy. But then, I got to be a member when I got to be a fairly good surfer; I got put on the Duke’s surf team, and I traveled with Duke. I think I can honestly say the most beloved citizen of Hawai‘i, the person we loved the most because of the content of his spirit, not his accomplishments, was Duke. A handsome Hawaiian, a man who knew no malice or negative.


So, you were an amateur surfer. Surfing in competitions, you did well in competitions.


Yeah; I did pretty good. I never surfed professionally. I started professional surfing. Surfing had grown under the leadership of a guy named Eduardo Arena of Peru, and he developed a world surfing championship. They held the first one in Peru in ’65, and then they held one in San Diego, and finally went to Puerto Rico when I competed in it and did pretty good. It’s their fiftieth anniversary this year. I read a poem, probably the only thing I ever remember, poetry in school; it was by A.E. Housman. It said: Smart lad, to slip betimes away, From fields where glory does not stay, And early though the laurel grows, It withers quicker than the rose. It was about an athlete who died young, and they were carrying him through the town. And laurel would never wither, because he got buried as a champion. And what that said to me was that, leave the field when you’re a champion. You know, don’t become a has-been. And I didn’t want to become a has-been, but I also saw the economic opportunity of starting professional surfing. I got hired by the Smirnoff to put on their meet, which originally was California, and then it moved here. And the following year, in 1971, I started the Pipeline Masters, which believe it or not, is in its forty-eighth year. Gosh; I think I was eight years old when I started it.


And you’re not involved in it anymore?


No; I sold my proprietary—same thing with my life. In 1988, I was really proud Leslie. I had surfing events on all three television networks. This was before there was cable television.


While Fred Hemmings was busy with his amateur and professional surfing careers, there was another sport that was close to his heart. He was a champion outrigger canoe steersman.


I learned to steer a canoe in an old koa boat called the Ka Moi. It’s now hanging in the bar of the Outrigger.


That’s the other thing; you were a member of the Outrigger Canoe Club, even though, as you say, you’re a family of modest means.




How did that happen?


That happened very modestly. You know, we couldn’t charge in the snack bar or anything, but we were all members ‘cause my dad wanted us to paddle and surf, and he wanted us to be members of the Outrigger. And we were. And you know, the Outrigger is like Punahou; people can sometimes stereotype the Outrigger. But I’m so proud of the Outrigger. It has really contributed significantly to watersports in Hawai‘i. Outrigger paddlers and surfers have been amongst the world’s best. It’s won more Moloka‘i to Oahu canoe races than any other club.


So, it was your hangout when you were in school?


Paddled every summer. You know, we had regattas. Back when I started paddling, there were no fiberglass canoes, there was only koa canoes.


And they were heavy.


Oh, yeah.


What about the paddles?


The paddles were wood and very heavy. Yeah. But things have changed, progress. But to the credit of canoe paddling, they’ve done an excellent job of preserving the integrity of the sport.


And you’re a steersman. So, that’s a very key position on the boat. All of them are key positions, but you call the shots on the boat. What does a steersman do? Maybe you could explain all the things.


You’re very intuitive that way. I used to steer, and I was very much the boss of the boat. The steersman thinks about the course, the steersman thinks about working the ocean, working the wind, how to avoid currents. And there’s a thousand things a good steersman should learn about. When you’re in the Molokai race, is the tide coming in? If it is, you run a little more inshore, because it runs faster near the shore. The tide’s going out, you stay away ‘cause it’s pulling Makapu‘u from Moloka‘i. So, there’s all these little subtleties to being a good steersman, that the steersman should worry about. Of course, in the regatta season when they race around flags, it’s a little different.


Your family seems to have a steersman gene. Don’t you have generations of steersmen in your family?






My grandson Trevor, who’s sixteen now, just won the state varsity paddling championship, steering at Punahou. So, he’s a fourth generation canoe paddler steersman. Which is something; fourth generation. My dad, my son. My son’s won a couple Moloka‘is. He’s real good.


I saw a photo of you surfing this huge wave in a canoe.




Where was that?


A place called Castles. Ancient times, it was called Kalehuawehe. Those swells come from New Zealand. They come actually five thousand miles; it takes them ten days to get here. And by the time they get here, if it’s a really huge swell, it can get up to fifteen feet out at Castles. It’s where Duke got his legendary ride in 1917, from out at Castles.


Have you ever had a spill, where you thought you were gonna die?


Yes; yeah.


Held underwater?


Yes; it’s the worst way to die.


Do you know which way is up when you’re down there?


No, because for a minute, you’re in sheer terror, thinking you’re gonna die. And one of the things you tell yourself on a big wave wipeout is, you don’t take your death breath. There’s a point where your body says you gotta take a breath, and it takes a breath, and you swallow water and you die. So, it is an absolutely terrifying feeling. Yeah. But you only feel it if you live. So, I can remember a couple times. Yeah.


And how did you break out of it? How did you get free?


You finally break the surface and you take a breath. And you know, you live.


You were able to endure until you can get out, get up.


Well, once you get your air back in your lungs, you know, the next wave comes. What happens when you wipe out is, the water in the surf line is usually moving. ‘Cause once a wave breaks, it becomes moving. You get pushed in. That’s where rip currents come from. So, you get pushed in enough where you’re not in the lineup for the next wave, usually. So, the next wave hits, you know, it’s soda water. You just dive under it. You know. And when you wipe out on a big wave … this was before you could get towed in; you had to paddle in. So, you’re taking a lot of your energy; it’s like running, and then, you jump in a washing machine. And usually, when you wipe out, you get—pah! You know, you smack the water. So, you put all those combination things; you don’t get held under much longer than twenty seconds, but that’s plenty enough to drown. ‘Cause you don’t have any air. And you know, when you suck in a breath of air, that air goes to the muscles that are working. And so, you can try to release quick. But fortunately, you know, most of us made it successfully. There are some that haven’t, though.


When you’ve had a close call like that, how long does it take you to go back into the water, in big water?


As long as it takes to get your board, and go back out.


Fred Hemmings continued to take ocean risks that could have ended in disaster, and he took some hits on land, too. It wasn’t until he had a particularly harrowing tree-cutting accident that he started thinking differently.


I’ve had my share of accidents. I cut my toe off; three of my toes off with a lawnmower. The worst one was actually pretty serious, and this happened late in 2015. I was sawing down a tree along the side of the road, and it fell down and it kicked back, and it hit me in the chest and broke eight of my ribs, punctured my lung, and crushed my shoulder.


Were you alone?


By myself; yeah. I’ll never forget this. So, I flew through the air. You know how they say when you die, you relive your life. I said to myself: Oh, S, I killed myself. Then I blacked out, and then, I finally came to, and I couldn’t move the side of my body. It was a real funny feeling. And I reached into my pocket and grabbed cell phone, and I called some people, and they called the ambulance. But then, when I went to the hospital, they OD’d me on opioids, and my heart stopped, and they had to jolt me back. So, I’m very cautious now when I do yardwork.


But you still do yardwork?


Little bit.


Did your life change because of life-threatening incidents like that? Have you changed your life any?


I’ve had a lot of life-threatening incidences. But this one did change me. All the rest, like almost dying in the surf, and you know, having all these other perilous situations I’ve been in; you know, I’ve done a lot of things that are kind of on the edge. But that did change my life.


How so?


I was scared.






Mm. And so, you’re careful?


Yeah. You’re scared of losing not your life; you’re scared of losing your grandkids, and your family, and you know, things you love.




So, it’s a strange feeling.




Yes; mortality. Exactly. I used to, with reckless abandon, take the canoe out to Castles to ride big waves in a canoe. I’m a little gun shy now; I’m not gonna take a chance that’s gonna kill me. You know, when you’re younger, you know, that’s part of the DNA of humankind. There are some guys that got that alpha gene, that they’re gonna risk their life, and that’s what progressed humanity, is the guys that leave the safety of the status quo and venture. You know, it’s a star trek gene, I call it. It’s the genetics of star trek, to go where no one’s gone before. That’s what advances humanity.


Are you saying you had that before, but now, you’re reining that in?


I had it in spades. I mean, I had it triple-time. And now, well, I’m also seventy-two years old, so I don’t have to go. I’m done there. You know, I’ve done my star trek going places where no one’s gone before; big waves, politics, surfing, paddling. You know, I’ve pretty much done everything I’ve wanted to do.


What’s your goal now?


What’s my goal?




My goal is to enjoy my family and loved ones with the remaining years I have, and to rekindle friendships with friends around the world and nourish, you know, relationships. I’m not a very materialistic guy. I drive a Honda; you know, I’m not a high-end guy. I don’t need to go to fancy restaurants.


You don’t hire a yardman. Or maybe you do now.


No, I don’t.


You don’t?


I still do a little bit of my own yardwork. You know, the family compound, we have some guys that come in and help out. But I’m a good supavisah.


I can ‘em where to go.


So, you’ve never regretted that you didn’t go for riches, you went for experience?


Exactly. That’s a good thing. I pay my bills, but I’m not a rich man. I have a beautiful family, and I pay my bills, and I’m able to put food on the table, and that’s rich enough for me. And what’s really nice now for me is, I’m at the age where I can travel to other places and have friends. I love going to Peru, and I have a lot of friends around the world that I can occasionally visit, and they visit here. So, it’s a rich life without a lot of money.


Besides being a legendary waterman, Fred Hemmings is probably best remembered as a rare Republican State Senator in Hawai‘i. And he brought the first surf shop to Ala Moana Center. In 2017, he wrote a book, Local Boy, a memoir. Mahalo to Fred Hemmings of Lanikai, Windward Oahu, for sharing your stories with us. And thank you, for joining us. For PBS Hawai‘i and Long Story Short, I’m Leslie Wilcox. Aloha nui.


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 would run at night. I wouldn’t go to bed; I’d meet a buddy at nine-thirty, ten o’clock at night, and run in the mountains. And so, I wrote about it in the book; it’s under Running. It says: One of the most beautiful moments ever was when Kent and I were running the Maunawili Trail to Waimanalo on a cool, full moon night. About halfway to Waimanalo, we rounded the Ko‘olau Ridge that was high promontory. It was very still and eerie, and quiet. The luminescent moon was bright, casting a blue hue over the Windward Coast. It was ethereal. We stopped running, and pulled plastic ponchos from out butt packs and lied next to the trail, and basked in the soft light of the eerie night. Surely, God was on the high altar on the Ko‘olau Ridge. He touched us. So, that’s a message, I think, that I learned, that you know, money can’t buy that, those moments. You know, we have such great gifts, if we take the time to appreciate ‘em. You don’t have to be a rich fat cat, or you don’t have to have a fancy car. You don’t need to go to, you know, wherever to be happy. You take it in your own spirit, what you appreciate in life.



Linda Furuto


Linda Furuto is a math education professor at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, and uses math regularly as she trains as an apprentice navigator on the Polynesian voyaging canoe, Hokulea. Math didn’t always come easy to her; she struggled in her tenth grade algebra class at Punahou. But she worked hard to pass the class. “I really did learn the importance of a positive attitude, working hard, and having a support network of people who want you to succeed can help you,” Linda says.


This program will be rebroadcast on Wednesday, May 18 at 11:00 pm and Sunday, May 22 at 4:00 pm.


Linda Furuto Audio


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I studied about six hours day, just on mathematics, because I wanted to keep up with my peers. And um, one of the greatest accomplishments of my—of my life as far as passing that class um, and uh, above and beyond passing that math class, I really did learn the importance of a positive attitude, working hard, and having a support network of people who want you to succeed an—and can help you. I wanted to go into mathematics because I struggled with it, and I know so many of our local kids struggle with mathematics.



Linda Furuto is next… On Long Story Short.


Aloha Mai Kakou. I’m Leslie Wilcox.


University of Hawaii Associate Professor Linda Furuto is an accomplished math teacher who shows students how to use math to better understand their world. It’s one of the reasons that in 2010… Linda Furuto was named one of Hawaii’s top “40 under 40” professionals. She’s cerebral and she’s physical. She was invited to train as an apprentice navigator on the double-hulled Polynesian voyaging canoe… Hokulea, and she is picking up different legs of its current worldwide voyage. While math was acquired passion, Furuto took to the ocean right away, as a keiki growing up in Hauula on the windward side of Oahu.


I had the most wonderful and best childhood. I grew up in a 12.5-mile stretch between Kaaawa and Kahuku, and to me, the most important things in life are ohana and values. Um, I’m really grateful for the opportunities that I had to um, let’s see, go spearfishing. With—with my dad and uncles. And um, borrow the plastic trays from McDonald’s to go bodysurfing with my friends. But we always returned them.


We just really—


Bodysurfing with the—




–plastic trays?




They’re kind of small, aren’t they?


Oh, but they’re the perfect size if you reach under your arm, like that.


Oh, like that.




Oh, bodysurfing.






M-hm. And we always returned them.


Just maybe not in the same condition.


That would be which McDonald’s? The—




The one in—


Laie. Um, but my favorite was um, jumping into the dumpsters be—behind Hauula Shopping Center. Used to be Pay ‘n Save there. And we’d grab out the cardboard boxes. My three younger brothers and I; Matt, Nick, and Dan. We—we’d flatten the cardboard boxes, and see who could ride them the fastest down the dirt hills behind Hauula Shopping Center. It was so fun.


Dirt and mud, or just dirt?


Um, it was mostly dirty. But that’s a great question, because it was—




–even better.


–would be fast; right?




Mudslides were the best. But that was—that was my world.


So, your parents saved a lot on toys for you.


I think so. Nature was—provided all the toys that we needed. Yeah.


What’s your family like?


My family . . . my family’s just amazing. They’re kind, they’re loving, unconditionally loving, and generous. And supportive in everything that I’ve done so far. I also want to clarify that—that to me, ohana is not just necessarily the people that we’re related to by blood, but to me, my definition of ohana is the extent to which we’re willing to do something for another person. The commitment that we have to each other, the dedication to the projects and visions, and love. And so, my ohana is really stretch—really stretches from hanabata days in Kahuku, to transferring to Punahou as a tenth-grader, leaving the islands for school and work, and then coming back home to be part of the University of Hawaii, East-West Center, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, and the Polynesian Voyaging Society ohana, among others.


Did your parents explicitly give you values, or did you just soak them up by osmosis?


I would say both. I would say that it’s extremely difficult to measure the size of my mom’s heart.


Tell me about your mom. I believe she’s a social worker; right?


M-hm; yup. So, typically, when the kids—the four kids would come home, and my dad, who’s a—a mathematician would say, Okay, tell me what you did chronologically, from the time you got out of school until the time you went to soccer practice, or hula, to the time you arrived home. And then my mom would say, Honey … you know what, tell me how you feel.


Oh, you’ve got one on this side—


–and one on that side. Perfect blend.


Yeah; my mom instilled in me a sense of social justice and equity in all I do. I strive—


And your dad could measure it.


And my dad could measure it. Yeah; yes. My dad is very strict, growing up. And he … he showed us—showed his love in different ways. So, instead of saying, I love you, he would show us his love by the things he did, his actions.


For example, when my family moved from Kahuku to Punahou, I was in the tenth grade. My parents commuted from Honolulu to Laie, five days a week, sometimes more. So that—


Rather than make you commute, they commuted.




Wow. How long did they do that?


Uh … maybe about a decade.


Linda Furuto’s Transition from Kahuku High School to Honolulu Prep Academy Punahou School in the 10th grade was not easy. And although her father is a mathematician…she struggled with the subject in school.


That was a culture shock, as well as—




–an academic shock; right?


M-hm. M-hm.


What was that like for you socially?


It was socially very difficult at first. I remember eating lunch in the bathroom, because I didn’t have any friends, and felt like a lot of folks all already had their cliques.




But life has a way of always opening a door, sometimes in the least expected ways. And I found a network at Punahou School of friends, lifelong friends who I cherish to this day.


How’d you find them?


I think Punahou—Punahou has a very nurturing environment.




And so, I … tried out for the swim team, track, marching band, jazz band.


Speech and debate. Yes, Golden Key, Honor Society, various clubs and activities where I learned to find my voice, literally, like in speech and debate.


Were you getting As?




No; I was getting Ds and Fs.


I had Ds and Fs my first quarter. I received demerits because I wasn’t passing my classes and I just remember thinking, I’m working, I’m physically, intellectually, mentally working as hard as I possibly can, but I’m still not passing.



The hardest math class that I’ve ever taken to this day was Algebra II Trigonometry Honors in the tenth grade at Punahou School with uh, Mrs. Craven and Mr. Best. So, that was the year I transferred from Kahuku to Punahou. I was about two and a half years behind my peers. Um … but I really—I really love a challenge, and maybe I’m a little bit stubborn too. But I didn’t want to drop that class.


Did your father see you struggling with math—




–so much?




And what were his thoughts about that?


He let me struggle.


Not an enabler.


Um, he would say … hypothetically, say I was working on the derivatives, the math problem in—in calculus. He would say … Okay, kid; you want help? I want you to prove to me the fundamental theory about calculus, and then I’ll help you. By the time I had proven a theorem or postulate that would actually help me answer the question, I didn’t need his help anymore. So, it was a life lesson again in helping me – guide my path along—along um, learning about … my own self, my identity, the values, what I—what I was … and continue—continuously willing —to work hard for, to [Indistinct] for.



Linda Furuto’s perseverance is a defining trait. She works hard on her goals. She earned a math degree from Brigham Young University in Utah, a Master’s in math education from Harvard University and she studied at UCLA for her Doctorate. After almost a decade on the mainland… a job offer…brought Furuto home.


I’m very passionate about ethnomathematics, and—


What is ethnomathematics?


Ethnomathematics is defined as the intersections of culture, historical traditions, sociocultural roots, among others. It encourages the investigations and adaptations of these concepts, both within and outside of the classroom in real world experiences. The goal—


That’s the answer to the question, then, when kids say, How is this relevant to me? Why should I take this?


Exactly; exactly as you’ve said. The goal of ethnomathematics is to acknowledge that diverse systems and cultural frameworks have existed since the beginning of time, and to help educators foster pathways that lead to increased student engagement through disciplines like mathematics, science, technology, and engineering.


… I’m so grateful that the University of Hawaii West Oahu hired me. I was hired as the first math faculty to—to build the math program um, and … I was the only math faculty for the first six years as UH West Oahu transitioned from a two-year to uh, a four-year liberal arts comprehensive university. It was an amazing opportunity to be part of that, because … I utilized Hokulea and ethnomathematics to help me build that program, to seek out, help from the other campuses within the University of Hawaii system, all who helped me design, from the ground up, um, institutional learning outcomes, go through accreditation, admissions and graduation requirements, design a baccalaureate degree in mathematics, um, which would not have been possible without enrollment in mathematics courses increased fourteen hundred percent. We started off—




–with a population of about eight hundred sixty-six students in 2007, and when I left, there were approximately twenty-four hundred students. We had a couple math classes when I started. There were upwards of twenty math classes by the time I left. And, those are quantitative statistics, but qualitatively when we take a look at the individual students who would say things like … I hated math, I used to think that it was … boring and I felt no connection to it, but now I see that math is my culture, that math celebrates me, and mathematics validates who I am, and because of that, I want to be a secondary math teacher in Hawaii. I want to go back to my community on the Leeward side of Oahu, because this is … this is what matters to us and our students. And I think that, to me, speaks … volumes, much more than the quantitative part, just knowing that, the life of a student has in some way, shape, or form been transformed, because that student is a link in generations and will help to raise many, many generations—




–to come afterwards.


In 2013, Linda Furuto accepted a job as an associate professor at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. There…she continues to encourage her students to think about math in a new way… to integrate math into their everyday process and world view. She has been recognized with two Excellence-In-Teaching awards from the U.H. Board of Regents and the Math Association of America.


Could you tell me, if you’re trying to introduce or recruit a student to the study of mathematics, and they want to know, why should I care—




What do you tell them?


On the first day of class, I always share with my students is the—is the old adage that, people don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care. And I really believe that’s true. People … people don’t really care about your CV or your resume until you know that you’re gonna walk beside them in their mathematical journey, and beyond that in life as well. I always strive to help my students understand that their knowledge matters, and that their culture matters, and what they bring to the mathematics classroom is … centuries, centuries of rich mathematical traditions. And that just because … their ideas of mathematics aren’t written in a mathematics textbook doesn’t mean that’s not exactly what it is.



Seems like, Linda, as you talk, I’m thinking very literally and you know, mathematics. And you always kind of take it metaphorically and to … a more expansive place.




A more visionary place. But it all starts with—




–your sense of how things work.






So, maybe we can—I’ll go back to the ethnomathematics and STEM institute.




So an example of a literal example, a specific example of mathematics, actually, STEM is, for example, when we go to from the heavens down to the valleys, when we go to Waimea Valley, we um, debark some of the trees with the workers there. And we talk about rock wall formations and the significance of the pohaku stones. And we talk about vectors. So, direction and magnitude in the placement of these stones. We need to know where they go, because we don’t have cement. And as we talk about vectors, we connect them to standards, such as the mathematics common core state standards or the next generation science standards.


In terms of the makeup of the rock wall?


And the mathematical content involved with attention to precision and finding … beauty, power, clarity, and precision, and symbolic reasoning. So, making the connections be—uh, really in P-20 education, from early childhood education through higher ed. At the four hundred year old Waikalua Loko fishpond, with the Pacific American Foundation, we talk about ellipses and foci. So, why are fishponds oriented in a certain way? Why is the auwai um, the connection between the ocean water and the fresh water – why does it have a certain placement?




How does that relate to rates of change or derivatives? And how do we take that back to the classroom? And how do students understand what a derivative is, and how does that impact the way that they … not just memorize them for a math test or a physics exam, but then carry it with them so that we can eventually prepare them for college, career, and community readiness?


How did math figure prominently in the life of ancient Hawaiians? Who didn’t have our tools. But who loved tools.


Great question. There’s no exact or formal term for a mathematician or a scientist, but what they did in order to build with pohaku or what they did to design the—like the structural engineering involved with designing a fishpond, or what they did to … take a look at the ecosystems and how—how we’re connected through place-based education, those are—those are some other ways that they incorporated mathematics.


University of Hawaii Associate Professor Linda Furuto is using her knowledge of math principles…as an apprentice navigator and education specialist on Hokulea’s Worldwide Voyage…which was launched in 2014. The Journey is called Malama Honua or “Caring for Island Earth.” Furuto was there at the very beginning of the epic travels-that first leg from Hawaii to Tahiti.


Our kumu, like … Nainoa and Bruce Blankenfeld, Kalepa Baybayan, Bob Perkins, as part of my apprentice navigator and education specialist training, they would ask me questions like, Linda, what do you think is the purpose of education? When do you think a child starts learning? And where do you see yourself in forty years? Uh, no pressure.


And do it in twenty-five words or less.


So, we studied really, really hard. We looked at charts, we mapped things out. And because we had done all that work beforehand . . . as Uncle Pinky Thompson said, ninety percent is preparation, of voyaging is preparation. We’d done that preparation. So, we’d reached the point where we had to trust ourselves. And that’s really hard sometimes, between the squalls and the massive waves, to trust what your naau is telling you. But I do know from experience that … it helps you, and that you need to know that, because when you’re trying to find coconut trees after twenty-five hundred miles … something inside of you has got to trust itself and to know that … that we’ve done the preparation, and to also know that we never sail alone, and even if there’s thirteen people on Hokulea, thousands of people are guiding Hokulea on her journey … on her journey to Keala Kahiki.



What was that first trip like, the first leg of the worldwide voyage? Tell me a little bit about that.


I remember when we left Hilo … Kumukahi, in May 2014.


We waited until … nature told us it was the right time. And it was the right time, because when we hit the … the intertropical convergent zone and the doldrums, which can typically be dark, very dark, we had the full moon, the light of the full moon guiding us like a spotlight. And we could see the door, this like quadrilateral at the end of the horizon, just showing us where we needed to guide Hokulea to get through. We barely touched the sweep, which is how we steer the canoe, because it’s Keala Kahiki Hokulea was finding her way home, from Hawaii to Tahiti. And we used principles of science, technology, engineering and math to um, use weight distribution, forward or aft so that we could, guide the canoe into the wind or off the wind. We also used … sails. We brought so many sails, so we could use the dynamics of the winds to get us there.


Rangiroa was the first land that we saw after sixteen days of being out on the open ocean. And Nainoa said, Okay guys, you know your calculations, but you need to put that on the side and you need to trust your naau. You need to trust what it’s telling you, because those are the signs that are gonna help you find the land. And we did.


I love the Promise to Children document that we’re carrying with us on Hokulea around the world. And part of it reads, We believe the betterment of humanity is inherently possible, and we believe our schools from early childhood education through graduate studies are a powerful force for good. As we sail forty-seven thousand nautical miles around the earth, we will share Hawaii’s gifts of kindness and caring with our—with our brothers and sisters.


To me, the real highlight was just seeing the smiles of the children and … having them experience um … their, our shared culture. And thousands have been able to come onboard the floating classrooms, Hokulea and Hikianalia, models of island sustainability and exploration of ancient wisdom and modern connections.


What’s it like, just day-by-day, on the Hokulea, heading out across a huge expanse of ocean? Where do you sleep?


We sleep in the hulls. The hulls are pretty deep, and there’s a platform that goes on top of the hull, with a little puka, so you can descend below. And when you descend below, we keep, there we keep like food, water, miscellaneous supplies, and then … so you have a puka. And then, there’s a hatch cover. On top of the hatch cover is a plywood. On top of the plywood is a foam mattress; it’s maybe a few inches thick. That’s what we sleep on. And then, there’s a canvas … a canvas tent above us. But we’re not dry.


You’re not dry?


No, we’re not dry.


Throughout the night, you’re not?


We are not—well, um … people like me who are apprentice and at the very bottom, we’re never dry.


And you could still sleep well?


M-hm; m-hm. Because we know we’re exactly where we need to be. And so, when our master navigators they sleep at the—at the back of canoe, where it’s drier. But eventually, maybe we’ll get to move back–a little bit more each voyage.


Linda Furuto says navigator Nainoa Thompson…one of her mentors…asked her several times to become an apprentice before she said yes. Furuto had to be sure she was ready for the monumental responsibility.


… I realize that this is a lifelong commitment, and that this is something that I’m pledging to do for the rest of my life, not just for myself, but to help in schools and to help through … education, P-20 education and beyond the classroom through place-based education. And these are things that I think about every day, because this is my commitment to—to honor my teachers


This is—this is my path, this is not something I asked for, and never asked to be an apprentice navigator. I never asked to be on that first leg from Hawaii to Tahiti. It’s a gift that comes with lifelong kuleana, and I embrace it.



It’s a lot of kuleana. And you’re looking for the—I mean, you’re on your way to having that burden.


I do think about that. And Leslie, if I could share with you a quote. Just because I think navigating past, present, and future visions is one of my pillars, and something that I think about every single day. As we were getting ready to leave for Tahiti, Nainoa called me up about eight-thirty at night. He’s like … Eh, Linda; what you doing?


But Leslie, I was really watching TV.


But I didn’t want to tell him that.


I was looking at the stars, Nainoa.


Exactly. And it—yes, I saw this, at this declination. We ended up meeting about ten-thirty at night, and we went walking at Paiko’s. And …


That’s East Honolulu.










M-hm. And we watched the star constellations, Hokulea, Hawaii’s Venus star, and her companion star Hikianalia. So, our Taurus and Spica just rising in the heavens. And Nainoa imparted wisdom that I hope I’ll always carry with me. And he said, Linda, you have to have a vision. If you don’t, someone will take it away from you, or they’ll give you theirs. And that’s really important. We need to always be grounded in what we’re willing to sail for.


At the time of this conversation in 2015, Linda Furuto had sailed on 3 legs of Hokulea’s voyage around the globe. Mahalo to Math Education Associate Professor Linda Furuto of the University of Hawaii at Manoa for sharing your story with us. And thank you for joining us. For PBS Hawaii and Long Story Short. I’m Leslie Wilcox. Aloha A Hui Hou.



CREDITS: (30-40 SEC)


Two of my favorite places on Hokulea are the front and the back. On the back is a plaque; it’s for our na aumakua and it starts with Pele. And when we have the gods and goddesses, and up to this day, people who have gone before us uh, Papa Mau Piailug, our very first teacher and master navigator, um, and we have Lacy Veach, NASA astronaut and Punahou alum who says you need to take Hokulea around the world because Hawaii is a laboratory for living well on islands, including Island Earth.




And when you have Eddie Aikau, whose plaque on the front of the canoe—so that’s my other favorite part. It reads, No greater love hath a man than this, that he laid down his life for his friends.   And I’m filled with courage, and I’m filled with peace, that I know I’m in the right place.




Joy Abbott


Original air date: Tues., Aug. 13, 2013


Leslie Wilcox talks with Joy Abbott, singer and widow of renowned stage producer George Abbott. Born and raised in Wahiawa, Oahu, Joy graduated from Punahou School. She attended Temple University in Philadelphia to study education, before pursuing a career in entertainment. In recent years, Abbott has written and directed several theater benefit galas, and is co-authoring a biography on George Abbott.


Download the Transcript




And in all those twenty-five years, I was working, working, trying to make my shops a success, my fashion show productions, they were musical and in demand. And so, that’s when George proposed after twenty-five years, and he said, you know, It’s time. [CHUCKLE]


From World War II era Wahiawa to the bright lights and big personalities of Broadway, Joy Abbott has lived a glamorous life far from her roots in Hawaii. But she’s remained true to the values she grew up with, and close to family and friends back home. Her dramatic journey is next, on Long Story Short.


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


Aloha mai kakou. I’m Leslie Wilcox. In this edition of Long Story Short, the Shirley Temple of Hawaii; that’s what people called the former Joy Valderrama when she was a talented kid growing up in Wahiawa in the 1930s. Little did she suspect that one day, she’d be friends with some of Broadway’s biggest stars, and married to an iconic Broadway producer, writer, and director who created scores of American stage classics, a vital man who lived to the age of one hundred seven. Joy Abbott’s parents had a lasting influence on her life. They armed her with three important gifts: an excellent education, training to develop her talents, and values to guide her.


My father said that when I was born, I didn’t cry, I smiled; so he called me Joy. [CHUCKLE] True story. Wahiawa, you know, it was just a wonderful life; food wise, for instance, organic, healthy food. My mother would actually kill the chicken herself, and she would grow vegetables and everything. So, food wise, it made a healthy childhood. A very happy childhood too, because we were always laughing.


What did your parents do for a living?


My father was a barber.


Where in Wahiawa?


In Schofield Barracks, actually. He went to University of the Philippines, and he studied accounting. He became an accountant, but he wanted to see the, quote, unquote, new world, so he came to Hawaii. My mother was a schoolteacher, but she was a traveling schoolteacher. I remember telling about her riding sidesaddle through all the barrios to teach teachers. And so, when they came here, well, she was a housewife, and my father opened one barber shop, then another, and then another. And he would be the ones to cut the general’s hair, the major, all the officers. And my uncles joined, and they managed the other barber shops.


And he got an audience with some of the top decision makers at Schofield.


Oh, my gosh; yes. He went to the general’s house to cut their hair, or to the major’s and captain’s, so he learned a lot of things from that way of living.


And your siblings?


I have three. I have Ruth, who went to Julliard; she’s the older, went to Punahou, Class of ’44. And Grace, she’s in real estate in California now. And May Ann is a tennis coach, and she had the winning Mililani team. She was married to Keola Beamer.


Not the Keola Beamer —


No; Uncle Keola.


Uncle Keola.


Uncle Keola.


So, Winona Beamer’s brother?




And Keola Beamer, the composer’s and slack key artist’s uncle.


Exactly; that’s Nona’s son. Yeah.


So, you lived in Wahiawa, which in those days was much farther away from town that it is now, because of the lack of freeways. And you went to Punahou School, which is all the way in town.




How’d you manage that? How’d you get there and back?


By bus. I remember getting up very early in the morning, and my father would wake me up and he’d take my hand and … put his whiskers. He says, Time to get up now. [CHUCKLE]


That would get you up; right? [CHUCKLE]


[CHUCKLE] And then he’d take us to the bus, my sister and I would ride the bus into town.


When you left the post school, left home in Wahiawa every day to go to Punahou, at the time, I imagine most of the students at Punahou were not only White, but they were wealthy and they were from the town area.


Absolutely; yes.


So, you were the country non-White.


Yes; we were ten percent, in those days, called Orientals, today Asians. And it was just a handful of Asians. But I never felt that, ‘cause my parents said, You know, you’re gonna make yourself in life what you want to be, as long as you work hard, achieve.


It’s up to you.


Yes; yes. We’re giving you the tools, but it’s up to you.


When your dad was a barber, and you know, he had at least an acquaintance or business relationship with generals at Schofield Barracks. And he was concerned about you getting ahead, wasn’t he?


Absolutely. Yes; my parents were all for achieving, accomplishments, and they thought that versatility would open doors. So, my father taught me tennis.


How did he know tennis?


Well, he played in the Philippines, and he coached tennis, as well as boxing and baseball. So, it was a sports family. And my mother always loved singing, dancing, and the arts. And neither could carry a tune. My father would sing Happy Birthday in five different keys to us. # And my mother loved to dance, but she just didn’t have it, so she gave us all the lessons.


So, you were in Wahiawa; where did you go to lessons?


Oh, in Schofield Barracks. Because we had this wonderful Black fellow who was a tap dance teacher, and I learned all these wonderful steps and riffs, and everything when I was just six years old. There was uh, a revue called the Jackie Suiter’s Revue [PHONETIC]. This is way, way, way before your time. And it was at King Theater, and they would have me, because they dubbed me as the Shirley Temple of Hawaii. [CHUCKLE]


Oh, is that right?


Yeah. [CHUCKLE] So, I sang these songs as part of this revue. And that was my early debut into showbiz.


And at the same time, your dad was making an athlete of you?


Oh, yes; yes. So, we’d get up early in the morning on weekends, because naturally, school, we’d go. And he would teach me and drill me, and drill me with basic strokes. And then, I’d play with my uncles afterwards to hit with them. But it opened doors, ‘cause I won the Hawaiian Junior Championship before I left for the mainland.


Were you competitive?


Oh, absolutely competitive. I think it was instinctive. When I was in a tournament, it was, Kill! No prisoners! [CHUCKLE]


And in every sport you played, you had to win?


Oh, absolutely. It was just the thing to do. That was the goal; win, win. But I was a good loser. Because my father said, You must learn to lose as a sports person, and be a sport when you lose, and you can learn from your losses, because you know what you did wrong, and then you can improve on that. For instance, in tennis. Yeah, I — I played field hockey, I was a gymnast, and I was on the swimming team at Punahou.


Do you think tennis opened doors for you?


Very much so. When I went to the mainland, I had won the Hawaiian Junior Championship. My brother-in-law, the one that was going to the Curtis, Felix, would take me out to the public parks and play. And there was this one fellow who was playing with his daughter, and grooming her for a tournament, and he was watching me. He said, Would you like to play in the National Junior Grass Court Tournament at Philadelphia Cricket Club? I said, Fine. He said, Well, we’ve been watching you play. Well, that opened doors.


And you didn’t think of saying, Oh, not me, you don’t understand.


I said, I’m from Hawaii. And he said, Well, did you win things? I said, Well, I had the Hawaiian Junior title before. He said, That’s enough. And that got me into the eighteen and under national, so I played with the likes of Maureen Connolly. I was only sixteen when I came to the mainland.


You graduated young from Punahou.


From Punahou; yes. And came right to Philadelphia, where my sister and brother-in-law lived.


To attend Temple University.


To attend Temple.


When you were at Temple, you were playing tennis. Didn’t you have an incredible tennis record at Temple University?


Yes; I’m in the Sports Hall of Fame for tennis, being undefeated the four years. Singles.


Did you think sports might be a possible career for you?


No; I was never strong enough, and I knew my limitations. ‘Cause when I played tournaments on the mainland, I’d get to quarter finals, semi finals, and things. But I’ve got a lot of trophies.


And at that point, what did you want to do with your life?


Actually, I thought I would be a teacher. I was in health and physical education, and I thought I would come back and teach here. But then, that changed my life when I decided to help my parents to put my other siblings through school. So, I went to this place called the Hawaiian Cottage, and I said, I can sing and dance if you need someone here. And so, they hired me. And so, I got this job at the Hawaiian Cottage, and I had my own trio after a while. And then, I was put on the main stage and learned Haole songs. [CHUCKLE] You know, the pop standards and Broadway. So, I did double duty. I did my Hawaiian show, and then I did the other. So, that was an influence.


So, you were essentially a businesswoman, and an entertainer at a young age.




Making enough money to help put your siblings through college.


Yes; m-hm.


You know, your father, who had to switch jobs, he moved to a new country and found he needed to change occupations. He showed a lot of resilience and versatility, and I guess a lot of hope too.


Yes. And all that hope was put into us, the daughters. Because what they couldn’t do, they thought they’d give us the opportunity to do. And it came to fruition; yes.


It sounds like you always were trying to get better at what you did.


Yes; that’s because of my parents. You achieve and you try to get better. And they taught me not to envy or be jealous. And that helped later on when I met George Abbott, ‘cause we had the same principles. And my mother and father said, Don’t envy someone, because if you accomplish and achieve the goals that you set out for and you’re successful, then you need not envy or be jealous of anyone. You can admire, and you can learn, but you know, that was a good lesson.


Joy Abbott stayed in Philadelphia after college, performing fulltime to help pay her sisters’ tuitions. And one of her sisters, perhaps unintentionally, paid her back with an introduction to the man who would be the love of her life, the legendary Broadway producer, director and playwright, George Abbott. He was the creative genius behind classic musicals such as The Pajama Game and Damn Yankees, and winner of multiple Tony Awards, a Pulitzer Prize, and later the Kennedy Center Lifetime Achievement Award.


He invited me to dinner. I was invited at seven o’clock. So, I came, and I rang the bell. And whoo, he opened the door himself, and I saw this tall man with silver hair, and these steel blue eyes. I’m like, Whoo. I saw him, and I said, Wow! He was six-three, tall, handsome like Gary Cooper, Randolph Scott handsome combination, and his steel blue eyes, and this beautiful smile. And I said, I’m Joy Valderrama. And he said, Good, you’re on time. That was it. ‘Cause he was a stickler for time. And so, from then on, we just hit off, and we dated for twenty-five years before we got married.


You didn’t really want to rush things.




How old was he when you met; in his seventies?




And how old were you?


I was twenty-nine.


Did that not make you a little leery? Like, why would I want to date somebody so much older than me?


No; ‘cause I didn’t think of dating at the time. I liked him right from the start, because he was handsome, and kind. And so, he would ask me on my day off to come up and so, we dated for twenty-five years.


I hope I’m not overstepping or on territory that makes you uncomfortable. But I read George’s bio in various places. And, you know, it talks about how for ten years he had a relationship with Maureen Stapleton.


Yes. It was a friendship. It was nothing untoward. And in her biography, if you read one of the paragraphs, it says, And then he met Joy Valderrama and married her, and lived happily ever after, like an old MGM movie.




That’s in her biography.


Does it bother you that in his bios that you read all over the place, there’s so much attention given to his relationship with this, you know, stunning movie actress?


Oh, not at all. Oh, my gosh. I knew he liked me, and I liked him, but I didn’t know how much he loved me until later.


So, you were okay with him dating other people?


Oh, gosh; yes. Because he would be very frank with me. He would tell me that there was nothing but … you know, and it was part of their publicity for shows.


Joy Abbott recalls that in those days, there were no parts on Broadway for Asians, and no nontraditional casting as we have today. So, she continued her performing career at the Hawaiian Cottage until George Abbott encouraged her to develop a new talent, as an entrepreneur.


He said, It’s time you stopped singing and dancing, and open your own business, and I’ll back you. So, he backed me in a dress shop. Then I opened another one; then I opened another one. You can’t just pull them in with a hook, so you have to have something to attract them. So, I started musical fashion shows, and they became so popular, I was doing two hundred a year. And I had all these professional models, gorgeous girls, modeling the clothes from my store. Well, we had some designer clothes, but a lot of ready to wear. And so, it was quite a successful business.


So, very consuming life, and very beautiful life.




Did you think about children and marriage at that point?




‘Cause in those days, that was the drill; right?


Yes. But then, I was going with George; he was seventy-two, and I was twenty-nine when I first met. And in all those twenty-five years, I was working, working, trying to make my shops a success, my fashion show productions, they were musical and in demand. And so, that’s when George proposed after twenty-five years, and he said, It’s time. And you know how he proposed?




[CHUCKLE] After twenty-five years, we were up in his country home up in the Catskills. Beautiful place up there, so serene. And he says, Joy, I have something to tell you. So, he said, Come sit beside me. And I remember it was a Sunday morning, and the pines; it was so beautiful up there. He says, I have something to tell you. My lawyer tells me I have enough money for two to live on; it’s time we got married. [CHUCKLE] I said, Oh. I said, Oh, I have to call my mother. [CHUCKLE]


You said one of the things about you and George was that despite the age difference and your different backgrounds, you had very similar values.




What were those?


A lot of the principles, again, of envy and jealousy. I was surprised to learn that. Taking life in moderation; that’s why he lived so long. He had a glass of wine for dinner. That was it; he didn’t drink, he didn’t smoke.


Did he exercise, or golf? Dancing?


Oh; exercise. Exercise and work; that’s what made him live so long. Work and accomplishments, and achievements.


And that’s what you’re all about too; right?


Yes. And he had a wonderful sense of humor; just wonderful. It was a wonderful, wonderful marriage.


When Joy Valderrama married George Abbott in 1983, she sold her fashion business and moved to his main home in Florida. She took up golf and became immersed in the country club culture there, as well as the theater circuit in New York.


I was living in Florida and being part of the country club that George belonged to, Indian Creek Country Club. And it’s a wonderful social place, and for golf. Pretty exclusive, too.


You were all right giving up your business and living this life of relative leisure with George.


Leisure and social, and Broadway. When I would be going to some of the opening night parties, I said, Oh, there’s so-and-so, oh, there’s Julie Andrews, oh, there’s Carol Burnett. ‘Cause we went to their Carnegie Hall debut thing, and they had a big party afterwards. And we would be dancing, and I’d be stumbling, and everything. And I’m a pretty good dancer, but George was very serious about dancing. And so, later on when we were married, and we were at the country club, and there’s a dance and I’m dancing and I’m stumbling. I said, Oh, Cynthia, what time is our tee time? Oh, are we playing tennis on Wednesday? And I’d be stumbling. So, the next morning [CHUCKLE] George said, You know, Dear, there are three types of women who make lousy ballroom dancers. He said, Professional singers and dancers, athletes … oh, and rich women. And he said, And you are all three. [CHUCKLE]


So, you met him when he was seventy-two, and then twenty-five years later you married him.




So, he’s dancing at an advanced age.


Oh, absolutely. He loved to dance all the time. As a matter of fact, Kitty Carlisle received after a dancing date a book on how to dance, because she was such a lousy dancer. [CHUCKLE]


So, he was a very vital man.


Very vital. He was playing golf at ninety-six or teaching me. He didn’t give it up until a hundred two, and he in the Croquet Hall of Fame.


How old was he when he passed away?


Hundred seven.


And how healthy was he shortly before that? Did he maintain his health?


Yes. He had no diabetes, no cancer, no Parkinson’s, nothing debilitating. And it was just that he died of old age, but his mind was so sharp. As a matter of fact, he was dictating a scene from the second act of Pajama Game that was to be a London production two weeks before he died.


It sounds like a magical life. Do you have any regrets?


Absolutely none. We never argued, except my driving. I drove too slowly for him. [CHUCKLE] Here’s a story. When he was a hundred six, I asked him what he wanted for his birthday. And he said, Oh, I think I would like to have a swimming pool in the back yard, because I’m tired of walking two blocks to Shirley’s house to do my twenty laps. And so, I contracted a swimming pool person. Well, it took so long; took instead of six weeks, six months. So, we came back from the Catskills, and there was this pool that you know, finally, finally, he was able to go in. So, the first day, he dove in, he sank to the bottom because he was all skin and bones. You don’t have flesh, and buoyancy at a hundred six. So, he comes blubbering up, and he says, Joy, get your money back, it doesn’t work. [CHUCKLE] But the reason I tell that story is, I think he wanted me to exercise. And so, he built that pool so that I would, in our house.


And do you? Do you use the pool?


Oh, yes; yes, I do.


But you didn’t settle down to a life of ease and relative seclusion as a widow. You’re on the jazz circuit.


Oh, yes. I did concerts perpetuate the name of George Abbott. I have a singing partner named Davis Gaines.


He’s known for Phantom of the Opera on Broadway.


Yes; yes, he is. And so, we would do a compilation of songs from George’s shows, and then we would do things from Phantom, Showboat, you know, other shows. And it would raise a lot of money too for people. Just not to give concerts, but we would do it for AIDS benefits, benefit for the theater community. And so, I’ve been singing since, and enjoying that life, because I don’t have to make it as a living.


What do you like about jazz? Why jazz?


Oh; because I sang with the best musicians in Philadelphia. There was Al Governor and the Candoli Brothers, and Richie Kamoku, who was part-Filipino, part-Jewish. [CHUCKLE] And he was a saxophone player from Philadelphia, and he played with Zoot Sims and all these wonderful players. And I would be privy to all that music.


What did you learn from them?


I learned phrasing, I learned pitch, and also a certain style, where I wouldn’t do vocal acrobatics, I would let the musicians underneath do that. And I would sing the songs straight, but with phrasing.


What’s your favorite song, favorite jazz song?


I don’t really have a favorite, because there are so many that are so good.


There’s none of that you hope you’re gonna be requested to do for that encore?


Oh; oh, well, gosh … Our Love Is Here to Stay is one of my favorites, and The Way We Were. Betty and I just did that for a private party, and it brings tears to your — ooh, tears to your eyes. [CHUCKLE]


You won a Hoku. And in fact, your co-winner was …


Betty Loo Taylor.


Is she about the same age?


Yes; we were both septuagenarians at the time.


Doing jazz.


Oh, yes.


On a Hoku album.


Yes; it was our first album. And how it happened was, I would come home, and Betty would have her trio at the Kahala. And she says, Come, come up and sing with us. So, I would sing. But by the way, Betty Loo and I used to do carnivals at Punahou. And so, we’d been long, long, longtime friends. When I would come back, she would say, Oh, come up and sing, or wherever she would be. And so I said, Betty, why don’t we make an album together? We’ve known each other’s style for so long. So, she said, Okay. So, I flew her up to New York, and in one week, we did this album.


Did your competitive nature ever ebb?




You still are very competitive?


Oh, absolutely. [CHUCKLE] I took up golf, as I said, when I was fifty-three. And after the first year and a half, I won the First Flight at our club, and I won it six times after.


And you still play golf, and you still are competitive with friends?


Oh, yes; yes. Between operations. [CHUCKLE] ‘Cause I’ve had two hip replacements, a knee replacement, a shoulder replacement, and cervical and lumbar. And each time, it improved my game [CHUCKLE] actually. But no more tennis, unfortunately, after my hip replacements.


You’ve had a very unusual life, starting in the country of Wahiawa, with immigrant parents who opened doors for you, and you pushed on those doors.


Yeah. And now, I’m able to give back, I’m happy to say. Because Templeton University is the recipient of my legacy with the royalties that I’m giving them and my annual contribution, and so they’ve opened the Joy and George Abbott School of Musical Theater.


Joy Abbott says she’s living her second life now in her early eighties at the time of this conversation in the summer of 2013. This longtime performer, businesswoman, and patron of the theater arts devotes much of her time to honoring and furthering the legacy of her famous husband. Joy Abbott divides her time between Florida, Philadelphia, and Honolulu. She keeps a condo here, and loves her Punahou School reunions. And she still enjoys Broadway, sitting in a perfect seat in the theater and going backstage. For Long Story Short, and PBS Hawaii, I’m Leslie Wilcox. A hui hou kakou.


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


And you’ve remained lifelong friends with your Punahou classmates with whom you were close before.


Yes. But when I tell them I’m coming in May, so-and-so, they tell everybody, Oh, Joy is coming, we better put our acts together, ‘cause we’re gonna be busy. Things like that. Now, we had just our sixty-fifth Punahou reunion, Class of ’48, and we’re the closest class at Punahou.


Susanna Moore


Original air date: Tues., Jan. 8, 2013


Leslie Wilcox talks with Susanna Moore, Punahou graduate and author of the novels In the Cut and The Whiteness of Bones. Susanna talks about how her mother’s mysterious death affected her as a child and into her adult years.


Download the Transcript




I’m not saying that I wouldn’t have had problems, or I wouldn’t have been … tormented, or I wouldn’t have been driven, or … neurotic. But … I don’t think the suffering, the great suffering that I and my brothers and sisters endured made me a better writer.


Scratching the surface with author, Susanna Moore, 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. Susanna Moore is one of the most acclaimed novelists ever to come out of Hawaii. Critics call her work brilliant, sensual, and sly. For over three decades, Susanna has written novels like, My Old Sweetheart, The Whiteness of Bones, and In the Cut, which was made into a 2003 moving starring Meg Ryan. From afar, it would seem like Susanna had a comfortable childhood here. She grew up in the upscale Honolulu neighborhoods of Tantalus, Kahala, and Portlock, and graduated from Punahou School. Household servants tended to Susanna and her four younger siblings. Scratch the surface of this glossy image, though, and you’ll find that Susanna’s childhood wasn’t as easy as it may have looked.


My father was a doctor who came here after the war. He had been in Japan, sent to Japan as a captain in the Army, ‘cause he was a radiologist, and he was study the effects of radiation after the bomb was dropped. In many ways, I think he never went back, emotionally, I imagine, after his experiences in Japan. He never talked about it, and I may have romanticized that.


But he was closed off?


Well, he was like a lot of fathers in the 50s. Fathers did not change diapers, or take you to ice skating lessons or —


They just gave you —


— go to the movies.


— your allowance if you lucky enough to have that, and —


Yes. Fathers were quite distant and quite removed, and because of that, probably mysterious and probably not good for girls. Probably not good for boys either, to have a father that was so distant. ‘Cause there was not a lot of intimacy in households between fathers and children. And there were five children. My mother died when I was twelve.


I can’t imagine what that must be like for a twelve-year-old girl, or boy, to lose your mother. Was it unexpected?


It was unexpected, and she was very young. She was only thirty-five. She had been ill, and there was is some mystery about how she died. I will never know what happened. I suspect it was an accidental suicide. I suspect that maybe she took some pills and then forgot, and went back. I don’t know.


How did that change your life? And that’s a big question, but if I you could give us a sense of it.


Well, I adored her and was very close to her. I was the oldest child. Also, I was born when my father was still in Japan, so I didn’t meet my father like a lot of children until I was almost three. So, I think there was a very strong bond. I’ve always thought I must have minded it tremendously when this man turned up. It changed my life completely. It was awful for all of us. There were, as I said, five children, and the youngest was two. I had been a mother to the other children for a while, for a few years probably, because of her illness. And so that increased, of course, after she died.


Some parts of your upbringing, which you relate in a book, I have trouble identifying with, ‘cause you lived in a more privileged world, and you have parents and kids not eating together. And that was common with your friends, right? Everybody ate in different rooms.


I don’t know if it was …


And you had servants.


Yes. Yes, but I don’t know if the eating part was common. We ate different food. We ate children’s food. Creamed hamburger on toast and rice —


And what were the parents having?


I think they had something much better, but we would not have considered it interesting as children, of course. No, we did eat at different times, and then after my mother died, we would eat only with my stepmother and father, say, at Christmas or maybe Easter. And it was torture, it was agony.




Our stepmother was not very kind. It was awkward. We couldn’t wait to be finished, and it was not happy.


So you had more bonding with the servants than with, say, your stepmother?


I remember going to the old Queen Theater in Kaimuki that showed foreign movies to see something called Sundays In Seville. And I was taken by the housekeeper’s husband, and I was thrilled, of course. I still remember the movie very clearly. But yes, my relationship was with the housekeeper’s husband, not my own father.


Through her teenage years, Susanna Moore’s father and stepmother remained distant from the children. She says neighbors knew about the neglect taking place in the Moore home, but avoided confronting Susanna’s parents. However, the neighbors found ways to reach out to the Moore children. One of the adults who looked out for Susanna was Alice Chester Kaiser, wife of industrialist Henry Kaiser, who developed Hawaii Kai and the health insurance plan named after him.


Mrs. Kaiser was enormously generous, and played a very important part in my life as a young girl. And other neighbors; I would spend a lot of time at the neighbors’. I was dressed by one neighbor. I had two sets of clothes; I had the clothes that I would wear to school in the morning, which my stepmother had found for us at the Salvation Army, really awful misshapen, ill-fitting clothes, and another set that my neighbor would bring to school, supplied by her mother and by her, into which I would change in the morning for school, and then I would change back in the afternoon. So, things like that. People were very sweet. But never in any direct way. No one ever challenged, no one ever said to my parents, What are you doing to these children?


And that was true for all of the kids? There was always —


Well, my brother; my brother was a paperboy, the boy next to me, which is my next brother. And there was a woman at Portlock named Frieda Brown, who lived in a house on the seawall, lived on the sea with her aged mother, and she used to prepare food for him. So when he would deliver the paper, he would stop at her house last and rush in, ‘cause he had to get home, and eat the dinner she prepared, which always, I remember, included a can of warmed Le Sueur Peas, you know, in the silver can. He loved those little Le Sueur Peas. And then later, when he ran away from home when he was still at Punahou, he went to live with Frieda Brown, and she took him in. So, people were kind that way. And then, my sister also ran away and went to live with him at Frieda’s. Quite an eccentric arrangement, and I think rather crowded, but —


And your father said, That’s where they want to live, that’s okay with me?


I’ve asked my brother about that. Like, how did you get to school, how did you … did you have any money, what about your clothes, did our father ever call Frieda or come looking for you? He said, No, never did.


So, there was no arrangement between your father and —


Frieda; no, no. None. No discussion. No thank you, no … Send them home. Nothing.


I notice when you graduated from Punahou, you did what many Punahou grads do not do. And that is, you didn’t go to college at all.


No, it was made clear to me that I could go to UH, or I could work. I was not very much encouraged, and also, my grades at Punahou were very bad. After my mother died, I really lost interest in that, in school. I had loved school, did love school, but that disappeared, that discipline and I suppose, wish to please her. And so, the day after I graduated from Punahou, I left, was sent and I had a feeling that I wouldn’t be back for a while. It was quite heartbreaking. And especially to leave my brothers and sisters.


Did you feel sent away?


I did feel sent away. And I went to live with my grandmother, my mother’s mother, who was an old Irishwoman who lived in Philadelphia, very, very modestly. And then, for a long time, I lived with very, very little. If I wanted to eat the next day and was fortunate enough to be taken to dinner, I would have to take home the bread and whatever I could.


This was when you —


Packets of sugar.


— were living as a young adult on the mainland?


I went to New York when I was eighteen, nineteen, and again, through Mrs. Kaiser. And I was very poor, and often didn’t have food.


What did you do for a living?


Mrs. Kaiser was the largest customer of Bergdorf Goodman, and so, she called Andrew Goodman and said, I have a young friend who’s coming to New York and needs a job. And I worked as a salesgirl.


Susanna Moore always had the writing bug. As a child, she wrote plays, stories for Punahou’s student newspaper, and what she calls really bad poetry. Although she spent her childhood in Hawaii, life as an adult took her all over the place. From New York City, she moved to Los Angeles, where she worked as an assistant to Warren Beatty and Jack Nicholson. It’s also where she met her future husband, Richard Sylbert, a Hollywood production designer, with whom she’d have her only child, Lulu. That marriage ended in divorce. Life then took Susanna to London, and back to New York, where she lived for over three decades. Despite her wanderlust, Hawaii was always with Susanna. Many of her books, including her memoir, I Myself Have Seen It, take place back home in the islands, and in nature.


In growing up on Tantalus, I think it’s in the foreword or the first chapter of your book, I Myself Have Seen It, you talk about being very aware of and believing in spirits about, when you go into the forest, you ask permission of the gods.


Yes, asking the moo, the lizard god who lives in waterfall pools whether it’s safe to go in, yes, and beseeching not his protection, but his indifference. Yes, one of my childhood friends was Tommy Holmes, who died in a canoe, but he grew up to write the great book about the Hawaiian canoe. He lived in Tantalus, and he and I spent our childhood exploring those woods. And the smell of Tantalus is still very vivid in my head. Its decaying leaves, mildew, eucalyptus, mud … lovely smell.




I always thought that, in a way, nature took the place of my mother. So, I was very, very grateful and conscious of it, even, I think, as an adolescent, that it was playing a part in my life that was significant. That Hawaii was meaningful to me in a way that was profound. Still is.


And yet, once you moved to New York City, that’s where you stayed.




Except for sojourns here and there.


Yes. I mean, I would come back almost every year, but no, I had been in New York, to my own astonishment, more than thirty years. I moved there because my daughter had not been school, I had been living abroad, I had been living in London. But no, I stayed away. I did stay away, it’s true.


Well, not really, because you came back every year.


Yes, but I never quite made the leap to … and friends of mine have said, Why aren’t you here? What are you doing? And my brothers; Why aren’t you here?


Why were you wandering?


Well, in some ways, I didn’t have a home. I had been really on my own since I was seventeen; much too young to be on my own. Made awful mistakes and took a long time to grow up. I was also really … avid, keen, greedy, desperate for the world, and for things that I knew that I couldn’t, wouldn’t find here. So, I had to find those things, ballet, and opera, and traveling, and different cultures, and different sorts of people. That period in which we grew up too, there was not ever any consciousness, even though it was privileged, of money. Women wore muumuu’s, women were not like I see them now in Chanel suits and high heels and stockings. You know, women were in muumuu’s, or men in aloha shirts always, not tucked in. No one had fancy cars, no one went to Paris, for Christmas. It was very modest. Houses were modest. I mean, I’m sure there was land, of course there was money in some families. But it wasn’t evident, it wasn’t talked about, it wasn’t …


Not much consciousness about wealth. What about race?


That was always interesting, too. Because when I grew up, I discovered that the places where we lived, like Kahala, had racial restrictions. I was quite shocked by that. I had no idea. And obviously, that changed.


As a matter of fact, I recall James Michener, who was married to a Japanese woman, couldn’t live in Kahala.


Yeah. I didn’t know that. I didn’t know that growing up. And that’s quite shocking, that that happened. And there was also, the races were quite separate, especially Japanese. There was not a lot of mixing. I remember Japanese girls would now and then disappear, because they had become involved with a Haole boy or another Asian boy, but not Japanese, and were whisked back to Japan to live with their grandparents. There was much more of a separation. You didn’t see Asian girls at the beach.


Were there Hapa Haoles around at Punahou?


Hapa Haoles, yes, and I was always and still interested by the fact that Hawaiians had a certain prestige, always, always. To be certainly part-Hawaiian was privileged, but there were none of the prejudices against and of course, unspoken, maybe even unconscious prejudice. There wasn’t outward discrimination against Japanese or Chinese, or Filipinos. Although later, of course, I realized it was there.


And Hawaiians would tell you they felt discrimination, they felt …


And of course, they were discriminated against; of course. And they were certainly discriminated against in that their culture had no value. If we learned a hula at Punahou, it was … Little Grass Shack, or something equally insipid.

Hapa Haole.


Yes; Lovely Hula Hands, or something.


Susanna Moore’s first novel, My Old Sweetheart, takes place on Kauai. Its main characters are based on Susanna and her mother. Female relationships, particularly mothers and daughters, are a recurring theme in Susanna’s novels.


As the subject of, I think, almost all of your books, you’ve chosen mothers and daughters in stupefying variety. I mean, you even have a mother who murders her child.


Well, that book began because I realized I had written endlessly about what it is to be a daughter. And I thought, Well, I haven’t really written about what it’s like to be a mother.


And you are a mother.


And I am a mother. And of course, my daughter teases me that the character that I chose to write about is someone who murders her children.




She thought that was a bit revelatory. But I thought, that extreme situations often serve a writer very well in that they cause a character to display qualities, or to summon aspects of their personality that might otherwise remain hidden. So, extreme situations are easy for a writer.


I’ve heard authors say before that their books are like children, they can’t choose among them. Is that true of you, as well?


No, I don’t think of them well, first of all, I think people do have favorite children, so that’s a bit disingenuous. No, I think that my books are so different, really, that I like them for different reasons. In part, I wrote In the Cut because I was so exasperated by hearing, after the three Hawaiian books, that I was a woman’s writer, which meant that I wrote poetically about children and flowers, and mothers. I remember thinking, Oh, is that all I can do? Oh, is that … is that how I’m seen? So, I very, very purposefully wrote In the Cut to dispel that notion. It was a bit …


I’ll show you. [CHUCKLE]


It was a bit adolescent in that, Oh, yeah? Well …


And then, you later said —


— look what I can do.


You later said, there was so much titillation —




— by that book, that it —


Yes, I would never, ever —


— became a distraction for you.


And I would never want to do that again. It’s been very … I’ve very deliberately not written about sex again.


So many people think that when you are a successful, critically acclaimed author, you make bunches of money, you don’t have to worry.


I know.


And of course, the book business is changing, so that’s an additional dynamic now. How hard has it been to make a living, even though you have these books that are well reviewed?


Well, it’s impossible as a writer. I did not receive a royalty until In the Cut was published. And then, I would say maybe the royalties that I’ve received over the last twenty years amount to maybe five hundred dollars. So, very, very little.
So, you do it for love.


I do it in part because there’s really nothing else I can do. I’ve thought of it. What could I do, what could I be? It’s too late.


How did you find your voice in the first place?


With the first book, I’d had a baby, a girl child, so I’m sure there was some identification there with myself and my mother, and my mother with her mother. And I was approaching the age when the same age as my mother when she died. And I felt a bit shaky, and I wanted very much to just get down in writing what had happened to me, and to my daughter’s grandmother. And that’s really how it began, just to record it.


And who were you imagining would see it?


She; I was imagining my daughter when she grew up, would find this helpful in understanding who I was, and who her grandmother had been. And then, of course, it took her years, and years, and years to read it, interestingly. She could not read it for the longest time, not until she was maybe seventeen or eighteen, because it was too painful for her. She would start it, and then she’d have to stop.


What did she say after she read it?


Thank you.


In addition to writing, Susanna Moore has taught creative writing at Yale, New York University, and Princeton. It’s the quality of her books that has led to her hiring at such prestigious schools. Other universities turned her down, because of her lack of a college degree. But she does not regret taking the path that led her where she is today.


Do you regret not going to college?


It would not be unlike the way my life would have gone if my mother had lived. I think if I had gone to college, it might have been harder for me to get started on the path that became my life. My path to becoming a writer or to becoming independent and free, the way I did become, would have been much, much harder, if not impossible, had she lived.




Well, she would have wished for me a more conventional life, I’m sure. To marry, to have children, to be near her, station wagon, house in Kahala. All of those things to which she herself aspired, and a bohemian life would have seemed to her probably frightening and impractical.


Are you saying the wandering, the bohemian lifestyle is really you, and if your mom had been alive longer you would have taken longer to find that?


If ever. Yes, I think it is really me.


It is really you.



So that raises an interesting question. Would you rather have had your mom with you longer, or …


Yes; always. Always. I would much rather have had my mother. And I am one of those people who — I don’t believe that suffering makes you an artist. I don’t believe in a way, I’m saying the reverse of what I just said, that I don’t think the things that happened to me as a child, or as an adolescent or a young woman made me a writer. I think that was there. I don’t think suffering is ever an advantage.




No, I don’t think so. I might have written different kinds of books, my interests might have been different, I might have been less interested in mothers. Clearly, I would have been less interested in mothers.


But, I mean, how interesting are happy, open you know, no problem people? If there is such a thing.


Yes. I’m not saying that I wouldn’t have had problems, or I wouldn’t have been tormented, or I wouldn’t have been driven, or neurotic. But I don’t think the suffering, the great suffering that I and my brothers and sisters endured made me a better writer.


Writer Susanna Moore, who draws from her Hawaii upbringing in many of her novels, is nationally known and well regarded for her powerful treatment of mother-daughter themes. Our conversation took place in 2012, when this longtime New York City resident returned to Hawaii for a visit. Quite unexpectedly, she fell in love with a man whom she’d known back in her days as a Punahou student, and she decided to move back to Hawaii. She also published a new book, The Life of Objects, a departure for her; it’s a coming of age novel set in wartime Germany. Mahalo to Susanna Moore 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 this program, and all episodes of Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox, visit pbshawaii.org.


Worked for a while as … I was Miss Aluminum, which was not a great job.


What did you do as Miss Aluminum?


Oh; I had to wear a tin foil dress.




And go to trade shows, like for boats, and stand there with a tin foil trident. And I cried a lot. I was eighteen, standing in the New York Coliseum with eight thousand men … in a tin foil dress, holding a trident.





James Scott


Part 1


Original air date: Tues., May 18, 2010



Part 2


James Scott is a Waimanalo-born Native Hawaiian who has been president of Punahou School since 1994. Scott is the first Punahou graduate to serve as its president. While Punahou has often been stereotyped as the school for Hawaii’s privileged class, Scott came from modest beginnings with parents who scraped and sacrificed so that he could attend. He also augmented his tuition by working in the school cafeteria.


In Part One of the conversation, Scott talks with Leslie Wilcox about his memories of Punahou as a student, his vision of the school as its president, his management style, and his thoughts on the changing face of education.


James Scott, Part 1 Audio


Download: James Scott, Part 1 Transcript



Original air date: Tues., May 25, 2010


In the second part of the discussion, Dr. Scott talks about the balance he tries to maintain for Punahou between traditions from the past and innovations for the future and also talks about a Punahou initiative that helps public school students get ready for college and speculates on his future as the school’s president.


James Scott, Part 2 Audio


Download: James Scott, Part 2 Transcript




Part 1


And it’s not just managing him, or our relationship with him, but just the notoriety of the school. We’ve just had more people … I get calls all the time, people just wanting me to comment on issues, because this is Obama’s school.


The fact that the nation elected a graduate of Punahou School as its President has thrust the centuries-old Hawaii institution into the national spotlight. But the school’s president takes it all in stride. Meet Waimanalo-born Dr. James 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. Well-known achievers who’ve attended Punahou School include U.S. President Barack Obama, professional golfer Michele Wie, entrepreneur Steve Case, and eBay founder Pierre Omidyar—to name a few. But for the president of one of the nation’s largest independent schools, Punahou has never been about graduating future celebrities. For Dr. James Kapae‘alii Scott, Punahou is a family tradition. Dr. Scott grew up in Kaneohe and East Oahu, raised by parents with a deep appreciation for education—in particular, a Punahou education.


Was your family always … was everyone college educated, and aiming for the next PhD?


Well, my father had gone to Stanford on a football scholarship. He’s the class of 1943 at Punahou School, and then he felt that World War II was passing him by, so he enlisted in the Marine Corps, and fought in the war in the Pacific. And he came back in 1945 on the GI Bill, and that’s how he finished school. So he was able to finish Stanford. My mother started at the University of Hawaii. She’s a 1946 graduate of Roosevelt High School. And she was the Pineapple Bowl Queen in 1947 for the University. But she had to go back to work to support her family, her younger siblings. So my dad is a college graduate. My mom didn’t have a chance to.


And did they talk about education in the household? Was that important?


Yeah, I think when they were married, and I came along, I think my dad was unemployed, or underemployed. He was fishing in Waimanalo, I think. And so his dream was for his kids to go to Punahou.


Why Punahou?


As he did. I think he had graduated from there, and was—was there from, like, seventh grade to twelfth grade, and he decided that’s the goal in life. So I think that … just wanted to give his kids the best chance he could, and have a chance to go to the school that he did. He met the Cooke family, Charles Cooke family, who gave him an opportunity to go there. So I think he was on scholarship at Iolani, and I think he had a Cooke scholarship to go to Punahou School, and was able to stay there for five years.


And he caught the eye of the Cooke family somehow?


I think somebody introduced them to him. And that’s how. So whenever we at Punahou School last year, or the year before, we celebrated the hundredth anniversary of Cooke Hall. And as I was talking to the Cooke family, I said, You know, your relatives helped my father finish. And because he did, I had a chance to go there as well.


Did they know that?




They were aware—




—but you folks had never talked about it before?


No, we hadn’t talked about it.


Do you feel a debt that way, because of them helping your dad?


To the Cooke family?




I think he did. He was very proud of the fact that he was on a Cooke scholarship. But I think that because they made it they were able to help him get through, I think he felt this debt to help others.




Including his own sons.


So he knew when you were born that he was going to try to get you into Punahou and—




—go all the way with it.


Right. At least, that’s the story he tells. So he went to work for Hawaiian Telephone selling Yellow Page ads, and worked himself up. So he was in sales and marketing, and his last few years there when he was the executive, he was marketing director.


And he kept his word. His dream came true.


He did. Because I was able to get into kindergarten, so was my brother three years later. And my mom, they met when my mom was a teller at the old Bishop Bank. She went to work for Hawaiian Telephone. Started out as an operator, became a service representative, and then ended up in training. So I like to say that Hawaiian Telephone supported the tuitions of my brother and me as we went through school.


Did that require sacrifices? I’m sure it did.


Oh, yeah.


Were you aware of it?


Um … I was. Because there were some of my classmates whose mothers didn’t have to work. And I thought they got to go home right after school, and—


They could call in sick, and their moms would—


They could call in sick.


—pick them up immediately.


And my parents would always pick us up after school right around five o’clock, five-thirty. I remember one time when I was in middle school, I asked my mom, So how come you can’t stay home like the rest of my classmates’ mothers? And she—


What’d she say?


And she said, Well, to support your tuition at Punahou School.


But being in the Punahou crowd, with parents who were working parents struggling to support your tuition, you probably didn’t have the freedoms and abilities to spend money and do things that—




—a lot of your classmates did. Did you feel …


That’s true. We didn’t take many vacations as a family. We lived simply, we didn’t go out to dinner a lot, except for special occasions. I mean, we were comfortable, but we were frugal. I remember my brother asking my mother them, Mom, are we rich? And she’d say, No, we’re comfortable. So they had a chance to own their own home, they had a chance to send their two kids to middleclass—working parents to send their kids to Punahou. But we lived frugally. And there’s no doubt that when we got to high school my brother and I both got jobs.


Well, was that a point that you had to deal with, where you thought, Well my classmates are coming in, their parents gave them cars, they have the whole keeping up with the Joneses thing.


There was some of that. I think that because we got a little of financial aid at Punahou, that allowed us to stay there. So it supplemented my parents’ income. I never forgot that. But also, you had a chance to work part-time at Punahou for the kids at that time who were on financial aid. So my part-time job during the year was working in the cafeteria. I loved it. I mean we worked for our meals. So we’d get there, eat really quickly, and then be cleaning dishes.


You didn’t mind being the worker—






Because I had a group of schoolmates who were also on financial aid, and I thought, you know, it wasn’t an issue with the other kids.


What do you think would have happened if you went to public school, Kalani, instead of Punahou? Would your life have changed?


Well, in my senior year in 1970, I was playing baseball for Punahou, and we couldn’t beat Kalani. [CHUCKLE] We played them three different times, and lost to them in the State championships. So there’s a part of me that wishes, Ah, maybe I could have played on a championship team. But no, I think my parents, even if I hadn’t finished at a private school, I think they would have wanted me to go college. I mean, that was always in the back of their minds. It wasn’t just going to Punahou, but they wanted to give me the best leg up they could in order to have a college experience.


Did they give you speeches about it, or was it just something you knew?


It was something that my dad would talk about all the time. And actually, I think there were some teachers along the way at Punahou who also encouraged me as well. So the great thing about Punahou is that they—or almost any private school is that the curriculum is set up so that the assumption is that you’re gonna go to college. For some people, it’s not their cup of tea, and they end up not finishing or go in a different direction. So it gives you at least the option or the choice to go. So I think I had key teachers along the way, certainly good friends who just helped me along to make that assumption. But my parents both valued that college experience and wanted both my brother and I to have it.


And you didn’t just go to college; you went to Stanford.




Another big money school for your parents. Did they pay for it?


They paid for most of it. But I had some financial aid help there, and I also started at Stanford on an ROTC scholarship and had that for two years before I dropped my ROTC scholarship and stayed there. So at that point, they had to pay more money, but also had some financial aid from Stanford, but also was working part-time.



As a Punahou junior-school student, James Scott didn’t give much thought to college—let alone Stanford University. That is, until one of his mentors—the late Dave Eldredge—planted the seed.


In seventh grade, I had a science teacher named David Eldredge. And he had gone to Stanford. [CHUCKLE] And he was the class of ’49 at Punahou. And so one day, he was handing back science quizzes. And I had gotten my C or C minus, plus, or whatever it was, and he was a big, huge, bellowing—and he said, Scott … I want to see you after class. All my friends were like, Ooh, you’re in trouble now. [INDISTINCT] And he looked at me, he says, Where do you want to go to college? And I said … I was scared. I said, Stanford? [CHUCKLE] I figured he went there, my dad went there, anyone could get in. So the next day, he took me to Cooke Library, went to the college counseling section, got me a book about colleges, looked up Stanford and says, They don’t accept everybody; it’s pretty hard to get into, you have to have good test scores, you have to have good grades, you have to be well rounded. And I think starting around middle school, I’d set my goals, not necessarily on Stanford, but certainly on college. And so that’s when it became something other than my father’s idea.


And did you maintain your connection and your tie with Dave Eldredge?


Right. He was my baseball coach.


That’s the thing I’m really surprised at in looking back at your history, your personal history. I didn’t expect to find that you were a jock. And you were; you were always looking at the next sports season.


Sports was a vital part of why I loved Punahou. I mean, I liked school, and I played football, basketball, and baseball, and by my junior year was focusing on baseball.


Which is a cerebral sport.




Don’t you think?




But you played more than that.




Did you define yourself in those days, were you the jock, or did you not consider yourself such?


I considered myself a jock. My best friends were the athletes. But I also liked school. I was pretty good at school. Had to work hard in math and science, but that had become a value I wanted to do well. And also, Punahou, for the most part is filled with kids who want to do well in all those things as well. So it’s not like you become a jock, or—




—an academic or—


It’s part of rounding yourself—


—theater person. I think you end up valuing all those things.


For Punahou School President Dr. James Scott, the teacher-student relationship is a powerful dynamic. A teacher’s influence can play a major role in a student’s adult life—sometimes with global consequences.


Because you never know as a teacher what moment is gonna be memorable, for your students. And in fact, you may not see that while they’re still a student. When Barack Obama was running for office, somebody asked him—in fact, it was, CNN interviews. Or the—no, CNN debates. Someone asked him who his most inspiring teacher was, and why. And he said, Mabel Hefty, Punahou School, fifth grade. And it’s because she had those moments, even though he was an underachiever, self-admitted. And so she had those moments where she encouraged him, and he never forgot them. So yes, those are key moments with teachers. Just think you’re about to make another decision or go a different direction, that moment with an adult in your life can be critical.


Did you ever play a role like that as an educator yourself? Are you aware of any moments that changed students’ lives?


Yeah. I was a college counselor for a number of years, worked in admissions both at Stanford and Harvard, and I was able to watch students make the transition from high school to college, and then college to careers. Certainly, those students who have a rough go at Punahou, financially or academically, or discipline wise, those moments where you can give them a second chance or a bit of encouragement, you never know how much was an impact, but you felt positive and confident that something was clicking. And so often when students are older, more mature, have more perspective, they’ll come back and say thanks. [CHUCKLE]


And that’s happened to you?




They just show up at your office, or write you a letter, give you a call?


Often. Both. Just ran into a former student today. Had his two-year-old baby. He’s living in Connecticut now and is here on spring break. He’s teaching, and he said he is teaching because of the power of the teachers in his life at Punahou School. And he said, You turned to the senior class in my senior year before we graduated and said, I hope some of you will consider teaching, it’s a noble calling. Just wanted to tell you that I’m doing it.


Well, I’m sure, obviously, nobody really can aim and have any confidence that they will be the head of Punahou School, because I think there’s only been—you’re the third president since World War II, so somebody could really languish waiting. But I don’t think people were surprised that if any one of you was going to be the head of the school, it would be you, right?


I don’t know; you’d have to ask the others about that.


[CHUCKLE] You’re already a leader.


Well, I had been away on the mainland. I had done my undergraduate on the West Coast, and then had taught a school in California and did my graduate work in the East Coast. So when Rod McFee announced his retirement around 1992, 93, I was in my fifth or sixth year as the headmaster of a school in Portland, Oregon. And so there were a few of my classmates, and teachers, who contacted me, had stayed in touch with me, said, You should think about putting your hat in the ring. So that’s where it wasn’t surprising to some people that I had stayed in education, and that I was of the right age to come back. So that’s where it wasn’t surprising. But it wasn’t a job you could apply for. They came looking for you, and I think the trustees, they hired a search consultant that spent about a year scouring the world and the countryside, and I’m not sure who else was a finalist, but I felt they had done their homework on me way before I became a finalist and came back.


Now, until then, you were ensconced on the mainland, doing well.




Had you decided this is where you would make your life, you would be that kind of Big Island person, you’d be living in the West Coast?


[SIGH] Yeah, I think so. I think home was where my parents were. It wasn’t necessarily my home anymore. So before coming home here, it had been twenty-four years between 1970 and 1994. So probably by year fifteen or so, I just assumed that especially if I wanted to stay in independent schools, that there’d be more choices on the mainland, and that those schools would become available more often if I wanted to become a head. So when the Punahou job came open, as you just mentioned, it comes up about once a generation.




Although there’s a lot to do at my former school, it was an opportunity. I mean, I just owed it to myself to take a closer look. And I was glad I did. Although the decision wasn’t necessarily to come to Punahou when I was offered the job. The decision was whether or not I should stay at my former school for another ten years in order to take that school to the next level.


What was it about the job here that did the trick?


On the mainland, there are a lot of great independent schools. They tend to be a little tiny, and therefore, a little precious. [CHUCKLE] And so the school that I came from before I came to Punahou had a senior class of sixty. The school that I started at, private school, had a senior class of a hundred. Both were relatively new schools. So I think for me, the longevity of Punahou and also the scale of Punahou and its history makes it rare. And there are very few private schools in America where a school can have the potential of having an impact on a city, like Punahou’s had.


As a product of Punahou, you know the system very well, you know the people, you know the stakeholders, which is a great advantage. But at some times, do you feel it’s a disadvantage, because there are obligations that have built up, and there are people you know and have dealings with? Wouldn’t it be easier sometimes to be an outsider there?


I think by virtue of my twenty-four years on the mainland after graduating from Punahou, and then coming back, I had the advantage of being an outsider.




In that I had been at two other schools, I had a national and global perspective of how independent schools work. I had been at two other healthy schools. I felt I was coming home, but I felt I was coming back with an outside perspective. In many ways, I could be Punahou’s window to the outside in ways that I couldn’t have been if I had just grown up here, and been on the faculty, and assumed the presidency in that way.


Well, you’re in a position, I think, unlike many, I mean, more so than many. People are always trying to influence you and get things from you, and move you, and there are so many types of favors and …




I mean, how do you deal with that? People are always trying to move you, and get something. Because you do control—


If that’s happening, I don’t feel that pressure on a continuous basis. Sure, it happens occasionally.


What about somebody saying, Jim, you’ve gotta get my kid into—




—your school, you’ve got to.


And I say, There’s one way into the school, and it’s not through the president’s office. [CHUCKLE] It’s gotta be through the admissions office. So I think one of the things that I’ve had to grow into coming back is that Hawaii is about relationships.




And there have been sometimes, especially when you’re asking for money, or when people know you from small kid time, those relationships are important. At the same time, I think people, hopefully respect and honor the institution’s integrity, that it’s gonna make, in the end, a good decision. Often, it’s not the friends and schoolmates and relatives who are trying to get in. It’s once they’re there, they’re trying to change the school [CHUCKLE] in ways that—be it athletics, or be it, academics, or be it something the school should be doing. It’s a place that’s always questioning, it’s always trying to become better. And that’s the pressure. But it’s also one of the virtues of the place. It’s never sort of standing still, it’s always looking in the mirror, it’s always in the process of becoming. So that’s probably one of my toughest challenges, just managing strong characters who always know how the school can be improved.


How do you manage that? What’s the management style for that?


I think my biggest challenge is getting people to see the whole, the one big system, not just their area. And sometimes it’s a matter of timing, sometimes it’s a matter of resources that are still scarce even for a place like Punahou that has enormous resources in some ways. So it’s looking at the needs of the whole, rather than the needs of the individual that’s getting people to understand that. They’re not always fit always.


Obviously, you hear a lot of good ideas, and you have a lot of good ideas. But you don’t have the resources or the time to make all of those good ideas happen. So how do you vet those ideas? Which kind of filter do you use?


Great question. In my younger part of my career, I was coaching baseball. And I grew up as a better pitcher than I was a hitter. So I was a starting pitcher in high school and at Stanford and everything. So when I coached, I needed to know more about hitting. So I picked up a book on hitting by Ted Williams, one of the best hitters of all time. And in this book, someone asked him, What’s the secret of hitting? And he says, Knowing which pitches to let go. Which pitches not to swing at. [CHUCKLE] Which is not helpful when you’re a coach, ‘cause you—




That’s a talent and so on. But I got to thinking about the Ted Williams School of Management, and wondering which pitches not to swing at, which good ideas, do you not go for. Every third person that walks into my office has a great idea about something.


And if you’re not gonna do it, you’re gonna have to get back to them.


Right. So I think that from where I sit in my office, I’m looking for synergy, congruence . I’m kind of a broker of ideas, and when I see patterns and recurring themes, they become good. And that’s why an idea sometimes takes time to bake to form.


Punahou School President James Scott has had the opportunity to watch thousands of children form into adults, developing traits and talents.   To quote Dr. Scott: “…we believe a person who is self-confident, creative and compassionate possesses the capacity to live a productive and fulfilled life that can improve the world.” 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.


You seem so well suited for Punahou, even to the point of marrying a fellow alum.




[CHUCKLE] How perfect is that?


Yeah. Well, Maureen and I dated in my senior year in high school, and actually, she said it took me twenty-five years to propose. But—




So she was a year behind me, class of ’71.


And you dated, and then at graduation, everybody went their different ways?


Right. We stayed in touch, but we went our different ways.


And then, you came back to take the helm of the school, and …


Well, my mother was living on Maui at the time, and so was Maureen. And we were both available. [CHUCKLE] And we rekindled the relationship, and were married shortly after that.



Part 2



I was a starting pitcher in high school and at Stanford and everything. So when I coached, I needed to know more about hitting. So I picked up a book on hitting by Ted Williams, one of the best hitters of all time. And in this book, someone asked him, What’s the secret of hitting? And he says, Knowing which pitches to let go. Which pitches not to swing at.


What he learned on the baseball field has served him well in life and as President of Punahou School. More from Dr. James 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. On this edition of Long Story Short, we continue our conversation with James Scott, president of Punahou School since 1994. Dr. Scott attended Punahou all the way through, from kindergarten through 12th grade, then went on to earn degrees in political science and education from Stanford, the University of San Francisco, and Harvard. He had a successful career in school administration on the continent, serving as headmaster at the Catlin Gabel School in Portland, Oregon before being recruited to take the helm of his high school alma mater. Much is expected of him by Punahou parents, teachers, students, trustees, and by the community at large. But James Scott remains calm through the pressure.


What do you think your management style and temperament is?


Well, I’m not real excitable. [CHUCKLE] I listen, one, and I try to feed back what I’m hearing to people, so that they know that I’m hearing them. So I think that helps. I also try to be evenhanded and consistent, but I try to be as direct as possible too, so people know that they’ve been heard, that I’ve helped them and sometimes I’ve helped them sort of reshape the question, or the issue, or the challenge. And in that process, have them see the bigger picture, like I just talk about, or some of the pressures that I have from other areas too. I guess that’s temperament. I probably had good mentors, either in school or when I first started to become head of a school or worked in schools with other trustees and people. So one of my mentors when I first came was a gentleman who’s no longer with us, Herb Cornuelle who was on the board of trustees.


Great guy.


He was wise and insightful, and thoughtful, and he’d ask me questions like, What risks has Punahou taken this year? ‘Cause if you’re not taking risks, who is? So I’d end up really thinking about it. So that centeredness and thoughtfulness has come from—I think maybe I seek mentors who can provide that.


You also said it seems to be a value at Punahou to challenge. And that means there are a lot of different constituents in a position to challenge you. So you must feel comfortable with that. You’re getting it at all sides, I’m sure.


I feel comfortable because of the common ground. I mean, everyone is … almost everyone is very loyal to that place.




And wouldn’t do anything to hurt it. But because they’re so loyal, they have a clear opinion or an advocacy about something.


Is it hard to lead change at a place that has so many traditions?


Yeah. I think that now that I have a sixteen-year perspective on this [CHUCKLE] … didn’t know it at the time, that although I sometimes felt like an outsider, and saw that as a value, the fact that I’m from Hawaii, graduated from the school, had relatives and friends that did so, I think that people could see some of the changes, and at some point feel confident that I wasn’t gonna totally abandon the values and the history of the place. So I think what makes healthy institutions work is this balance between, on one hand, continuity, history, tradition, but also with innovation, change, and creativity. And I think holding that tension is an art form, and probably takes a certain temperament.


Holding tension may be an art form, but it was something that Punahou School President Dr. James Scott learned on the baseball field. He says the secret begins with … breathing.


You’ve had this great sports background, this discipline. How much does that help in your current job?


Well, when I was a pitcher, I had a great pitching coach at Punahou named Len Kasparovitch, old police sergeant. His older son, Keith, was a couple years ahead of me at Punahou, and he was the pitching coach when I got there. But he used to encourage me to breathe. To take a deep breathe; actually step off the mound, and look away from the batter, look out to centerfield, and take a deep breathe. And that breathing centers you, relaxes you. And so I think that’s one. Second thing that he used ask us to do is to visualize the batting order of the other team, before you face them. So my memories of Kalani High School—




—or Joe Tory—I mean, Joe Story and the Kim twins, and Bubba Cruz, and Len Sakata; I mean, I could visualize that batting order. Never struck ‘em out, never got—could get ‘em out. But it’s the act of envisioning and imagining a good outcome that was helpful. So both of those, I still use. Before I came here, before [INDISTINCT] when there’s gonna be a potentially stressful situation, or the—a lot of things that come into my office, if they were easy, they would have been solved outside. [INDISTINCT] Breathing, and visualizing an outcome, that is a win-win, I think is.


You must get asked to everything; every school event, and many of them are so worthy. How do you decide which ones to attend?


Well, luckily, my kids are sports fans. [CHUCKLE] They, and my children are also musicians. So it’s easy to go with them. I have my family time to support Punahou events. And frankly, it’s one of the best tickets in town, to watch an ILH sport [CHUCKLE] to Kamehameha, and Iolani, and Mid Pacific, and all the great IL—I mean, those are great competitive events. And the performing arts at Punahou, it’s not an obligation or a chore, it’s a joy. No, I can’t do it all, and there are a hundred and sixteen sports teams in Punahou School, seventh through twelfth grade, three seasons. So my athletic directors give me a heads-up. When they give me the week’s schedule, they might highlight either the Blue-Gold game, it’d be nice to come, see the softball teams play yesterday, and then show up for a couple innings. So you don’t have to go the whole game. You came for two innings. If I went to one quarter—




—if I sort of circle the big key games or the rivalries. And so I always circle Kamehameha volleyball, Iolani basketball, [CHUCKLE] Mid Pac—


Do you try to—




—look threatening to the other team? [CHUCKLE]


I’m always there to support them.


What is it about this wonderful job that you have, that you either really don’t like, or is really surprising that you find it part of what you’ve gotta do?


There’s very little that I don’t like, or find surprising. I mean there are a lot of heads of schools or heads of nonprofits that find raising money challenging, or something that they didn’t think was going to be coming at them all the time. I enjoy asking people for money, because it’s a chance for me to talk about the school. And giving money to a charity, and hopefully giving money to Punahou is something noble. So I enjoy doing that. I’ve gotten better at it over the years, and you get more confident and secure at it, and you get lots of help at it. So I don’t see that as a chore, although it keeps coming at you. I mean, there’s often, people who want to give large sums of money to the school don’t want to meet a trustee or your development director, they want to meet you. And I’ll go wherever they are in the world, or the country, or in the island, to go see them. So that’s challenging.


Are you a good closer?


Yes. I mean, if the table’s been set either by a trustee or by a parent who know some … even if someone’s not in a position to do what you had hoped financially, they might eventually. And if after forty-five minutes or an hour, it’s a chance for them to get to know the school a little better.




So I don’t see that as—and so the tough thing about raising money is that the more successful you are, the less successful you feel, ‘cause there’s always something … else to do.


These 21st-century learning skills are what all the educators are talking about. How do you design schools around them, and how do you teach children who have entirely different references—




—than most of us growing up? They’re digital natives.


Well, at least for us, I think, we want to introduce the technology carefully and slowly, and not too early. So that’s why we don’t have the laptops required until the fourth grade, but we’re still introducing Smartboards earlier on. I think for us, the twenty-first century skills include learning how to collaborate, learning to see one system and how it interrelates. Being able to see the intersection of several disciplines, rather than sort of seeing them separately. And those are conceptual skills and interpersonal skills that are critical. Also, at least for Punahou, I think one of the things that connects kindergarten through twelfth grade is our goal is to make our students … independent learners, so they’re taking responsibility for their own learning. So there are a lot of open-ended questions, there’s a lot of work where they’re doing projects, where they’re on their own, where they’re working in groups. So we believe those are gonna be the twenty-first century skills.


Are you kind of comfortable with messiness?


Yeah. I mean, I think that most leaders … and I think especially someone who’s leading Punahou, needs to feel comfortable with uncertainty and ambiguity, and sometimes things that aren’t quite buttoned down, and questions that are always being asked. So I think, if you’re gonna be a lifelong learner, I think you have to be comfortable with messiness. That’s what keeps you curious.


It’s actually exciting and energizing, rather than defeating and—






No, it’s the older the kids get, the harder it is to get people who teach disciplines to think outside their disciplines. That’s been—




That’s been challenging. But that’s challenging for the universities. And especially for the high schools, and a little bit to some extent with the middle schools. So getting teachers to understand that they are not their subjects, that they’re not creating just little linguists or little mathematicians or scientists, but creating—or helping kids to see the intersection of all those disciplines, and that creativity exists at the intersection of disciplines. So just to give you an example, we had had a course in economics that was required of seniors for, like, fifty years.




Half course, and over the years, the social studies department on the high school has integrated the community service part of it. But just in the last three to five years, has reshaped the economics requirement so that they’ve decided what of the seven to ten principles of economics we’re going to teach and how do we use them to each globalization, or sustainability, or social entrepreneurship or social responsibility? And then, have different case studies, either their service opportunity or in one case all of our students give away micro loans to people overseas. That would be an example of—before they leave, it’s a capstone course using several disciplines—




—to understand the world. And so the metaphor we’ve used among the faculty is that, for our seniors, just like the faculty giving them their commencement address, but the intersection of disciplines being critical to their own learning.


The family tradition of attending Punahou began with Dr. Jim Scott’s father, and continued with Jim and his brother Doug. Jim is married to Punahou Class of 1971 graduate Maureen Dougherty Scott, and their children Tess and Buddy now attend. Yes, both children had to pass the entrance exam before being admitted. Because the School President and his family live on campus, it’s a pretty short commute to the office and the classroom.


Does Maureen de facto become another non-paid employee of Punahou?


That’s how she would describe it. Yes. [CHUCKLE] And so I was explaining to, my son the other day as we were playing catch in the backyard that the home doesn’t belong to us; belongs to the school. The home we own is in Oregon, but our job is to fill it up with interesting people. So we’ve got events there a lot.




Just this past week, we had two parent meetings, we had the basketball team dinner and this weekend, we’ve got some visiting educators coming through. So we get a lot of help and support in doing it, but Maureen does set the tone and the expectation for the home, and does a great, great job at it. And along the way, the kids have a cool backyard. As I said, I come home from my job at five o’clock, we jump into a pair of shorts, and we try to go see the rest of the campus.


Sometimes, is it too much of a good thing?




You know, there’s that line—


That’s a great question.


There’s that line in that It’s A Wonderful Life movie, where Jimmy Stewart says, I’m having a wonderful life, I’m just too busy to enjoy it.




Do you feel like that sometimes?


Um, yes. But what’s great about it is that just in a school cycle, just when you’re feeling that, Christmas break comes along. [CHUCKLE]




Or spring break. Or, in summer, I have a little more control over time, and we try to get away as a family for two to four weeks off island. So I think what I’ve learned, or what my family has learned is that my children don’t have to share me with the school.




When we’re on vacation, or off island. So that’s—


You turn off your—


-That’s when it gets-


—digital devices?


That’s when it gets hard, when there are too many events that take my time. If I miss dinner more than two or three times consecutively, we start to miss it, we start to feel it as a family. And now that my children are getting older, they’re playing club volleyball, club basketball, they’ve got cello, they’ve got—our lives have become more complex.


Are you able to turn off your job when you’re away from it?


I could do a better job of that. I mean, I’m always thinking about the school. And but I sometimes have my best—do my best thinking when I’m traveling on behalf of the school, or even on vacation. Where I’m sort of … you’re relaxing, but you’re finally resting.


You took a breath.


Yeah. You take that breath.


You mentioned that much of your job is strategy. And so I take it that you’re a risk manager, you’re out there looking for risks to Punahou. What are they?


Well, I think sometimes the risk is kind of the part of the noble vision. It’s a very idealistic place. I believe that if you’re admitted to Punahou, you should be able to come there, regardless of your financial circumstances. And I think I got that from my father, because he was a financial aid recipient, my brother and I were able to attend the school because of the generosity of others in the school. So with the support and leadership, and generosity of the trustees, we’ve been able to grow the endowment, we’ve been able to adjust the operating budget, so we’ve been able to do that the last five years. And the way we measure that is that everyone who applies for financial aid, there’s a calculation about what your financial need is. And our goal as a school is to be able to fund a hundred percent of that demonstrated need. So most colleges and universities, most independent schools, that’s their noble vision. That’s a risk. [CHUCKLE] It’s hard. It’s what’s able to keep us selective, but at the same time, especially in these times—I mean, we passed the tuition for this next year …


What is it?




It’s seventeen now, isn’t it?


It’s seventeen-three; next year, it’s gonna be seventeen-eight. So tuition is gonna go up two-point-nine percent, five hundred dollars. Although it’s going up higher than the cost of living, compared to what the current parents have been used to, it felt like it was music to their ears. Like it—




—wasn’t five or six percent. But we want to meet that gap between what the financial need is, and what the financial aid budget is. So that’s a risk.


If you make a commitment to all of the children who do qualify, does that ever squeeze the folks who have great legacies at the school, and they have kids who they want to see get in there, and they’ll pay?


That’s a tension … specially at kindergarten, where we only have seven hundred applications for a hundred and fifty spots. It’s very competitive in kindergarten and fourth grade. And luckily, as the school gets—as you advance in grades, there are more pukas, more openings. But yes, that’s a tension for some. We’re trying to create as much of the economic and ethnic diversity as we can. At the same time, we feel an obligation to those people who have been loyal to us in the past, or who have siblings who have attended there.   So there’s—it’s the hardest part about March and April for me during admissions time.


Despite a strong scholarship program, and the school’s commitment to accept all qualified children regardless of income, Punahou is still viewed by many as the school for the haves rather than the have nots. But a new Punahou initiative may help change that perception.


You and Punahou have been honored by the DOE for your commitment to public education. And you have a philosophy about public education and private schools; what is it?


Well, when I first got home, everyone wanted to know how Punahou was gonna improve public schools. And I think that’s a fair question. But at the time, and I still feel this at times, is that my job is to make Punahou the best it can be. At the same time, I think that as we were requiring community service of our seniors … over the last six, seven years, the seniors have been saying, What’s the school really doing for the community? And so we’ve set up a center for public service that coordinates all the community service that talks about service learning within our curriculum that convenes conversations about how to improve Hawaii. And so I think that’s been good. But we’ve also launched something called Partnerships in Unlimited Educational Opportunities; PUEO. And as we thought about what we could do to support public schools, we asked ourselves, What do we do best? And we said, We think we get our kids ready for college pretty well. So the way PUEO works is that we have identified rising sixth graders in local public schools, bring them to the campus for consecutive summers to give them a summer school course and enrichment courses and also when they get into high school, support that.


So you make multiple-year commitments.


Yeah. So the first year, the PUEO students, they—and the first rising sixth graders are ending their sophomore year now; they’re about to become juniors. The purpose of the program is to raise the expectations and the preparation for public school kids to attend a four-year college.


Is it working?


Yes. Well you’ll have to have me back in about three years, because by then, we will know. But we’ve hired Johns Hopkins University to do a longitudinal study to help us answer that question. We have advisors within the public schools. Pat Hamamoto has been really a source of advice, but also of support and encouragement. So getting the support of the public school superintendent, but also some key public school principals has been helpful.


And these are kids who do have financial challenges; they’re on reduced or free lunch at their public school.


Right. So the way we identify them, we ask the elementary school principals to help us identify them. We identify kids who have high academic promise.




But who are experiencing low economic opportunity. And we identify that through a criteria, free or reduced lunch.




So I go to their pep rallies all the time, ‘cause they gather the kids several times in the summer, and our teachers ask, Who are you? And they say, PUEO. And these are two hundred forty kids. Where are you gonna go? College. And I was sitting with Pat, in the Punahou chapel last summer when that happened, and she just teared up. We said, because every child should have that expectation if they choose it.


So what is your commute to work? How long does it take you? [CHUCKLE]


Leslie, I have the best commute in Honolulu. I get to walk to school with my children. And we usually walk to their classrooms. Now that my daughter’s in sixth grade, I sort of walk ten feet behind her.




And then she trots along. And then my—so we walk past barefoot children, and lily ponds, and just thirty-seven hundred people descending on the campus at the same time. So I’ve got a great commute.


M-m. Great commute, but huge weights to carry.


Yeah. Well, this is my sixteen year. And when I was first hired the trustees kept asking me how long I was gonna stay. [CHUCKLE] And I knew my predecessor had been there for twenty-six years, and his predecessor twenty-four years, and I couldn’t do that. I couldn’t guarantee that.




And I said, What I’d like to do is give it ten rigorous years. After which, the board would decide, and I would decide separately whether it’s a good match. And so after ten years, we were raising money for the Case Middle School, so it wasn’t an opportunity to leave. But in 2006, I took an extra month in the summer, and they gave me a chance to do a fellowship at Columbia University for a month to really think about the next twelve years. And I feel like I came back ready to sign up. So if Buddy’s in the fourth grade now, that means he graduates in eight years. I feel like I’m running out of time. [CHUCKLE] In eight years, I’ll be sixty-six years old, and trying to figure out how to pay for college, and—




—retire at the same. But I can now see how someone is able to stay in this job for twenty-four years. It’s not that it’s easy, but you have a chance to reinvent yourself, because Punahou is just always reinventing itself.


This Long Story Short conversation took place in 2010, with Punahou School President James Scott, a master of balance—the varsity baseball player who always takes the time to breathe and who knows which pitches to let go. I’d like to thank Dr. Scott for sharing his philosophy on education, management, and life. And I’d like to thank YOU for joining us on Long Story Short. For 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.


Do educators tell jokes about the business?


Well, we tell jokes about Punahou alums. How many Punahou alums does it take to screw in a light bulb?


How many?


It takes seven. It takes one to screw in the light bulb, and six to reminisce about the old one.