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Individual Lives

An Oral History of Robert Richards Midkiff

Robert Midkiff, in a blue aloha shirt, sits in front of an Asian screen painting.

Robert Richards Midkiff, Honolulu, Hawai‘i, 2000. (COH photo)

Robert Richards Midkiff was born in Honolulu, Hawai‘i. His mother, Ruth Richards Midkiff, great-granddaughter of missionaries Amos Starr Cooke and Juliette Montague Cooke, was active in charitable causes. His father, Frank Elbert Midkiff, was president of Kamehameha Schools and a trustee of the Bernice Pauahi Bishop Estate.

Midkiff, a member of Punahou School's class of 1938, received his BA with high honors from Yale University in 1942, and completed the Harvard Graduate School of Business Advanced Management Program in 1962.

“The English teacher I had senior year at Punahou, Miss Mary Card Porter, taught a course called, ‘Writing and Thinking.’ That was a course in . . . going back and looking at every word and being precise and concise . . . As a result of her training, I got into advanced placement in all kinds of classes. Applied to Yale and got in advanced placement French and Latin and English. Punahou was a great preparatory school.”

During World War II, he served as an officer on the staff of General Douglas MacArthur, Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces in the Pacific. After the war, Midkiff's task was to ensure fair treatment of Koreans in Japan while persuading them to return to their homeland.

“We worked our way back up the railroad toward Tokyo, making sure that the trains [personnel] were treating the Koreans better. Then I would go visit the coal mines with a group of two of my boys at a time and make speeches about the glories of Korea . . . Out of two million Koreans residing in Japan, I think over a million Koreans returned at that time.”

In 1946, Midkiff was employed by Hawaiian Trust Co., Ltd., where he served as vice president from 1957 to 1964. One of his early assignments was in the company’s income and estate tax department.

“Mr. Herbert Ware Camp, VP, was a marvelous, old, philosophical person who’d grown up understanding taxes: income taxes, gross income taxes, estate taxes, and foreign taxes . . . I was there for five years and became almost an authority on estate taxes. That was the key to my future trust career. I learned what resulted from good or bad estate planning.”

Between 1964 and 1968 Midkiff was vice president of Amfac, Inc. Later, he served as president of American Security Bank. Having pioneered the use of profit sharing plans, he is known as the “Father of Profit Sharing in Hawai‘i.”

“I walked up to the Kaimuki Pharmacy. There were no customers there and the pharmacist came out and said, ‘What can I do for you?’ I said, ‘Well, I’d like a Coca-Cola.’ As he poured me one, he asked, ‘What are you doing in Kaimuki?’ I said, ‘Well, I’m putting in a profit sharing plan for Johnny Kunihisa at Kaimuki Ben Franklin.’ He said, ‘Profit sharing, what’s that?’ His name was Sidney Kosasa [see An Oral History of Sidney Kosasa]. We established a long, friendly relationship with Sidney and Minnie. In 1953, I put in the profit sharing plan for ABC Stores, only it was then called Kaimuki Pharmacy.”

Prior to retirement in 1993, Robert Midkiff was president and chief executive officer of American Financial Services of Hawai‘i, parent company of American Trust Co. of Hawai‘i, Inc. and Bishop Trust Company, Ltd.

Midkiff is president of the Atherton Family Foundation and has served as an officer and director of the Hawai‘i Community Foundation, an organization he helped establish in 1987. He is a leader in the Good Beginnings Alliance, a non-profit organization that coordinates early childhood education and care services for Hawai‘i.

“The Good Beginnings Alliance has gone from a strictly educational focus to include family support and health support and safety support . . . I really believe that if we’re ever going to improve the raw material for the State Department of Education, we must start right by training parents to be better parents. They should read to their kids, tenderly hold them, love them, and stop beating them on the head.”

He helped found the Downtown Improvement Association, Waikiki Improvement Association, Lahaina Restoration Foundation, and Friends of ‘Iolani Palace. Midkiff was also involved in planning the Honolulu Civic Center, selecting the Hawai‘i State Capitol architect, building the Financial Plaza of the Pacific, and restoring the Hawai‘i Theatre.

“Remember, the first goal was to make sure the new state capitol was downtown, the second goal was to remain the office center for business headquarters—to keep the business headquarters downtown, together with their lawyers and accountants. And third, we must bring people downtown for culture and history.”

Midkiff and his wife, Evanita Sumner Midkiff, reside in Honolulu. Their family includes five children and six grandchildren.

 

Link to audioRobert Midkiff explains the motto for American Security Bank and American Trust (.mp3 sound file, 532K).

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