Maui Artist Profile: Author Emily O’Neil Bott
By Vanessa Wolf
For her 90th birthday, Emily O’Neil Bott reversed traditions. She gave a present to her children: a copy of her book, SILVER STREAK REVISITED.
The slim volume contains some of her columns, which ran in The Haleakala Times over the years and recounted the adventures and misadventures of a life (to date and still going strong) here on Maui and her earlier years on the mainland. Author Tom Stevens says she lived to tell it all “with wit, warmth and wisdom.” Fellow writer Paul Wood added that Bott has produced “the career retrospective of a born humorist.”
The 97-page paperback is available on Amazon for $10. Bott’s memoir takes the reader from the Liberty House parking lot where her car sank in a hole to the terror of being a lone traveler lost in a Belgian railway station. You’ll learn how her mother’s diamond ring was won in a poker game; how to sneak booze aboard a cruise ship (worth the $10 right there); and how to survive a trip to Waianapanapa with a car full of kids.
If that’s not enough, Bott explains the real reason we have community fairs, and shares tips as to how she survived not one, but two hip surgeries. Tagging along as a silent witness to Bott’s adventures, you’ll get rained out while camping in Hana, volunteer at a Salvation Army kettle, and pass out “I (heart) Maui” buttons to cruise ship passengers. Simply put, you might not have been there, but you’ll still feel as though you’ve shared some good times with an old friend.
Despite all the joviality, it wasn’t all fun and games. The Bott family arrived here in 1970 shortly before her marriage broke up. There were seven children, aged eight to 18. Bott was an original employee of Liberty House, and had several other jobs before beginning a 25-year career with Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Co. At the age of 77, her tax adviser told her that keeping her office open was just costing her money. “You’re not working, you’re just fooling around.”
Retire? This is not Emily Bott’s way. She simply redoubled her volunteer activities. A long time usher at the Maui Arts and Cultural Center, she added the Make-A-Wish Foundation, Hui Noeau, and a few other activities to days that are still full.
None of these was as dear to her heart as the 30 years, 5,000 hours (and counting) she has spent as an Emergency Department volunteer at Maui Memorial Medical Center. Her puppets are stress relievers for old and young. “It isn’t unusual for someone to call ‘Hi, Lambchop!’ in a grocery store,” she laughs.
Has living on Maui influenced her as a writer? Bott has to stop and consider the question for a minute. “I don’t think I ever really changed my writing style. Hopefully, I’ve refined it through the years. I’m a bug on grammar and punctuation, and like to go back and see what words can be deleted. Rewriting is my mantra. Paul Valery, the French poet and critic, is quoted as saying ‘An artist never really finishes his work, he merely abandons it.’ But Valery also said ‘Love is being stupid together.’ So, what does he know?”
When posed with a final, extemporaneous query a la James Lipton’s 10 Questions, Bott’s remarkable wit did not fail.
MN: Dinner party. Five people. Living or not so much. Go!
Bott: I’m not a deep thinker…I’d probably would go with Jesus (get some answers at last), and my parents and brother Eddie, all deceased. This is just to rap, not deep stuff (except maybe Jesus…if all that stuff is true, I might have to get off my okole.) That leaves space for one more. ???
Should you be lucky enough to know Bott – or get to know her – perhaps she’d leave that seat for you.
So what comes next? With a twinkle, Bott admitted, “I’m already working on the 100th birthday list.”
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