Gov. David Ige will be the featured speaker in the Nisei Veterans Memorial Center’s Leadership Series this Saturday. I’ve been entrusted with the honor of conducting an interview-style discussion with Ige, who is the first U.S. governor of Okinawan descent. We’ll talk about nisei values and how they shaped his career and leadership style.
Saturday’s event is the third in the NVMC’s Leadership Series, which began in February with former Gov. George Ariyoshi and will eventually bring each of our state’s six living governors to Maui. John Waihee, Hawaii’s first Native Hawaiian governor and Ariyoshi’s successor, appeared in April.
In nearly 60 years of statehood, Hawaii has had eight governors. The first, William F. Quinn, was the 12th and last territorial governor, appointed by President Dwight D. Eisenhower. After losing the 1962 election to John A. Burns, Quinn was the last Republican to hold the office until Linda Lingle, 40 years later. He’s also the only one of our governors that I have never interviewed — or at least talked story with. Yeah, I’m that old. And I’m stretching the definition of “talk story.”
While I didn’t get to ask him anything, I did meet Gov. Burns, as part of a youth state Legislature contingent from Lihikai School. On a field trip to Honolulu, we sat in on a session of the Legislature and visited the historic gubernatorial residence, Washington Place. I have a foggy memory of Gov. Burns greeting us, but I clearly recall the gracious hospitality of his wife.
Confined to a wheelchair after contracting polio as a young woman, Beatrice Burns was nevertheless an active and inspirational first lady. My classmates and I were charmed by her gentle warmth and grandmotherly advice. She showed us around the mansion and ended the tour with refreshments in the parlor, treating us with as much respect as she showed the diplomats and dignitaries that she usually hosted.
When Gov. Burns was incapacitated by cancer, then-Lt. Gov. Ariyoshi became acting head of state before being elected in his own right to three consecutive terms. I was hired as a reporter for KITV News in the middle of his second term, so I got to meet and speak with him numerous times, but I kept a photographic record of only one encounter and it had nothing to do with politics.
My son was a kindergartener at the time, one of a dozen children selected to participate in a proclamation signing by Gov. Ariyoshi. Jimmy was the youngest of the bunch, and the governor, seated at his desk, lifted Jimmy onto his knee for a brief chat before the ceremony. Apparently, that was enough to put Jimmy completely at ease, because in the official photo of the occasion, all of the children grouped around Ariyoshi’s chair are standing at attention, beaming broadly at the camera . . . except for my son, who is leaning on the desk with his elbows, looking expectantly at the governor, seemingly saying, “Well, Uncle George, what are we going to do next?”
Former Govs. Ben Cayetano and Neil Abercrombie were maverick state senators in the early 1980s, when I worked for KITV and then KHVH Newsradio 99. I’m not sure whether either of them, as part of the so-called “dissident six-pack,” envisioned themselves as eventual governor. I sure didn’t, not at the time. While I interviewed them frequently, my then-husband and fellow reporter, Kelly Dean, was able to get a lot more info at their pau hana sessions at Columbia Inn and other downtown hangouts.
Linda Lingle served from 2002 to 2010, in between Cayetano and Abercrombie. I first met her in the late 1970s, when we were both young reporters; she ran the Molokai Free Press and I was doing radio news at KMVI. During her terms on the County Council and then as Maui mayor, she was a cool and confident public speaker and an easy interview subject.
I’m looking forward to my first interview with Gov. Ige and hearing his perspective on leadership and the cultural values with which he was raised. The event will be held at the Kahili Golf Course Nahele Ballroom at 1 p.m. Saturday and includes a buffet lunch. Call the NVMC at 244-6862 or email Executive Director Deidre Tegarden at firstname.lastname@example.org for tickets or further information.
* Kathy Collins is a storyteller, actress and freelance writer whose “Sharing Mana’o” column appears every Wednesday. Her email address is email@example.com.