Still Baking Up More Recipes

for a Good Life,

 Here’s ‘Chip & Cookie’

When Lanikai resident Wally Amos — known to millions as “Famous Amos” — first lived in Hawaii, it wasn’t as the chocolate-chip cookie mogul we have come to know, but as a young airman in the mid-1950s at Hickam Air Force Base, repairing avionics on cargo planes and working odd jobs on the side. Some 20 years later, Amos moved back — this time as a former talent agent who had become a successful entrepreneur. While here, he has made and lost fortunes, legally lost and regained the use of his own name, and become a world-class lecturer and inspirational speaker. He has evolved into a different Wally Amos now, a man on a mission to change the way people feel about themselves by promoting literacy and unconditional love.

Amos recently sat down with Oahu Island News editor W. Knox Richardson where, in a candid Insider interview, Wally discussed his views on Hawaii, the Aloha Spirit, personal success, education and literacy, and at age 68 revealed his vision for what yet may be the best to come.

Hawaii Back In The Day

    With his mother’s consent, a 16-year-old high-school dropout named Wallace Amos, Jr., joined the U.S. Air Force in November 1953. He attended technical school at Kessler AFB in Biloxi, Miss., where he learned to repair radios and radar for C-97 and C-124 cargo planes. Then, by way of fate, he was ordered to Hawaii.

    “I always thought coming to Hawaii was my reward for enduring Biloxi. I knew nothing about Hawaii. I don’t recall studying Hawaii in school. I had never even discussed Hawaii with anyone. When I came here, though, it did not take me long to appreciate it and to really love it. I acclimated very, very quickly.

    “I developed a great appreciation for Hawaii and the people, so much so that I was going to get a discharge here. But before I was discharged I was transferred to Travis AFB near Fairfield, Calif. I had plans for getting my discharge, going back to New York for no more than two weeks, and then I was coming back to Hawaii. I had all these friends here and a little wahine I was sweet on. But then one thing led to another, and two weeks turned into 20 years.”

On Returning To Hawaii

    In those 20 years from 1957 to 1977, Wally went through two marriages, having and raising children, enduring meaningless and meaningful jobs, but always learning and building upon his experiences.

    After a four-year stint at Saks Fifth Avenue, where he rose from supply clerk to department manager, he left when denied a promotion. Through good fortune and a knack for being in the right place at the right time (and as he says being the right color), he became the first black employee and later the first black agent in the music department of the William Morris Agency.

    In 1975, he founded Famous Amos Cookies, a major story unto itself. Two years later, Amos returned to Oahu for a visit. He came with present wife, Christine, when they had just begun seeing each other.

    “I came back to sell cookies, and I had planned to stay for 10 days. We went walking on the beach every morning and on the fourth day, we looked at each other and I said, ‘We should move here.’ Christine said I was crazy. I am crazy, but we did move.

    “We moved and it was one of the greatest moves I ever made, and one of the dumbest moves, too.”

Why Hawaii? What kept you here, knowing it was detrimental to your business located 2,500 miles away?

    “What kept me here? Everything! All of it. All of the above. The people, the weather, the beauty, the atmosphere here. Truly, I feel like this is where I belong. I have not had one bad second and I have been living here now for 27 years. I have not had one bad experience here in Hawaii. I didn’t come here to have bad experiences; I came here to have a meaningful life, and to be a part of the community.

    And I have done that. This is an easy place to give back to. I get so much from being in Hawaii that I just want to give and give. But they give me so much that I am constantly playing catch up because it is such a giving community.”

What does “aloha” mean to you?

    “I think it means a genuine concern and care for your fellow human beings and I think that is what Hawaii is all about. People here really care about one another; they will give you the shirt off their backs. That is the spirit of aloha; the spirit of love, and it is more prevalent in Hawaii than anyplace I have ever been. I saw that when I was here in the Air Force and it never left me. It has never left me.

    “Some people don’t realize how blessed they are to live here, to be born here, to live in this environment, this Hawaii.”

On Success And The Benefits Of Education

You earned your high school GED in the Air Force. What would you say to a kid here on the island about finishing school and getting their diploma?

    “Getting a good education is like establishing a good foundation for a house. I don’t care whether the house is built in Kahala or Kalike. The first thing you do is lay down a concrete slab. It doesn’t matter what kind of house — you’ve got to have the foundation and I believe that education is the foundation of a meaningful life.

    “‘Meaningful’ means whatever gives you the wherewithal to create the material benefits that you are going to want as you progress through life, but also to create a sense of self-worth. You’re self-esteem, I think, is directly related to your education. I can relate to that. As a dropout I can tell you that for many years my self-esteem was not at the top. I would not participate in a conversation for fear of using the wrong word, and I wouldn’t attend certain functions or go to certain places because I didn’t feel I fit in.

    “So I know that education is directly related to one’s self-esteem and that is everything, everything! Holding yourself in high esteem is everything. If you don’t think well of yourself, nobody else will, except perhaps your mother. The pathway to high self-esteem is directly tied into a strong educational foundation.

    “Greed and low self-esteem are the two culprits, and when you put those two together, boy, you’ve got a recipe for disaster.

    “I used to think that low self-esteem alone was the problem. Your job in life is just be the best you, to acknowledge and recognize who you are. It doesn’t mean you can’t improve — the idea is to live life one second at a time. If there are areas you want to improve, you establish a plan and improve upon them. But it doesn’t mean that you are less than someone else if you don’t have some of that stuff, if you don’t live in the right house or have the right clothes. It just means that you don’t have as much stuff as they do, and that’s all it means.

    “My destiny is to elevate self-esteem in society. And the vehicle that allows me to do that is by inspiring people to feel good about themselves. And my calling is to inspire by being a positive example. So I need to be the best Wally at all times.”

On Literacy And His New Ventures

    “Chip & Cookie” is the brainchild of Amos’s wife, Christine. Back in 1977, she conceived two dolls that resemble chocolate-chip cookies. Twice before in different incarnations, the Amoses brought the dolls to market, and due to different circumstances, both times the dolls were withdrawn. Once again, in 2004, via a website, the dolls are being re-introduced, this time as “spokes-dolls” for literacy, Wally’s special per-sonal mission. Since his Famous days, Wally has been involved with numerous organizations involving adult and family literacy. He calls it his greatest achievement. Chip & Cookie are the latest tools in his vision for world literacy and all that it brings to people who once couldn’t, but now can, read.

    “I always believed in Chip & Cookie from the first time I saw the them — I just kept resurrecting them.

    “There is something about those dolls, man, that when you look at them you feel love, you see love, you see it right away. As soon as people look at them there is an immediate response. They embody love.

    “The dolls are an extension of Christine and myself. And they transcend language and culture. We were in Denmark and the little kids there just loved them. They’re universal because love is universal. Caring for one another, respect for one another, all the things they represent I believe are also inherent in chocolate chip cookies. No culture, no race has a hold on any of that. This is Chip & Cookie’s time. We wanted them to be more than cute. I wanted Famous Amos to be more than just a good chocolate chip cookie, and it was. Famous Amos was a vehicle for me to do something more meaningful. That turned out to be promoting literacy primarily.

    “So it was a natural that Chip and Cookie would promote reading, but also they promote reading out loud. Chip and Cookie are ‘Ambassadors of Reading’. The hangtag is in the shape of a book and when opened up it offers Chip and Cookie’s reading tips. These are the actual reading tips suggested for anyone reading to children: 1) choose a book with your child, 2) hold the book up while reading, 3) show the illustrations, 4) discuss parts of the story, and 5) discuss the big idea or the moral of the story. Those little tips will help your child develop a genuine love of reading and books.

    “Chip and Cookie are going to be very significant. All they ever do is smile. You can crush them, you can beat them, you can stomp them and they still smile at you. Now that is unconditional love, and that is what we must all learn to do. We must learn to respond with love to whatever people throw at us. Not respond in kind, but respond with love, regardless of how we are treated.”

W. Knox Richardson is the editor and publisher of the Oahu Island News. He holds BSL and JD degrees from Saratoga University and was managing editor of the Independent Journal Newspapers of Santa Monica, Calif., long before moving to Hawaii this year. He was stationed here while serving in the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War.