Two Minutes with Keith Kawaoka, Deputy Director of Environmental Health Administration for the Hawaii Department of Health
How long have you been Deputy Director of Environmental Health Administration for the Hawaii Department of Health? What’s your best experience thus far?
I was appointed in February 2015 by Governor David Ige. My best experiences have been the interactions and collaboration within the Department of Health and with other departments in the Governor’s cabinet. Being one the few departments in the country in which the public health and environmental protection responsibilities are housed in one shop, the breadth and diversity of issues are amazing! These include water quality to medical cannabis to dengue and rat lungworm disease outbreaks!
How has being a member of ECOS benefitted you?
I appreciate the sharing and exchange of policy and technical information and insights from ECOS members and staff. Regardless of our size, geographic, and other differences, all of the states share a common commitment to protect the environment.
What is the best management advice you’ve received?
I’ve learned that a collaborative and teamwork approach is most often the most effective way to meet challenges and solve problems. Drawing out and listening to various viewpoints is important, but one must also be ready to make the necessary decisions.
Tell us about your morning ritual.
During the week, I get up to prepare for my daily commute to work. Yes, even in paradise, there are traffic jams in Hawaii! At work, I greet everyone cheerfully, then coffee (sometimes in reverse order), and then my able assistant informs me of what’s in store for the day.
What was your childhood dream job?
I had hopes of being a physician or an engineer. Somehow, my career took me to public health and environmental protection. Ironically, our children chose the careers not taken.
What’s your favorite moment of your career so far?
There have been many, but the ones that come to mind are the ones that are complex and controversial, where the individuals from different organizations came together to resolve them. You learn that some people are team players (regardless of intelligence or standing) and some are not.
What leader do you most admire?
The late U.S. Senator Sparky Matsunaga. A man from humble beginnings (born on the same town and island as me), he fought in WWII with distinction and served the territorial and state legislature and U.S. Congress for decades. He was an advocate for the common man, public service, and for peace. He passed away August 2 of this year.
What was your first real job?
I had several jobs at the same time in college. I was a radiology file clerk at a county hospital, delivered auto parts to repair shops, and fed rabbits with an extremely high cholesterol diet in a research lab.
What can you not live without?
The lifestyle and culture of Hawaii! Though I admit, sometimes you have to leave the “rock” and return to fully appreciate it!
If Hollywood made a movie of your life, who would you like to see play the lead role as you?
A well-known Japanese actor named Toshiro Mifune. He often starred in samurai and modern films, and his roles were often ones of extreme bravery and cunning, but he also skillfully portrayed comedic and vulnerable sides as well.