This oral history interview is a project of the Historical Committee of the Outrigger Canoe Club. The legal right to this material remain with the Outrigger Canoe Club. Anyone wishing to reproduce it or quote at length from it should contact the Historical Committee of the Outrigger Canoe Club. The reader should be aware that an oral history document portrays information as recalled by the interviewee. Because of the spontaneous nature of this kind of document, it may contain statements and impressions that are not factual. A full transcript of the video may be found below.
An Interview by Barbara Del Piano
February 27, 2017
BDP: I’m Barbara Del Piano (BDP), a member of the Outrigger Canoe Club Historical Committee. I’m here in the Club’s boardroom to interview Mary Philpotts-McGrath (MPM), who has been an outstanding member for practically her whole life, and her family has made so many contributions. So, Mary, it’s a pleasure to talk to you this morning.
MPM: Thank you Barbara. We have a longstanding friendship too.
BDP: Yes. It goes back a long, long time. Okay, so, let’s start with your family background.
BDP: I know you have very close ties to the Outrigger. And wasn’t one of your relatives a charter member?
MPM: Yes. H. R. Macfarlane, I understand, in 1908 was a charter member of the … Right from, I guess, the start of the Outrigger.
BDP: The Macfarlane family came from where?
MPM: Well, they had a house in Waikiki that was right near this site, I think, on the further Diamond Head side. I’m not exactly sure where it was, but I know the Campbells had a home here and so did the Macfarlanes. Then there was Colonel Clarence Macfarlane who … I don’t know if he was a member of the Outrigger or not, but he was considered the father of the Transpac Race.
BDP: Yes, I’ve heard of that.
MPM: So, they were obviously watermen back then.
BDP: Right. I understand. He was sailing over there for the first Transpac and then the earthquake, San Francisco. . .
MPM: He was going to San Francisco.
MPM: All of San Francisco was on fire when they got there and they didn’t … Of course, there was no communication at all. They decided to go on to Los Angeles. I guess when they got to Los Angeles, they probably found out what happened.
MPM: That’s why it’s been … The Transpac has been from Los Angeles ever since.
BDP: Ever since. Okay. So, how are you related to Walter Mac?
MPM: Well, Walter Mac was my mother’s brother, older brother. I guess he was instrumental in saving the Outrigger in 1939. One of the quotes I read was that Outrigger was flat broke. I think membership was low and he was an advertising executive way back in that day and age, and was instrumental in charming people into, I guess, rebuilding the image of the Club and the finances of the Club.
BDP: I think he sold bonds . . .
MPM: Well, they did. They raised money and they increased the membership. I guess it’s done well ever since.
BDP: Oh absolutely.
MPM: They also built a new Clubhouse that year and that’s one of the reasons, I guess, the finances were so low. They were having trouble financing the Club.
BDP: Right. Then they tried to find a way to honor him when he suddenly passed away.
BDP: Well, you can tell that story.
MPM: Well, World War II had broken out. So, he died shortly after the start of the war. My memories basically are … After we left the islands during the war and then came back in 1945. So, I remember, that’s when my memories of the Outrigger actually started about then. We came back. I remember his locker next to Duke’s locker, and his great big, redwood surfboard in there. Cindy Marks and I used to go and drag that thing out. How we got it … I know we needed a lot of help, but usually Uncle Bill Hollinger was around somewhere and would help us and we’d drag it out to the beach and float around on it and bring it back. Very fun memories.
BDP: I understand that they came up with all sorts of ideas to honor him. Finally, I think it was Henry DeGorog , the manager, who came up with the idea of naming the Fourth of July races after him. That proved to be the most wonderful commemoration possible.
MPM: It has been and what it’s grown into is phenomenal. I mean, just sitting up there and watching the people enjoy those races, and of course, the last few years, the surf has been so high and so exciting.
BDP: Absolutely. Tell us about your parents.
MPM: Well, my mother … My grandmother, of course, was very … much a part of the Macfarlane races in the early years and she had those trophies made, I mean the big trophy. She started the champagne tradition for the trophy. I did bring a picture of her just for fun.
BDP: Oh, can we see that?
MPM: There she is, Kamokila Campbell.
BDP: She is certainly one of . . .
MPM: One of my favorite pictures of her.
MPM: She was beautiful and she was gracious and charming. Actually, Uncle Mac had been in the Legislature and then she was too. So, she represented the Island of Molokai. I don’t recall how many years she served, but she was in the House.
BDP: Oh gosh. How many children did she have?
MPM: Five. Wyatt lived here and Kahlua was here part-time and then my mother lived here her whole life. My father was from California, so he moved here.
BDP: I see.
MPM: Actually, Barbara, it was fun, because when the Outrigger was on Kalakaua Avenue, my father’s store, Flanders, was right next to the Outrigger. It was …
MPM: … right there. Mm-hmm (affirmative). Gump’s was down the street and daddy’s store was right there.
BDP: What kind of a store was it?
MPM: Men’s haberdashery.
MPM: Very beautiful clothes. Then when the war broke out, we left and sold it to Ross Sutherland. So, then, Ross Sutherland carried it on and grew it and …
BDP: Oh, I never realized that.
MPM: … made the brand big. So, I have fond memories of that whole …
MPM: … arcade right outside the Outrigger.
BDP: So, now, how are you related to James Campbell?
MPM: He was my great-grandfather, my grandmother’s father.
BDP: Okay. Now, how about you, Mary? Do you have children?
MPM: Oh yes. I have three. They’ve all spent time here. My grandchildren are members too, so they …
BDP: How many generations does that make?
MPM: That would be one, two, three, four, I guess.
MPM: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
BDP: Wonderful. Are your children still living here in Hawaii?
MPM: My children are. Yes. All three of them are.
MPM: The grandchildren are not, but they were paddling for the Outrigger for a little while and then they were paddling with another crew.
BDP: I can remember back in the ’40s, Kamokila Campbell pouring that champagne. It was such an exciting moment.
MPM: My youngest son, Billy Philpotts is the emcee every year now. So, he’s on that mic for all those hours.
MPM: I don’t know how he does it. Yes. I don’t know how he can see out that far and know what’s happening, but it was really fun to hear his voice throughout the regatta.
BDP: Oh, I bet. Oh gosh. Now that your grandmother’s gone and your dear mother is gone, you and your sister, Alice and Judy, do you all pour the champagne?
MPM: We usually do, if we’re here. Judith isn’t always here. She spends time in California and also on the Kohala Coast. So, if she gets down here she’s there with us otherwise, it’s Alice and I holding the fort.
BDP: Oh wonderful.
MPM: And all the kids.
BDP: Great. I understand. What would Walter Guild be, your nephew?
MPM: My nephew, Mm-hmm (affirmative).
BDP: I understand he gives a wonderful speech to the paddlers.
MPM: I guess, very inspirational. That’s what I’ve heard.
BDP: Okay, now, where did you go to school, Mary?
MPM: Punahou and then University of Colorado and then University of Hawaii.
BDP: When did you join the Outrigger?
BDP: How old were you?
MPM: I don’t really … I mean, I’m not sure when I actually became a member, because in those days, the kids just tagged along.
BDP: Right. I think you had to be something like 12 years old …
MPM: I think so.
BDP: … to join. Did you spend a lot of time here as a youngster?
MPM: Oh yes. Oh yes. Growing up here, I mean, this is a second home. And Clara and Richard and the rice and gravy, we lived on that.
BDP: Oh gosh. Did you and Alice meet your husbands here?
MPM: Pretty much, I guess, because we all grew up knowing each other. Being in the water and playing volleyball and lying like beached whales on the lawn. Remember that at the old Club?
BDP: And you participated in water sports like paddling?
MPM: Paddling, mm-hmm (affirmative). Paddling and volleyball.
BDP: And volleyball. You play on the big court or the little court?
BDP: Both. Okay. Then after you graduated from Punahou, you already mentioned that you went to … Where was it?
MPM: University of Colorado.
BDP: Colorado. Okay.
MPM: I certainly missed Hawaii.
BDP: I can imagine. I went through the same thing.
MPM: My father was smart. He gave me a one-way ticket.
BDP: Well, I know you’ve had a very successful career in interior design. Can you tell us a little bit about it and some of the major jobs you worked on?
MPM: Well, it just sort of evolved. I was really an art major. So, I had to find something I could do other than trying to just paint. So, Allison Holland and I sort of found our ways into interior design, and then we did study additionally, and then took the exams and passed the exams, and then just started practicing. So, it just became a full-time life business.
BDP: What are some of your big jobs?
MPM: Well, Kona Village Resort for one was … That was one of our first projects. We got that and the Pacific Club at the same time.
MPM: So, we were on the cover of Honolulu Magazine in our hot pink muumuus with all Pegge Hopper’s paintings surrounding us. It was pretty dramatic. Then the next day, after the magazine came out, we got a call from the Pacific Club saying, “Well, the men in the card room are saying that they sure hope that those girls don’t make our club all hot pink.” So, I guess we rattled their cage a little bit.
BDP: Was that the newer club that Ossipoff also designed?
MPM: Yes, that was just about that same time.
MPM: I did work with Val, too, for years.
BDP: Oh, did you?
MPM: Yes. He was the one that called us into the Pacific Club. Then I did so many residences. I worked with him right up until he died.
BDP: Is that right? That must’ve been a …
MPM: At one point, I said to … I guess it was a sort of a celebration of his work at the Pacific Club. Sid Snyder was there and Sid was a speaker and then they asked me some questions. I said, “Well, I’ve worked for Val for 50 years.” Sid came up to me afterwards and he said, “How could you have worked with Val for 50 years?” He said, “He died. He died,” what? “15 years ago,” or whatever it was. I said, “Yeah, but I’m still working with him. I’m still doing all these houses.”
BDP: Oh gosh.
MPM: He has such a legacy.
BDP: Oh, does he?
MPM: He does. We have to be very careful with his buildings.
BDP: Yes, absolutely. Well, also, Mary, I understand you’ve written a book.
MPM: I have. It’s here.
BDP: Do you have a copy of it here?
MPM: I have the copy right here.
BDP: Hawai’i: A Sense Of Place.
MPM: A Sense Of Place.
BDP: It’s truly a beautiful book.
MPM: Well, it’s really mostly … It’s all residential. We were just very lucky and privileged to be able to work in so many beautiful homes. People were so gracious to allow us to photograph and publish their homes, so that’s … I felt that …
BDP: Are all the homes in the book ones that you decorated?
MPM: We worked on all of them, yes. Everything in here. I felt that it was something that had to be done, because it’s a culture of Hawaii that is so indelible and just the way people lived. The mix of the climate with the indoor, outdoor … Well, this is the house here. This is a screen facing Manoa Valley. The architects were so wonderful. Our clients were very, very gracious. The book had three printings.
BDP: Oh wow.
MPM: There’s still some available, but they’ll have to buy them on eBay after that.
BDP: Oh wow. Now, you’re also a very accomplished artist.
MPM: Well, I’ve gone back to that.
BDP: You’ve gone back to it?
MPM: Gone back to it.
BDP: Are you sort of retired or semi-retired?
MPM: No, I’m still going. I just finished the Four Seasons on Oahu and just got called back on Kona Village Resort, if you can believe that after all these years. So, I guess I’m not retired.
BDP: No, but you’re still finding time for your art.
MPM: I am. That’s my priority now and I’m very fortunate to have a very large house that has a very large basement in it. I have my own printing press. It’s equivalent to a four-car garage. So, it’s huge.
MPM: I spend a lot of time down there.
BDP: Do you have a …
MPM: Well, since you asked …
BDP: … sample of your painting?
MPM: … I did bring one pastel. This is not a print, but it’s a drawing. It’s of Lanikuhonua, my grandmother’s home. It’s just a watercolor sketch of the landscape there.
BDP: … beautiful.
MPM: Thank you.
BDP: In spite of all your workings, you still had time to get involved with the Outrigger. When did you first start getting on committees and that sort of thing?
MPM: Well, the committees, I guess would’ve started in about 1987 I guess. I was involved in Long-Range Planning at that point and then Building and Grounds, then after that, Marketing. Then in 1993, I was on the Board and I had Public Relations. Then after that the House committee. In ’96, I was Vice President of Activities. And in ’97, Vice President of Operations. So, I was groomed by all those men, all that time.
BDP: So, you were the first woman president of the Board of Directors of the Outrigger, right?
BDP: Well, that really was quite a breakthrough.
MPM: That was in 1998. I had a lot of support and a lot of teamwork. The existing Board really helped me immensely.
MPM: I owe them a lot, anyway. I loved those years. They were wonderful.
BDP: Well, you certainly did a fine job, but what do you think was your biggest accomplishment?
MPM: I didn’t feel like we had any big problems, but I guess, in retrospect, holding the line on dues. I felt like that it’s a family club and families struggle here to raise their children. This is such a part of the kids growing up. It’s such a major part. If the dues increased, it was with everything else the families were facing. The bigger the families, the more participation those kids have. So, that was my biggest accomplishment.
BDP: That was a wonderful help to keep those dues down.
MPM: But you had to increase the dining room revenues. It had to be supplemented.
BDP: Going back a few years to the ’60s, how did you feel about moving the Cub from Waikiki all the way out here to Diamond Head?
MPM: I thought it was just going … I mean, putting things in context, I think, it’s important, because at that point in time, my classmates and I considered … Anything this far off of Waikiki was in the pig farms, because that’s where the pigs were in Kahala. So, it sounds crazy now, but it just seems like, “Oh no. That’s not Waikiki. That’s out of Waikiki, because we knew it as the hub of the big beach.” My children were little at that point. We lived in Kailua and we decided to give up our membership. We resigned over that and then we came back, I came back.
BDP: When did you come back?
MPM: Well, John Rader was here at that point and I rejoined and he said, “Oh yeah, you can come back right in.” So, we did.
BDP: Well, we lost a lot of members, that’s for sure. I think you’ve already mentioned the year you were elected to the Board of Directors?
BDP: That was …
BDP: … ’98. Okay. Well, how many members of your family have served on the Board?
MPM: Oh, a lot. Walter, Rab … Alice didn’t serve, but myself. I don’t think Di Guild served on the Board. They’ve all been serving really strong roles in the water sports more so in coaching. Diane was a women’s coach and very successful at it.
BDP: Very outstanding coach. That’s your sister Alice’s daughter. And Rab …
MPM: Rab was President.
BDP: Walter is your nephew?
MPM: Walter was President.
BDP: He has done a lot of coaching.
MPM: Right. And then the other thing I think is meaningful too, Barbara, is that the family has had a strong legacy with ODKF (Outrigger Duke Kahanamoku Foundation) and the development of ODKF, really, now has been … I served as a president. After I was president of the Outrigger, I was president of ODKF. Then Billy came into ODKF. I know Jim Growney’s daughter is also … That’s my first cousin, who’s also involved in ODKF. Outrigger should be really proud of their nurturing that organization, because it has grown into a phenomenal …
BDP: Oh, it has.
MPM: … resource for all kinds of sports.
BDP: It’s helped so many …
MPM: So many of these kids that … Yes.
BDP: … young athletes.
MPM: I mean, my mother was very, very, very much a sponsor to help them.
BDP: Oh, I see. Well, now, are you involved in any way with the Outrigger as far as committees or … ?
MPM: No, no.
BDP: But you do spend time here.
MPM: I do.
BDP: More of a social time, huh?
BDP: You’re down here every Fourth of July …
MPM: Of course.
BDP: … not here, but up there?
MPM: . . . then here afterwards. It’s a wonderful time.
BDP: It must mean a lot to you. How do you feel of the Fourth of the July?
MPM: I think it’s really exciting that the races have turned into such an enormous event. I mean, the flotillas are something to see. I think it’s got a lot of fun things happening. When I saw all those queen-size inflatable mattresses going down Kalakaua Avenue, I just thought that was a hoot. I mean, it’s crazy that people have such ingenuity to just go shopping in all of these large stores and find things that will float. They climb on them and float around out there with those canoes out of control sometimes, because the waves have been so big, but they do manage to keep the people out of the way.
BDP: I’ve heard from other team members and coaches that it’s so important to them, because it’s the only time they ever get to Waikiki anymore. Many of the clubs are out in the country and other islands. Also, it doesn’t count. The points don’t count toward the championship.
BDP: So, it’s just the fun . .
MPM: . . . It’s all playful. All those other teams that come into town and bring their canoes, it’s so joyous afterwards. They have such a good time. They’re just festive.
BDP: Does the Outrigger have a party for all the different teams?
MPM: They just sort of celebrate up and down the beach there. As far as I could tell, I don’t think they … There’s a big open house here, but you have to have tickets and they have to control it to some degree.
BDP: Oh, I see. Okay, but now, what else can we talk about, Mary? Do you have any special memories?
MPM: Well, I don’t think so. I think we talked about all kinds of things. I have a little message from my mother here, which is, because she was so much a part of the Outrigger and supporting the Outrigger because of Uncle Mac. Anyway, I thought when I brought my grandmother’s picture, I thought, “Oh well, I need to bring her too. So, I brought her.” And on the back of her picture is a poem she wrote. So, let me read that to you. “The bamboo grows outside my door. The fragrance of white petals is there. I play a tune on ivory keys. Girl’s laughter still rings throughout the house.” Isn’t that the spirit of the Outrigger, too? I mean, I think it’s a family place.
BDP: Yes, it is.
MPM: The family place.
BDP: Your mother was such a …
MPM: Left a ring through.
BDP: She was such a wonderful person. I did her oral history many, many years ago.
MPM: Did you?
BDP: You’re the one that called me one day and said, “I think you should do an oral history of my mother.”
MPM: Oh my … I don’t even remember that.
BDP: It was of all the oral histories I’ve ever done or any I’ve ever read, it’s my favorite. She was …
MPM: Oh, Barbara, that’s so nice.
BDP: … just a beautiful, wonderful woman. You’re very much like her.
MPM: Thank you.
BDP: We’re very, very proud to have you and thank you so much for …
MPM: Thank you. I’m honored.
BDP: … telling us these wonderful stories.
MPM: Thank you.
Mary Philpott McGrath’s Service to the Outrigger Canoe Club
OCC Board of Directors
1993 Coordinating Director Public Relations
1994 Coordinating Director House
1995 Coordinating Director House
1996 Vice President Activities
1997 Vice President Operations
Building & Grounds Committee
Long Range Planning Committee
Outrigger Duke Kahanamoku Foundation Board of Directors
1999 Vice President
2000 Vice President
2015-2017 Director Emeritus