Gay Rapisora has been with Hawaii Information Service for 23 years, second only to her boss (profiled last month). Not surprisingly, both veteran employees are part of the team that compiles and then meticulously verifies and corrects the millions of pieces of data that serve as the foundation of the company.
Gay remembers what she calls “the Flintstone days” of property information collection, standing in lines, scanning microfilm, checking stamps, and noting things down with pencil and paper.
“It was kind of the same job as I have now, but it was very manual,” she recalls. “Every day I’d have to go down and stand in line, then go through every page on microfilm, watch every page scroll by… I used to get nauseated, get motion sickness.”
Fortunately, the arrival of computerized systems spared her from a lifetime of dizziness, though Gay admits that the transition wasn’t easy.
“I’m not a technical person — I struggle with the remote for the TV,” she says. “It was hard, not going to school, not having computers in school, but once it started, you look back and you say, ‘I’m glad it worked out.'”
Born on Kauai, she grew up in Kalihi Valley Housing. She met her husband George at Dole Intermediate, when she was 12, and many of the earliest memories of their life-long romance are set at the local recreation center. After graduating from Farrington High School, she and George struck out on their own.
“My first job was at Lex Brodies, I was one of the tire clerks that would call you to see what you needed,” she recalls.
But early on, Gay never spent more than a year at any given job, and her gigs were primarily in retail sales, spending days making change or folding clothes. Her last position before landing at HIS was working at CR Newton, a medical supply company that still sells equipment today.
“I went from talking about tires to asking whether you wanted an arm or a leg,” she laughs.
“The job was okay — when we started, we were over at the Gold Bond Building in a very small office, and our desks were folding tables with computers on them,” she says. “But the company itself, the people made it good. I was going into something that was new and maybe a little frustrating, but I wanted to stick with it and learn it.”
Today, Gay is a proud grandmother to three grandkids from the oldest of her own three grown children. And she and her husband have lived all over Oahu, including Aiea, Kailua, Kaneohe, Kahaluu and Waipahu. Right now they call Pearl City home, but they are spreading their wings.
“When they started the Food Network, we watched a lot of Emeril, Paula Deen, Anthony Bourdain, and that gave me more of a love of different foods other than kal bi and spam musubi,” she says. “We started to see different types of cuisines, and say, ‘that’s what I want to eat.'”
“We stayed at the French Quarter, and had our full share of crawfish and froglegs and boudins and everything,” she recalls. “As for Memphis, we chose it because we like the food — and because my husband is also an Elvis Presley fan.”
She also seeks out the weekly food section in the paper, and reads the Food Network Magazine cover to cover. Though she’s a fan of professional chefs, she also loves cooking and trying different things.
Gay is also open to a diverse menu of music, ranging from “old school” tunes from the ’70s to Adele, from Pavarotti to kids music and the Hokey Pokey. She smiles when she remembers her glory days at Rumours Nightclub, blasting Steely Dan and Donna Summers.
“I love to dance,” she says, adding, “Well, I think I can dance.”She also loves to shop, naming Waikele Factory Outlets and Pearlridge as her usual haunts, with visits to Ala Moana considered a special treat.
Gay has certainly charted a memorable path from the housing projects to a corporate office, passing through microfilm, Memphis, and the disco era. But only a few of her coworkers know about one of her most personal journeys.
“I am a cancer survivor,” she says, matter-of-factly. “It’s not something I come out and talk about, but when people ask…”
Over a decade ago, Gay was diagnosed with lung cancer, and after major surgery and a rigorous treatment plan, she had been cancer free for years. But in January, the disease returned in the form of breast cancer, requiring more surgery and a six-week radiation regimen that she just completed last month.
“I was always health oriented, but still all these things start happening,” she says. “It’s your age, it’s hereditary, so what can you do?”
What she is doing is continuing to focus on her health, and continuing with her husband to take the time to enjoy life, be it via food, travel, or shopping.
“It’s just having the right outlook,” she says. “I know I’m blessed.”
You can reach Gay at firstname.lastname@example.org. Next month, we’ll profile Jerry Lau, our director of network operations who actually followed his uncle into the HIS family 21 years ago next month.