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LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Wordsmiths

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX: Wordsmiths

 

On this special episode of Long Story Short, we look back at conversations with three of Hawai‘i’s contemporary authors. We revisit our 2011 interview with Chris McKinney, whose gritty, semi-autobiographical novels, like local best seller The Tattoo, depict the dark underbelly of paradise. Acclaimed novelist Susanna Moore, whom we interviewed in 2012, draws inspiration from her Hawai‘i upbringing, calling forth both beauty and danger in her writing. Our 2008 guest, storyteller and historian Gavan Daws, has made a lasting impact on Hawai‘i’s literary scene with his book Shoal of Time: A History of the Hawaiian Islands, which remains the bestselling history of Hawai‘i. These “wordsmiths” have built careers weaving stories of Hawai‘i in distinctive, personal ways and have proven exceptional at bringing these stories to the page. Hear how they approach their craft and get a glimpse into their literary lives.

 

Program

 

This program will be rebroadcast on Sunday, March 17, at 4:00 pm and 11:30 pm.

 

Wordsmiths Audio

 

Download the Transcript

 

Transcript

 

I did a calculation a couple years back. Someone, somewhere in the world has bought a book of mine every forty minutes since 1968.  And you used the word academic about me.  I am a recovering academic.  Put it that way.  I never wanted to write like an academic.

 

In part, I wroteIn the Cutbecause was so exasperated by hearing, after 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 how I’m seen?  So, I very, very purposefully wrote In the Cut to dispel that notion.

 

Some of the best stuff, some of the best ideas, some of the best things that you can plug into your story will be thing that may be scary, and things that there’s actual risk in sort of hurting somebody’s feelings or making somebody mad.  I mean, if you’re gonna refuse to do that kinda stuff, find another vocation.

 

Those are three of Hawaiʻi’s successful contemporary authors sharing thoughts about how they approach their craft.  These writers have built careers weaving stories of Hawaiʻi in distinctive, honest, and personal ways.  On this episode of Long Story Short, we’ll hear some of the fascinating backstories behind their books.  Island Wordsmiths, coming up next, on Long Story Short.

 

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

 

Aloha mai kākou.  I’m Leslie Wilcox.  Despite the technology that dominates our lives these days, a good book continues to inspire our imagination and transport us to new places, far away and even within ourselves.  Here in Hawaiʻi, we have fascinating stories to share, and writers who’ve proven exceptional in bringing these experiences to the printed page or screen.  On this edition of Long Story Short, we feature some of the wordsmiths with whom we’ve talked story over the past decade: Chris McKinney, Susanna Moore, and Gavan Daws.  Perhaps not surprisingly, all three have been teachers, as well as writers.

 

We start with our youngest author.  Chris McKinney of Honolulu was thirty-eight, with four books under his belt, when I interviewed him in 2011.  A writing career seemed unlikely when Chris McKinney was growing up in rural Kahaluu in the 1970s and 80s.  School-assigned books sparked his interest starting in middle school, and little could Chris McKinney guess then that his very first novel, The Tattoo, would one day become assigned reading in many Hawaiʻi schools.

 

You know, especially in Tattoo, part of the story is about a father seeking to toughen his son.  I just make this wild, random guess and figure it’s autobiographical.  So, which father?

 

Oh, stepfather.  And I can’t remember it, but I can just imagine what must have been the look on his face the first time he saw me, when I was about two or three years old.

 

Because of the leisure suit?

 

Because of the way my mom had dressed me.

 

And he said: I’m gonna do something with this kid.

 

Yeah; he just must have taken one look at me and thought: What in the world is this woman doing to this poor kid?  It almost felt like, you know, even though it was the 1970, early 1980s, that we were living in some sort of time warp plantation, sort of the way you were brought up thing.  And even the stories that he seems to enjoy telling the most are stories that involve people doing spectacularly crazy things.  And so, I think for him at least at the time, is part of what being a man is about.  To not show the next guy that you’re not just tougher than him, but you’re crazier than him, that you’re willing to go further than he is willing to go, and he better recognize that before he messes with you, basically.  So, if it wasn’t for my stepfather, The Tattooprobably would not have been The Tattoo.

 

So, you obviously had material to be a writer, but were you thinking about being a writer?

 

Absolutely not.  Again, remember, in some ways, I am my mother’s son.  And it is that cliché immigrant Asian story, or that philosophy, in that they want their children to succeed financially.  I mean, that is the most important thing you can do in life, is you get a good job and you make a lot of money.  And I think that hearing my mother and my grandparents and stuff talk like that all of my life, that I bought into that more than anything else. Art; you know, art, that’s not what I’m gonna do.  I’m going to make money.  So, for a long time, the plan, at least from about high school and for most of my undergrad, I was going to become a lawyer, an attorney.  And then, what had happened was that I spent probably too much time playing ukulele and drinking beer, and playing Nintendo during my undergrad that I needed to go to grad school in order to get into a good law school.  So, yeah, you know.  And at the same time, I had my bachelor’s degree in English. During my bachelor’s degree in English, I was parking cars for a living.  After I completed my bachelor’s in English, I was still parking cars for a living.  So, either way, I thought that grad school, whether it would be an avenue to law school or anything, was probably a good idea, ‘cause I didn’t want to park cars for the rest of my life.  Which was what it felt like.  So, it wasn’t until I went to grad school as an unclassified graduate student.  And again, I was very lucky because the professors who would take me, one being Joy Marcella, and the other one being Phil Damon, and another one—all three of them in the same semester, Ian MacMillan, when I wrote for them, they were all very encouraging.  And I thought: Maybe I can do this.

 

Did you have a sense that your writing was fresh, and that you knew a world that most people hadn’t written about?  If they knew it, they didn’t write about it.

 

Yeah.  Quite honestly, it’s because if you were to look into the sort of educational background of, let’s say, all of the kids my age within that square two miles of where I grew up, I would put money down on the fact that I may be one of three that actually graduated from college.  If that. So, in the sense that I was sitting there and I was writing stories among whatever, you know, seventeen, eighteen other people, yeah, there was definitely nobody else writing the kinda stuff that I was writing.

 

Would you talk about more of the influences on your writing?  What, and who have influenced your writing?

 

There’s a list of teachers that I’m thankful that I had. The first great teacher I had was a guy named Mr. Guerrero.  And this was when I was living in California.  He was fantastic.  He assigned the class a book, Animal Farm, that was the first novel that I had read that just totally resonated with me. And at the time, I wasn’t thinking that I wanted to be a writer, but it was the first time that I saw, and I was in awe of what you could do with a book.  At first, we read it, and then of course, it was thig thing, this power corrupt scheme and all of that.  And you know, I’d seen that before.  But when you find out that it’s based on the Bolshevik Revolution, that just blew my mind. Wait a minute; so this guy took history, he put it on some generic farm, and in that last moment, of course, when the animals are looking through the window and they can’t tell the difference between the pigs and the farmers, the human farmers, I mean, talk about an ending that I will never forget.  So, that was the first book that blew me away.  And then, in high school, I had a couple of good English teachers.  I think one of them still teaches at Mid Pac. Mrs. Takeshita, Mrs. Takabayashi; they were really good, and they were always encouraging.  So, I had teachers, and then there were books that influenced me. Shakespeare, Mac Beth particularly resonated with me when I read it in eleventh grade in high school.  So, that was the second story that just sort of blew me away.

 

How do you feel about high school students getting The Tattoo as required or recommended reading in many schools?

 

Thankful.  I mean, at first, it was weird.  So, when the book first came out, and people would come up to me and say: I don’t read, but my teacher assigned this book and I had to read it, and it was The Tattoo.  At first, I didn’t really know what to say to that, ‘cause I just thought it was strange. But at this point, ten years later, eleven years later, I’m grateful.  Something like that would never have occurred when I was in high school. I mean, high school, you were taught The Canon, you know, Dead White Males.  So, I think that it’s interesting to see that there’s more of a progressive thing going on in high schools, where teachers are allowed, and some of the language in that book is kind of foul.  So, it’s gratifying to see that they have the courage not only to buck the idea that everything has to come from the Western canon, but also that they can take a little bit of risk with what they include in the curriculum.

 

Since this interview first aired in 2011, Chris McKinney has published more books, bringing his total to eight.  He continues to teach writing courses at Honolulu Community College.

 

I spoke with our next critically acclaimed author in 2012.  At the time, she was living in New York City.  Susanna Moore’s tenth book is expected out this year, 2019.  Her repertoire includes two memoirs, one history book, and seven novels, including one called In the Cut, which was made into a 2003 movie starting Meg Ryan.  Susanna Moore grew up on Oahu, attended Punahou School, and lived what appeared to be a privileged life in Tantalus, Kahala, and Portlock in the 1950s. However, her mother’s untimely death led to an unhappy upbringing.  That experience would later compel Susanna Moore to explore family dynamics in her writing.

 

When did the writing bug come?  Or had you always had it?

 

I’d always had it, and wrote as a child, and wrote plays, and really bad poetry.  You know, I was a reporter for Ka Punahou, the newspaper.

 

Did you write more after your mom passed away?

 

No, I don’t think so.  I think about the same.  And also, really a bookworm.  You know, reading early, and reading insatiably and incessantly.  And then I stopped, because I had to work, I had to support myself.  And writing certainly was not going to be a way to do it.  And still isn’t, you know.  Like a lot of writers, I had to teach in order to write.

 

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, 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 pain for her.  She would start it, and then she’d have to stop.

 

What did she say after she read it?

 

Thank you.  She understood.  I think certain things were made clearer to her.  Some, perhaps more mysterious.

 

And what’s the name of that book?

 

My Old Sweetheart.

 

Which is really the story of you and your mom.

 

Yes.

 

As you say.  The Whiteness of Bones; I mean, I didn’t have this background as far as you talked about a little girls growing up on Kauai with a land-rich family, but very much a creature of the ocean and the forest, and you know, hanging out with the cook. How did you get that?  That was such beautiful imagery.

 

Well, of that came from spending summers on Kauai, particularly in Waimea.  And there were bits of that from my own childhood, although those weren’t my parents. The relationship with the gardener was our gardener at Tantalus; that was real.  The mongoose; my sister did have a pet mongoose.  There were things that I took, and then things that, of course, I made up.  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. But Hawaiʻi was meaningful to me in a way that was profound.  Still is.

 

I find it just really wonderful and refreshing that you have taught at Yale, at New York University, at Princeton, and you haven’t attended college. But you’ve been hired by Ivy League universities to teach.

 

It’s because of the books.  You know, if I hadn’t written these books, I would not be hired.  No; and I don’t think I could teach in the English department.

 

Creative writing is what you teach.

 

Creative writing is such a made-up thing, and ill-defined.  I mean, yes, I can get away with that, teaching creative writing without a degree, but even if I knew everything there was to know about Emily Dickinson, I would not be hired for that.

 

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.

 

Why?

 

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 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 wo7uld have taken longer to find that?

 

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

 

It is really you.

 

Yes.

 

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. 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.

 

Really?

 

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.

 

Since this interview took place in 2012, Susanna Moore has moved back to Hawaiʻi from New York and married a former Punahou Schoolmate.  She also has published a history of Hawaiʻi called Paradise of the Pacific.  Susanna Moore lives in Kapaau in North Kohala on Hawaiʻi Island, but returns every fall to Princeton University on the East Coast, where she’s been teaching for the past ten years.

 

While Moore is an author who became a university instructor, our next guest was an academic who became an author.  Gavan Daws of Manoa, Oahu says he never planned to move to Hawaiʻi, let alone become an authority on Hawaiʻi history.  He left his native Australia, and just happened to get off the ship here.  He was teaching history at the University of Hawaiʻi in the 1960s when he wrote and published his first book, Shoal of Time, which has remained the best-selling history of Hawaiʻi, ever since. This acclaimed author and historian has written shelf full of meticulously researched and sometimes controversial books, including Land and Power in Hawaii.

 

So, you accidentally came here, in a sense.  And then, you accidentally got a PhD in Pacific history?

 

It was like breaking the balls on a pool table. You know, things just went everywhere, and one of ‘em went into a pocket.  And that was the academic life.  It could have been anything else.  It just kinda grew from there.  I got offered a job, I kept the job, I got tenure, I wrote a book, and so on, and so on. But I’ve also done other things outside Hawaiʻi, and other things other than academic work, you know.

 

Within just, what, a decade or so of coming here, you’re writing a history of the Hawaiian Islands, Shoal of Time.  Is it still a local bestseller after all these years?

 

Yeah, it is; it’s forty years in print.  Which is amazing.  Eighty percent of books disappear after a year.  They’re like restaurants, you know; they fold.  And I had no idea, doing that, what kind of life it would have, or even if it would get published.  Which you never know.  And just a little bit of the history of that; Honolulu Book Shops, which was the only bookshop in town in those days, they ordered twenty-four copies.  And when they sold them, they didn’t reorder; they thought that was about the demand.  But here it is, forty years later.

 

It’s required reading in many courses.

 

Which I don’t want; I don’t want to be required reading.  I want to be read by, my phrase, consent adults.  I want them to choose to read it.

 

Have you heard that in the intervening decades after the book came out, there has been some perception on the part of Native Hawaiians that there’s a colonial tone here in the book?

 

Oh, sure.  Yeah.  I think every writer writes as someone of his or her own time.  I certainly had no great ability beyond anybody else’s to look backward or forward, or sideways.  I breathed the air that was here to breathe at that time, and wrote that. Now, in the forty years since then, and almost fifty years since the research, there’s two generations. That’s half the people living here now; A, weren’t born then, and B, weren’t born here.  So, the change in everything here is huge, since I started doing that.  Any general history written now will be written by somebody now, looking back at then through the eyes of now.  Totally different.  There wouldn’t be a sentence in this book that would be the same, if I were doing it now.

 

Is that right?

 

Oh, yeah.  Or if anybody were doing it now.  Now, I that forty to fifty years, we’ve now got more than thirty years of the Hawaiian renaissance.  Now, think what a difference that’s made in the air that everybody breathes. Okay.  The next book that’ll be done, and I wish done soon, will breathe that air.  Fine. Thomas Jefferson says: History needs to be rewritten every generation.

 

When you were researching Shoal of Time, how did you put yourself in mind of what, say, Native Hawaiians were doing at that time, and how’d you learn to characterize certain things?

 

With difficulty.  What I try to do with writing, and it’s not just for Shoal of Time, but anything at all, I try to keep people interested in turning the page.  If you’re not readable, then what?  If I put you to sleep by page ten, even if I’ve got something interesting to say on page fifty, and you don’t get there, what have I done?  So, first thing; be readable.  And then, you’ve gotta dance with nonfiction.  With fiction, you can say anything to be readable; you can have sex every three pages or a mighty explosion every five, or whatever.  But with nonfiction, you can’t really take those liberties.  So, what you’ve gotta be able to do is, do that dance between readability and reliability.  And that’s a dance.  And it’s a solo dance; only one person’s name is on the book.  And everybody’s dance with readability and reliability will be different.  And that’s why they’re my books; that is to say, that’s my name on the title page.  But they’re only my books.  There’s always room for another book and for a better book, always.

 

What other ways have you told stories in your life?

 

Well, if it comes down to twenty-four words or less, I suppose that all my life has really been about words and audiences. Words is all I have.  I have no other skills of any kind, either creative or financial.  So, it’s words; words are my currency.  And I kinda grew up on the edge of the Outback in Australia, where when I was a kid there was no radio, and where for a long time there was no TV.  And storytelling was what everybody did.  And when you got old enough, which was around sixteen, you’d go into the pub two or three years below drinking age, and that was storytelling territory as well.  And on top of that, I’m about five-eighths Irish in books and in stage plays, and in song lyrics.  And I’ve done the libretto for an opera, and I’ve made documentary films which are not my talking, but other people’s talking.  And I’m a huge admirer of standup comedy; I just love standup comedy. So, words are the way that things come to me, and on a good day, they’re the way that things come out of me.

 

You’ve been on bestseller lists, and you’re an academic whose books have been reviewed by the New York Times, which doesn’t happen to most academics, because they like to point that out.  Would you talk about that a bit?  You’ve drawn the attention of major reviewers and major audiences and readerships.

 

I did a calculation a couple years back. Someone, somewhere in the world has bought a book of mine every forty minutes since 1968.  And you used the word academic about me.  I am a recovering academic.  Put it that way.  I never wanted to write like an academic.

 

And you didn’t.

 

No; and for cause.  Because bless them; for all their virtues, most academics do not write to be read.  They write to demonstrate that they know something.  That’s a very different thing.  And they write for other academics.

 

Does that mean other academics might consider your work lighter than others, because it is, quote, commercial?

 

They’re welcome to; perfectly welcome to.  But I don’t see any necessary contradiction between writing responsibly and readably.

 

This multi-talented wordsmith has also written for film, television, stage, and has even written songs.  In 2018, his most famous book, Shoal of Time, celebrated its fiftieth anniversary.  The e-book version has now outsold the many hardcover and paperback editions.

 

Mahalo to all of these accomplished wordsmiths—Chris McKinney, Susanna Moore, and Gavan Daws—for giving us a peek into their literary lives.  And thank you for watching.  For Long Story Short and PBS Hawaiʻi, 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 said to my editor this time, who’s Sonny Mehta, who was also the publisher of Knopf, that I’ve always felt my books were covers that would only induce a woman to pick up the book in a bookstore, you know, that I know that women are the primary buyers of fiction, but it would be awfully nice to have a book that a man might want to read from the cover.  And I think covers do make a difference.  And he said: Yes, yes, I agree that would be good, especially as it might be your last cover.  And I thought: [GASP] What does he mean?  He saw my face, and he said: No, no, I will always publish you; I don’t mean that, I mean that it might be the last …

 

Paper book.

 

–book in which you’ll be able to hold it in your hands. So, it’s changing.

 

[END]

 

 

 

Just One More Chapter, I Promise…
Cover Story by Emily Bodfish

 

Just One More Chapter, I Promise...

By Emily Bodfish, PBS Hawai‘i

 

Just One More Chapter, I Promise...

GET CAUGHT READING, PBS HAWAI‘I | New Local Multimedia Initiative Launching This Month
It’s always a rough landing, getting pulled back to reality when you were just immersed in a great book. One minute, you’re saving the known universe with a plucky band of misfits riding mechanical, intergalactic sheep-dragons, and the next, you’re late for your dentist appointment. You got caught reading, and we think it’s a great thing. We want everyone to GET CAUGHT READING!

 

We want everyone to find those books that make you wonder where the hours went, because it’s those stories that we just can’t put down that turn “have to read” into “want to read.” The written word opens doors to adventure, relaxation and knowledge about ourselves, our world and more. Reading brings the world to your fingertips.

 

HPD Police Chief Susan Ballard reading from Dr. Seuss’ Horton Hears a Who!

 

GET CAUGHT READING is a new multimedia initiative at PBS Hawai‘i, made up of video stories for on-air and online, and in-person events. Beginning March 3, you’ll see GET CAUGHT READING videos in the intervals between our regular programs. In these short videos, we highlight the power of words, and the many ways people get caught reading every day. You’ll hear community members read passages that hold deep meaning to them; watch keiki exude excitement talking about their favorite stories; witness parents and their grown children revisit books they read together years ago. These videos will also be available to watch at pbshawaii.org.

 

In the following months, PBS Hawai‘i will be partnering with Hawai‘i public libraries to host keiki events. We’ll host story time, give away books, and give the children a platform to talk about the books they love. Part of the goal of GET CAUGHT READING is to engage with rural communities, especially on neighbor islands. We plan to host events on O‘ahu, Kaua‘i, Hawai‘i Island, Maui, Moloka‘i and Lāna‘i.

 

State Librarian Stacey Aldrich, who grew up watching PBS programs, said that GET CAUGHT READING is “a perfect partnership” between PBS Hawai‘i and the Hawai‘i State Public Library System. “We know that just the simple act of reading a book creates strong new connections in our minds and with each other,” Aldrich said. We hope to see your budding reader at an event near you. Until then – GET CAUGHT READING!

 

Retired Hawai‘i Sportscaster Jim Leahey reading from Ron Chernow’s Grant

 

 

 

GET CAUGHT READING
Sharing Book Bliss

 

CEO Message

 

GET CAUGHT READING, Sharing Book Bliss

Leslie Wilcox, PBS Hawai‘i President and CEORemember when reading meant more than checking one’s Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts?

 

Thankfully, many people still make time to read whole books, knowing the truth of what Katie M wrote on @betterbybooks: “Books let you fight dragons, meet the love of your life, travel to faraway lands and laugh alongside friends, all within their pages. They’re an escape that brings you home.”

 

As part of PBS Hawai‘i’s GET CAUGHT READING multimedia initiative, which is launching this month, we’re asking adults and children to read a favorite passage to fellow Island residents.

 

“How do I pick?” is a typical response. “I have a lot of favorite books.” These are words we love to hear at this educational media organization!

 

Here’s a sampling of the excerpts that Hawai‘i citizens chose to GET CAUGHT READING:

Susan Ballard, Honolulu Police ChiefHonolulu Police Chief Susan Ballard spoke up for the little guy in picking Horton Hears a Who! by Dr. Seuss, with Horton musing that there just may be a tiny person atop a speck of dust:

“Some sort of a creature of a very small size, too small to be seen by an elephant’s eyes…some poor person who’s shaking with fear that he’ll blow in the pool! He has no way to steer! I’ll just have to save him, because, after all, a person’s a person, no matter how small.”

Mahealani Wendt, Activist and poetActivist and poet Mahealani Wendt of Hāna, Maui read from her own poem, “Voyage,” inspired by the Polynesian voyaging canoe Hōkūle‘a:

“We are brothers in a vast blue heaven, windswept kindred souls at sea. We are the sons of vast night, planets brilliant and obscure, illimitable stars and somnolent moon. We have loved lash and sail, shrill winds and calm, heavy winds driven in squalls over turbulent seas. We have lashed our hearts to souls of islands, joined spirits with birds rising to splendor in a gold acquiescence of sun. We are voyagers and sons of voyagers, our hands working the cordage of peace.”

Eran Ganot, UH Basketball CoachUniversity of Hawai‘i Men’s Basketball Head Coach Eran Ganot read The Stonecutter’s Credo by Jacob Riis:

“When nothing seems to help, I go look at a stonecutter hammering away at his rock, perhaps a hundred times without as much as a crack showing in it. But at the hundred-and-first blow, it will split in two. And I know it was not the blow that did it…but all that had gone before.”

We invite you to listen to words of life and imagination and power on PBS Hawai‘i and pbshawaii.org. Join us at read-aloud events at public libraries. And find joy as you GET CAUGHT READING!

 

Aloha Nui,

Leslie signature


 

 

 

Leadership Takeaways from Long Story Short

 

CEO Message

 

Leadership Takeaways from Long Story Short
 

Leslie Wilcox, PBS Hawai‘i President and CEOI wish wisdom were contagious, like colds. If so, my Long Story Short team and I would be wise beyond our dreams. Over the last decade, we’ve been face to face with well over 200 leaders and interesting citizens, listening to their personal stories of success and failure and lessons learned. As we look ahead to a new year and new resolve, I thought I’d share with you a few leadership traits and skills touched upon by guests on the program:

Ability to Distill What’s Most Important

The outgoing he'd of Punahou School, Dr. Jim ScottThis is the ability to filter ideas and aspirations through the context of one’s purpose, goals and resources.

 

Example: The outgoing head of Punahou School, Dr. Jim Scott, deals with students, teachers, parents, administrators, donors, alumni, trustees and untold complexities. Every day, he said, every third person who walks into his office has a great idea for him.

 

How does he set a course? He recalls his baseball days. As a student athlete at Punahou and Stanford University, he was better at pitching than hitting. When he became a teacher who also coached baseball and he wanted to know more about hitting, he picked up a book by one of the greatest hitters of all time, Ted Williams. Williams wrote that the secret is knowing what pitches to let go.

 

Dr. Scott said: “I got to thinking about the Ted Williams School of Management and wondering what pitches not to swing at, which good ideas do you not go for…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.”

 

Battle-hardened Confidence

Former CEO of Hawaiian Airlines Mark DunkerleyThis is the conviction that you can and will make a tough decision, because you’ve done it before.

 

Example: Mark Dunkerley, the former CEO of Hawaiian Airlines, a brilliant strategist and turn-around master in a fiercely competitive industry, commented: “I’m always struck by how difficult a time people have in making decisions. Making decisions, based in part on analysis, but never with perfect information, and largely based on the accumulation of one’s personal experience, is something that I’ve always felt comfortable with. That’s not something that keeps me awake at night.”

Fearlessness

Civil rights Icon Minnijean Brown TrickeyThis is a willingness to take bold action, even though it turns the status quo upside down or inside out.

 

Example: Civil rights icon Minnijean Brown Trickey, visiting Hawai‘i from Arkansas, was one of the Little Rock Nine – nine African American teenagers who in 1957 integrated a white school, Central High, amid riots. They kept going to school despite hatred and harassment.

 

“Somebody had to do it,” Trickey said. Explaining that the civil rights movement was youthdriven, she said: “The young people were doing things that the grown-ups couldn’t do, because in fact they would lose their jobs. And they didn’t put us there, we put ourselves there and asked them to come with us. There’s a line in a freedom song (that says) ‘if you don’t go, don’t hinder me.’ And another line is, ‘If my mama don’t go, I’ll go anyhow.’ It was about seeing a different vision, and hoping that it didn’t stay the same.”

 

There are many life takeaways in the Long Story Short files, and I’ll bring you more from time to time. Also, I invite you to view or read transcripts of the interviews on our website at pbshawaii.org/lss

 

We at PBS Hawai‘i are grateful to you, as a loyal supporter, for helping to provide this rich resource.

 

Season’s Aloha

Leslie signature


 

 

The Ultimate Real Estate in a Democracy: Common Ground

 

CEO Message

 

The Ultimate Real Estate in a Democracy: Common Ground

 

KĀKOU – Hawai‘i's Town Hall

 

Leslie Wilcox, PBS Hawai‘i President and CEOAs Hawai‘i real estate keeps getting pricier, I keep thinking of a different kind of real estate that is ultimately more valuable in a democracy.

 

Common ground in our national and local discourse: Priceless.

 

These are days when people don’t just disagree on issues; they have different sets of facts. And there’s a media voice catering to every opinion, affirming what one already believes, whether it’s true or not.

 

We all have reason to worry about our democracy, since its health depends upon shared core values, a level of trust in our leaders, and the reliability of information on which to act.

 

Hawai‘i is by no means seeing the kind of partisan polarization that is gripping the Continent, but we’re struggling to get our arms around and agree upon big issues, such as what to do about homelessness and how to support jobs with increasing automation in the workforce.

 

PBS Hawai‘i brings together Islanders with differing perspectives to engage directly with each other on many top-of-mind subjects and some issues that aren’t considered enough. Real democracies require real discussion.

 

This is not the same as what local daily broadcast news operations do – they generally try to tape separate interviews with the parties, and air the contained sound bites in a two-minute story in the newscast. (It’s not easy to convene people who disagree with each other, especially on short notice.)

 

On our weekly hour-long Insights on PBS Hawai‘i and our periodic two-hour KĀKOU – Hawai‘i’s Town Hall, people on different sides of issues meet face to face – and they’re being televised and streamed live. They show up, because they want to get their message across; because it’s the responsible, responsive thing to do; and because they trust us to treat them fairly. Once in a great while, when an issue is particularly volatile, we’re unable to get pro and con leaders to sit down together. And also infrequently, we end up with a lackluster program because we can’t get participants to depart from canned comments, to have a real conversation.

 

But most times, participants put aside any discomfort they may feel about engaging directly with opponents or critics and answering follow-up questions from our moderator. The best of these participants truly listen, instead of trying to cut short their opponents or simply waiting for their turn to speak. This leads to candid, meaningful exchanges that help viewers develop their own perspectives.

 

With today’s complicated societal challenges keeping us at odds and on hold, our mired democracy seriously needs this kind of civil discourse.

 

When you contribute your hard-earned dollars to PBS Hawai‘i, you are supporting the power of media for public service over profit and politics. And you’re supporting priceless common ground for the common good. Thank you!

 

Aloha nui,

Leslie signature


 

 

What Drives KEN BURNS?

 

CEO Message

What Drives Ken Burns?

 

Ken Burns, Photo courtesy of Justin Altman

 

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

 

And Burns can laugh at himself.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

We love sharing with you!

Leslie Wilcox, President and CEO of PBS HawaiiIt’s not unusual for someone I meet on the street to tell me: “You were just in my living room last night.”

 

PBS Hawaii, thank you for welcoming us into your home!

I’m always thrilled that you choose to have PBS Hawaii in your home. We do picture leaving our slippas on your porch as you beckon us inside as enduring friends!

 

PBS Hawaii and our viewers share something precious with each other.

 

You make contributions to sustain an independent, locally owned media alternative. And your gifts extend value to others who can’t afford to support public television.

 

PBS Hawaii provides a trusted place of discovery. We offer diverse subjects and storytelling that respect your intelligence and at their best are intriguing and illuminating. We bring reliable information and context, and we don’t try to tell you what to think.

 

PBS Hawaii: We Love Sharing with You!

 

Local ownership used to be the norm throughout much of the media world. But over the years, a handful of huge companies has come to control much of what we watch. That’s not inherently bad, but it is also not local.

 

PBS Hawaii is able to bring out local concerns and island voices that may not be heard in off shore headquarters. We set our own policies, make our own program decisions, and we rise or fall based on how responsive we are to local needs.

 

As your fellow Hawaii citizens, we’re thankful for you and for the precious time, curious mindset, and community values that we share.

 

With gratitude,

Leslie signature

 

 

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Kitty (Lagareta) Yannone

 

If you think you know Kitty (Lagareta) Yannone – business owner, public relations professional, University of Hawai‘i Regent – you’ll be surprised at the second career she almost had, how she got into public relations in the first place, and what she can do on a skateboard.

 

Transcript

 

You said you got in trouble a lot. Was that a trend that would continue later in your life?

Well, I really try not to, but I tend to be a little bit outspoken, and I tend to have opinions about things, and I tend to get involved. And I think when you do all that, sometimes it looks like you’re causing trouble.

When you raise a question, or when you are outspoken, is it with the intent to shake things up?

No; it really isn’t. Sometimes it’s just a question, or sometimes it’s just wanting to delve a little deeper into understanding something. I’m kind of an introvert, actually, in my private time. I’m not looking to cause trouble.

Kitty (Lagareta) Yannone is not one to back down from a challenge or hesitate to go against the grain. Honolulu business owner and operator, Kitty (Lagareta) Yannone, next on Long Story Short.

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

Aloha mai kakou. I’m Leslie Wilcox. Katherine (Lagareta) Yannone, better known as Kitty, joined the public relations firm Communications Pacific in 1986 as a junior account executive. Nine years later, she became its president and CEO. Kitty has always been a risk-taker, having grown up with teenaged parents who gave their children lots of independence.

In small kid time, I grew up in the Mojave Desert in California. I was there from about the time I was eleven, twelve. And my parents still live there, so it’s a place I go back to as home. And in those days, it was about five thousand people in this vast desert, and it was an amazing place to grow up.

What did you for playtime in the desert? 

You know, rode motorcycles. I love motorcycles. I hardly wear dresses, ‘cause I have all these motorcycle burns on my legs from falling on the tailpipe. But rode motorcycles, and chased lizards all the time. I can’t even believe I did that, but we chased lizards and we caught things, and looked at ‘em. And we played hide-and-seek on this vast desert. It’s amazing to me how much time as kids we had, unstructured, alone, to explore or hang out with friends, where parents weren’t hovering over us. Some of the best adventures are the ones that were misadventures.

You lived in a place that may be considered more dangerous than others, because of the climate, where you could get lost, and there’s too much heat in the desert.

Yeah. You know, way out in the desert, you never know who’s out there. And honestly, I was a very protective mom. My kids were born and raised here. I was a very protective mom, and I thought, You know, this would have never flown when I was a kid. But you know, it’s the way it was, and I’m grateful for it.

Were your parents people who explicitly gave you life lessons, or did they teach you by example?

They always tried. My parents were very young; my parent were sixteen. My mother was sixteen when I was born, and so, it was kinda like … there were times in my childhood where it was, which of us is raising which one? But I have wonderful parents; I adore them. They were very responsible parents, they were great parents. But no, they were not overprotective parents at all.

And what of life did you grasp from them?

You know, they always made me feel like I could do anything. You know, it was like, they gave me the freedom to make mistakes, take risks, do things that maybe were different or new, like ride motorcycles when you’re twelve, thirteen years old on the desert. They kinda gave you the sense that the world may not be a perfectly safe place, but you can handle.

And what were they like individually?

They both came from sort of broken homes at a young age, and my dad grew up in Pennsylvania. When he was eleven, his dad left, and he has a much younger sister and his brother was an infant. And he kind of became the man of the house then. Very responsible, great values. He ended up going to trade school to become an engineer and had a very wonderful career, did very well over the years with that kind of vocational education. And when I was a kid, he was managing cement plants by then. That’s why we were in the desert, because there was a large cement plant there that he managed. And then my mom, you know, had my sister two years later when she was eighteen, and then we adopted my two brothers, one when I was about twelve, thirteen, and one when I was about fifteen.

So, no sibling rivalry there; they’re so far apart in age.

But think about it; she had toddlers and she had teenagers at the same time. That’s got to have been a very difficult thing. And she was kind of a 50s, 60s mom. And she hadn’t finished high school, ‘cause she had me. And basically, she got me into college when I was sixteen on this special program, ‘cause she was so determined I would go to college as her oldest. And in the course of being counseled and all of that about my education, the counselor said to her, Where did you go to school? And she said, very embarrassed, I didn’t finish high school. And that counselor, I think my mom is grateful to her, but I had to love that woman. I don’t even know her anymore. She got my mom to start taking classes, take the GED test, and my mom got her master’s in psychology. It took her a number of years, ‘cause she went to a few classes at a time, but she had a great career as a clinical psychologist. And I’m really proud of her.

Is that right?

Yeah.

When did you leave the desert?

You know, the first time I left was, one summer I thought I was gonna go to school in Santa Barbara. That was the summer that they burned the bank, and then I went down to the beach. My apartment was on Sabado Tarde Road, this little road, and I loved this town. And everybody was playing naked volleyball, and so all it took was my Italian Catholic parents to come down and it was, You are out of here, you are so out of here. So then, I went back up to the community college, and met a boy from Hawai‘i. Grown up in Hawai‘i, not originally from Hawai‘i. And I had started college young; I had two years by the time I was eighteen. And he was a couple years older, and he was from Ewa Beach. And we got married when I was like, nineteen, and came here shortly thereafter.

That’s what brought you to Hawai‘i.

Yeah; that’s what brought me to Hawai‘i. The marriage lasted about thirteen years. We have two great sons from that marriage. And I think a lot of people thought after I got divorced, I would probably leave.

Did you ever consider it?

No; no. My kids’ father and I wanted to have them in the same place together with us, so even though we were not together, it never occurred to me to go anywhere else. And I love this place; I felt at home here from almost the first moment. My first husband was kind of a hanai family member with Al Harrington and his family, and Al was a big entertainer when we first came over here, and he worked for him. So, we immediately kind of got into cultural things with him, a lot of the people in his show, native Hawaiian, a lot of the people were Samoan, Tongan. And we hung out with them a lot in those early years, and so, I kind of got exposed to different cultures almost immediately, and I loved it.

Did you finish college at the University here?

I did; I went back. I took a couple of years to just kinda get settled here, and then I had my second son, and then I went back to school. And then, he got spinal meningitis when he was eleven months old, and that took me on a journey. I thought I was gonna go to law school; that was my big goal, was to go to law school. And I was like, vice president of the pre-law society, and all of that. And after his hospitalization, I heard about the Ronald McDonald House and some people here were starting one, McDonald’s and some community people. And that took my life in a whole different direction.

Your second child had spinal meningitis, or bacterial …

Yeah; bacterial spinal meningitis. He was born very, very healthy, big huge healthy baby, and I was one of those all natural childbirth and breast feed, and all that kinda stuff. So, when he got sick, we almost lost him, and he was in the pediatric intensive care for weeks at Kapiolani Hospital. And I really credit them, because the care was so good. There was another child with something similar, older child who died in the bed next to him. He was in a coma for almost a week, and it was a very scary, scary thing. He lost his hearing pretty much as a result, but that’s not stopped him in any way.

I can’t imagine the fear of having your child in a hospital bed next to someone who passes away from the same thing.

Yeah; it’s terrible. It was like moment-by-moment, and you get through it with your child. That was absolutely the most horrendous, scary thing I’ve ever gone through in my life.

How long did you go through it?

It was several weeks. And then, he had a long recovery.

And that’s when you came across the concept of Ronald McDonald House?

What happened was, there was a mom there from the Big Island, and she was a single mom, and they’d flown her over on a medvac. And I got to know her over a period of the first week or two. And I noticed she didn’t have any clothes, she was kinda living on whatever she got at the vending machine. And as we got to talk, I realized she didn’t have a place to stay. And then I kinda looked around, and I realized that a lot of neighbor island families, they rent a car and get an ice chest, ‘cause they want to be real close to their kids. They were essentially living in the parking garage and kinda using the facilities at the hospital, but that was it. ‘Cause you can’t afford a hotel if your baby’s in neonatal intensive care for months, or your child’s in the hospital for weeks. Nobody can, and nobody wants to be that far away. So, I was concerned about it, and I went down and talked to the hospital administrator. He was very kind; he said, You know, we can’t take care of all the parents; we’ll try. If there’s somebody special you think needs our assistance, we’ll send up our social worker. But we use all our resources to take care of the kids. So, he remembered me, I guess, because a year later, he called me up and said, You know, you were so concerned about that; well, these people are having a meeting here, some people from McDonald’s and some people from the community, and I think they want some parents who had kids in the hospital. And I think you should come down for this meeting. And I said, Okay.

That meeting was the beginning of a new journey that took Kitty (Lagareta) Yannone into the world of fundraising. The efforts of the group were successful, and after the Ronald McDonald House opened, Kitty became its first staff member. While this experience eventually led to her future career in public relations, she pursued another interest; one that pushed the limits of risk-taking. She became a standup comic.

Some friends of mine were auditioning for a comedy troupe that Rap Reiplinger was putting together. So, in the middle of that for a couple years, I did standup comedy with this group called Hats. And I was working on Ronald McDonald House during the day, and at night we would perform, and in between somewhere I would write stuff. It was a great adventure.

What kind of comedy did you do?

You know, it’s very common now. You see a lot of kind of feminist comediennes, and they do some pretty risqué stuff. And that’s exactly what I was. You know, I grew up as a tomboy and I cussed a lot. I didn’t cuss in my monologue. I finally have tried to wean that out of my vocabulary. But it was edgy stuff. I did a whole thing on masturbation; a whole monologue on masturbation.

Personal subjects, and then to go in front of a whole bunch of people … didn’t it frighten you?

Well, for me, it was a weird plaything. It was, Do women do it, or not? We only hear about men. Is that because they have language to describe it, and we don’t have any? And so, the whole thing was about what kind of language women should have to even talk about it, if they did it. And it kind of … you had to be there.

[LAUGHTER]

And it got laughs, good laughs?

It would bring the house down, once I especially got my rhythm. Rap loved it. And I remember my proudest moment, ‘cause it was a very short career, was when we had a big review by Wayne Harada. And he said—I thought it was kind of a play on words; She talks about some very touchy subjects, but it’s a display of astonishing wit. And I said, Okay, maybe this is something I can really do, because he said that.

And you wrote your own lines.

I wrote my own.

It wasn’t improv; it was something you wrote.

We did some improv, Rap wrote some skits, but we were all responsible for our own monologues, and we wrote our own stuff.

They say that’s one of the scariest things to do, public speaking, especially when you’re mining for laughs and people may not find it funny. You don’t know.

I think because Rap was there, and Rap was so brilliantly funny, and when we were trying out something new and it didn’t quite click, he would mentor us and

say, You know, that’s actually a good piece. And he did that with all of us; there were eight of us. But here’s what’s not working; here’s what would really make it work. Try this. And so, that gave us kind of a safety net, and he was almost every time right; but I wouldn’t say he was right every time. And you’d go out there, and people would howl, and that was the most exhilarating feeling, ever.

I bet. At what point did law school go off the table?

Law school kinda went off my radar screen when I discovered that side of me that like to be creative. You know, I really think I would have loved to do comedy forever, but other things intervened, and living out here in Hawai‘i, it was kind of a small market for it. Rap kept trying to get us all to go to the mainland, and we actually had a couple of chances to do that. But it just never was the right time to do that.

Did you think you’d found your profession at the Ronald McDonald House?

I did. And the fundraising part of it is a skill I learned, that I use a lot still today in things I do, and the communications part. I was terrified; I was the client of the PR firm I now own, and I was terrified.

What a switcheroo. I mean, you were the client of the public relations company you now own.

Yes.

And you hadn’t gone to school for public relations or marketing.

No; even though I guess I was doing a lot of it. I like to write, we did a million presentations.

And you were an advocate.

And an advocate. And the PR firm was supporting; I was the client again. When they offered me a job, ‘cause the House went into a phase where they were looking for somebody to be there that was more social work background and all of that once it opened, and I totally understood that. And they offered me a job, and I said, So, what exactly do PR people do? And it was kinda like, Well, you’ve been doing it.

I see.

I was like thirty-two, and I started at a very junior account exec level. Usually, most of the people that age were vice presidents in the company, so I kinda started at square one, so it gave me time to learn everything.

You got immersed almost immediately in meeting with people who were decision makers and influencers.

When I look back on Ronald McDonald House, I was such a newbie to any of that kind of thing. And that experience, I always tell people, volunteering if you have a passion, even when you go into it [INDISTINCT] yourself, you have amazing experiences. And I sat in a room; Sully Sullivan was our fundraising chair, and I think he was probably about eighty then, or late seventies. And there was like Sheridan Ing, and Bill Wall, and Bobby Pfeiffer, and we’d all meet once a week for breakfast, and I was like the fly on the wall note-taker. And they’d do their fundraising reports really quick, and then they would stay around. And they always said, Oh, stay around, kid. And I’d listen to them talk about business stuff, and I don’t even know if I fully appreciated it at the time, but years later, so many of the things that I heard by being in that group for a year or two, just fundamental stuff about business and the way people think, the way those types of people think, was brilliant. And I use it every day, I think.

And it’s an incredible memory when I think about it. That came through Ronald McDonald House. So, that was an experience.

It’s so interesting that you’re not an MBA.

No.

And yet, it all sort of evolved naturally. You know, these things happened, you took advantage, you thought about it, and you made it work. You were Pacific Business News’ first Businesswoman of the Year.

I know; can you believe that? You can learn every day from people. If you go in thinking, I don’t know it all, it’s amazing what you can pick up. And I think my whole life has sort of been that way, especially starting with Ronald McDonald House and just feeling like I didn’t know what I needed to know, but I would find out, I would figure it out, I would learn from people around me. And my first client was Dr. Richard Kelley; he was probably in his early fifties, and he was the CEO of Outrigger Hotels. And because I had fundraising background, and he was trying to put together the Hawai‘i Convention Park Council to raise money to lobby for a convention center, that was my first project for almost the first two full years.

Well, that was an auspicious first client; Dr. Kelley.

Yeah; yeah. And you know, I still do a lot of writing for him, and work with him, and I admire him fiercely, and his family. They are some of the hardest-working people I know, and most down-to-earth people I know. And he was just a very dear mentor to me.

Communications Pacific had downsized considerably by the time Kitty (Lagareta) Yannone bought it and became its president and CEO in 1995. Under her leadership, the company started growing again, and revenues reached new highs. Then, in 1998, she was given an opportunity that many people in her position would probably have turned down.

A lot of times, public relations companies will not take on politicians, because it’s a good way to find yourself a couple years later looking around and saying, Where’s our business?, because the other side one. A lot of people stay away from it like the plague, but you didn’t.

Yeah; no. Well, people always give me a lot of grief. You know, that was a switch for me, and I think because I had become very disillusioned with a lot of things in Hawai‘i, and I’d actually been offered a job to run the Fleishman Hillard office in L.A., and it was after my kids had just kind of grown up and they were out the door to college and everything. And I was seriously thinking about it, because Hawai‘i wasn’t a place that I liked so much anymore.

Because?

I kept volunteering, and trying to change things at the not-for-profit level, and it started to feel like it was political. It was around that time when a number of legislators went to jail. You know, I’m thinking of the Milton Holts and others, City Council members going to jail. And I thought, You know, I just don’t know if I want to live in a place like that, and it felt like it was sort of inbred politically. And I thought, I don’t know if I want to deal with that. And I went and explored this job and thought, I can’t live in L.A. I came back and I thought, You know, maybe I should pay more attention to politics, and maybe I should get involved there. And I looked around, and I’d met Linda Lingle when she was mayor of Maui through some volunteer work with high school students that we’d gone over there to do, and I didn’t know her very well at all. And she called one day and wanted to meet with me. She was thinking about running for governor in a couple years, and I knew nothing about politics. And she said, That’s okay, we’ll figure it out; it’s a big race, I need a communications person, I think you’re kind of a smart person. So, I started helping her in ’98, and I immediately got calls from a lot of people around town, friends, my parents and kids. You know, if you’re gonna do politics this time, it’s really kinda stupid to get involved with the party that has no power. [CHUCKLE] And I said, Yeah, but I like this candidate, and I really want to do this. And I didn’t lose any clients; no clients said, I’m gonna quit. They just, I think, were kind of bemused. And Linda came within five thousand votes, and it was a huge learning and a wonderful experience for me, except for the losing part. But we all took it harder than she did. And before we had even let the dust settle, she was saying, We’re gonna do this again in 2002. And I remember thinking, Ee, I don’t know. But of course, I was onboard for 2002.

You weren’t following the playbook of most public relations executives. You were following your mind and, to some extent, your heart.

Yeah. You know, I believe in that, because I think a lot of executives, if they can, they do that. And I just feel even when it’s a learning experience, having the experience makes me better overall. And that was a learning experience. And oh, gosh, in 2002, we pulled it off, and that was interesting. And that was the other thing, kind of still in naïveté, not having been in politics, it was like, Okay, we’re done, I can go back to my life. And I remember Linda called and she said, You know, I think you would be one of the people I want to recommend for Board of Regents. And I remember saying, Oh, why that? I mean, you know, I don’t know.

Talk about political. [CHUCKLE]

She had to talk me into it. And it was my alma mater, it was something that sounded interesting. And that was another journey. But I thought we were done. So, that was the first lesson; you’re not done when you get somebody elected.

That was such an interesting chapter in your life. For those of watching as well. I remember thinking, you know, what you got into was a mire with the president of the University, Evan Dobelle.

Yeah.

And a very slippery situation. And your expertise is public relations, but it was very hard to manage it.

Yeah; and it’s hard to be in it and manage something. I know that.

And as the chair of the Board of Regents.

Yeah.

I mean, I think there was a perception at some time that you were bungling it.

Yeah; yeah. I actually thought it was. I knew it was bungled, but I also had the perspective of there was a whole bunch of stuff. You know, it was an employee-employer relationship between the Board and Evan. And there are certain laws you have to follow, confidentiality and things. So, we were not in a position to say, Hey, we tried this, we did this. And I think the employee can say whatever they want pretty much, really. And you see that over and over. So, that was a disadvantage, and it was hard. The other part was, you know, you will never know the effort we made to do it carefully. And the sense, I think, that was there was that, I have this contract, no way you’re gonna get me out of it, and I’m not going anywhere. And as time went on, I think it became clear the University was suffering, and we had to do something. And in fact, our creditors told us that. And it felt very bungled. It felt like there were lots of pieces that you couldn’t control. It was horrible watching the public perception of it, and knowing there was another story, but you can’t be the one to tell it. You’re the employer.

I recall the Kaleo O University.

Kitty Litter, or whatever.

Their banner headline, the student newspaper said, Bad Kitty.

Yeah, yeah. Yeah; yeah.

So, that had to be a low point in general when people were saying, What are they doing over there, can’t they get their act together on the Board of Regents?

It was a low point in terms of not being able to do anything about it.

Especially since you were used to the other party, in your view, bungling it. And then now, you’re perceived that way.

Yeah; absolutely. That was really rugged; that was really rugged, I think for all of us. And yet, I found the decision we made to be the right one. I’ve never regretted that decision. How it unfolded and what it looked like on the outside; yeah, there was a lot of regret about that, but not the decision. And I don’t think any of us did.

So, the right outcome.

The right outcome; and it really was. You know, that’s the decision. I mean, there were regents who quit because they didn’t want to go down. They knew what needed to be done, but they didn’t want to be in the middle of all that. And there were some amazing people who stuck around and said, This needs to be done for the good of our university. And I think there is some vindication in what happened at Westfield College.

Many times, especially over politics, you felt, no doubt, uncomfortable.

You know, I’ve never found discomfort to be an inhibiting factor.

I’m sure you had some sleepless nights over the regents matter.

Many; I think I didn’t sleep for like a whole year. I think that’s what you call political courage. I call it that when I see it in other people. And when you’re in it, it doesn’t feel like any kind of courage; it feels like a nightmare. But in the end, if something good came out or a group of people were able to come together to make something happen that was right or needed to happen, or bigger than they could do on their own.

What if it fails?

Yeah; it does. I failed in ’98. Do you know how many people wouldn’t even talk to me after ’98? She’s the one who went to the other side, you know. I lived through it.

It sounds like you’ve been able to do what you want to, what you feel strongly about, and not really suffer too much for it in business or personally.

I mean, I don’t know if somebody may be out there trying to get me, but I’m still here, and I’m probably not even aware of most of the time. And what I am aware of is that I have a whole lot of folks in the community I love working with, I have fabulous clients and a team that I work with day-to-day. I pretty much wake up enthusiastic and say, I want to go make this happen today. And so far, nobody’s stopped me. [CHUCKLE]

From riding motorcycles, to fighting for her child’s life, to risking her reputation, to making difficult decisions, Kitty (Lagareta) Yannone has shown herself to be a risk-taker and a fighter. Mahalo to Kitty (Lagareta) Yannone of Honolulu, and mahalo to you for joining us. For PBS Hawai‘i and Long Story Short, I’m Leslie Wilcox. A hui hou.

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

I started skateboarding when I was nine with those little metal wheels, and I thought it was the most exhilarating thing ever, and I just loved it. And I continued doing it past my first child being born, and then I used to skateboard with my sons. I remember we were at Manoa Elementary School, and there was a big driveway down to the school, and we were going down it, and it had a lot of loose gravel. And I was about forty-three and my sons were, you know, older. Anyway, I hit the bottom, and I was so excited that I’d made it down that I put my foot down, and I went sliding across the gravel, and just took all the skin off. And I had to go to the doctor to get cleaned up. He goes, You know, a woman in her forties has no business skateboarding. And so, I kinda took that to heart, but when I turned fifty, I started again.

[CHUCKLE] Do you remember saying this? There’s nothing quite like rolling along with the wind blowing by, not sure if you’re going to crash.

Yeah; that’s sort of my motto, my life experience, yes. Yeah. There’s something about kind of pushing the edge. I think if you can keep that feeling you had as a kid in some of your life day-to-day, those are things that felt good then, and they still feel good.

[END]

 

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