My grandfather Maurice Karamatsu passed away in 1992 before I graduated from Pearl City High School. At the time, I was doing some theater with Honolulu Theatre For Youth’s Young at Art. The last words I remember from him was, “Study hard, go to college, and one day Hollywood will beckon you.” My grandpa was always a believer of “anything is possible if you work hard.”
Granpda Karamatsu’s first job I believe was as a driver for Dillingham. Then he was a messenger boy for Hawaiian Airlines and rose up the ranks to management. He was recognized and asked to help start a small store in Waikiki, Duty Free Shoppers Hawaii (DFS). This store grew to be a big multinational company. He retired as Vice President of DFS.
Besides business, my grandfather was active in politics. He worked with senior politicians of the past such as Governor George Ariyoshi, Senator Nadao Yoshinaga and Representative Jack Suwa as well as from the next generation, Governor Ben Cayetano, Senate President Norman Mizuguchi and Speaker Calvin Say. He was friends with legendary attorney Wally Fujiyama (Attorney for DFS, University of Hawaii Regent) who was also active in Hawaii politics, and from what I heard, they often visited the state capitol.
After Grandpa Karamatsu died, the first job I had was working for DFS in its warehouse in the summer of 1992, punching price tags all day. Later in the summer of 1992, I worked in the Flightline division of DFS until the spring of 1996. I started a business this year and ironically, it is located next to DFS’ warehouse and headquarters where I used to work. My grandfather took a chance in the duty free arena where international travelers could buy merchandise tax free, a unique way of doing global business through international travel. Whereas, I have ventured into the e-commerce arena where internet stores lie in virtual reality and the world is your market.
As an elected official, I have met many political and business leaders who knew my grandpa. Senator Nadao Yoshinaga is now my mentor. Another mentor, Senator Carol Fukunaga also knew him. I got to know Colbert Matsumoto, CEO of Island Insurance, who was a young attorney for Wally Fujiyama when he met my grandpa. Wally Fujiyama’s grandson, Jon Fujiyama is now a friend of mine and a strong supporter. Speaker Calvin Say serves as a great teacher for me in the House of Representatives. He became friends with my grandpa because his father-in-law, Mr. Kotake was good friends with my grandpa.
These are just a number of coincidences that have happened recently. I believe Grandpa Karamatsu is still here guiding me in business and politics.