What It Means to Be American
A National Conversation


I Could Be a Slow Race Car Driver

PBS CEO Leslie Wilcox Would Love to Read People’s Minds

December 31, 2015

Leslie Wilcox is the president and CEO of PBS Hawaii, as well as the host of that station’s Long Story Short, which offers one-on-one conversations with some of the state’s most intriguing people. Before moderating a discussion about what Hawaii can teach America about race, she talked about her favorite interview, learning to swim, and the meaning of the word akamai.

Q: What superpower would you most like to have?
To read people’s minds.

Q: Where and when did you learn how to swim?
I learned when I was less than a year old, by getting plunked in ocean by my family and swimming for them.

Q: What’s your favorite plant?
The gardenia. It has a beautiful smell.

Q: If you didn’t live in Hawaii, where would you want to live?
Wherever my family was.

Q: What was the best interview you’ve ever done and why?
I think it may be with Roy Sakuma, the ukulele impresario of Hawaii. At that time and place, he decided to give the most candid and compelling interview ever. There were details about his life that were really interesting that he had never told before.

Q: Who was the last person to leave you a voicemail?
My daughter—who doesn’t expect me to listen to her voicemail because she doesn’t listen to mine. It was just to say, “I called you.”

Q: What are you like behind the wheel?
I drive 85 miles a day to and from work, at a minimum. I think I have quick reflexes. Good situational awareness. I love to drive. I could be a slow race car driver.

Q: What’s your favorite cliché?

Q: Your Long Story Short interviews are described as “akamai.” What does that mean?
It means smart in Hawaiian.

Q: What does it mean to be American?
I know I’m not conscious daily of the liberties and freedoms I have. I should stop taking them for granted—political expression, freedom of movement, the ability to inspire or create change.

*Photo by Kenna Reed.