“You know, writing is like shooting an arrow,” Cobey reflects. “You don’t know where it’s going to land. I didn’t know whether my little stories were educating anyone or whether anyone was reading them at all. I kept doing it because I enjoyed meeting those people.”
Meanwhile, her kids were growing up. Husband Ed became a brigadier general. The Black family took leave of Honolulu twice. They returned both times, and Cobey resumed her newspaper career as if she had never left.
First, to Washington, D.C. for four years in 1958. To mark her departure from Honolulu aboard the S.S. Lurline, somebody rigged a big “We Love You, Cobey” banner on Aloha Tower. She has a picture of it.
Then, in 1967, Cobey and the kids went to Thailand for two years during Ed Black’s six-year assignment there at the height of the Vietnam War. In Bangkok, the family took up quarters at the fabulous compound of legendary former spy, aesthete and silk merchant Jim Thompson, an American expatriate who was one of Ed Black’s best friends. Cobey created a perk-filled position for herself as the first travel editor at the Bangkok World. Looking back, she relishes the sheer audacity of her gig, flying off almost every week to places like Sri Lanka, Nepal, Taiwan, Cambodia, Jakarta, even Copenhagen, to write up all-expenses-paid, chauffeur-driven tours of Thai Airways destinations. “Can you believe it?” Cobey cries. “What a kick!” Her falsetto peals of laughter shake her whole body and nearly bring tears to her eyes.
In 1985, Ed Black died of cardiac arrest after winning a tennis match earlier in the day. He was 69. That same year, Cobey retired from newspapers. She was 62. Looking back, Cobey says she was discouraged and had lost her enthusiasm. Her grievances with the newspaper had been adding up: The Dalai Lama’s sacred name was rendered in lower case in a headline; a copy editor changed the literary term “picaresque” to “picturesque”; and “epiphany” had become “epitome.” “I thought, God! I don’t want my name on this anymore!” she says.
Two years later, she sold the big house in Kahala she and Ed had designed and built twenty years before and moved into her Diamond Head home, where she lives alone. Two of her boys, Bruce and Nicholas, both schoolteachers, live nearby.
Six years ago, at age 79, Cobey published Hawaii Scandal, her incredibly detailed account of the infamous 1931 Honolulu crime saga known as the Massie Case. All told, the book took her thirty years to write. She is working on a new project, a collection of her profiles of some fifty-odd African-American eminences who passed through Honolulu over the years. Among them: Marian Anderson, Joe Louis, Martin Luther King Jr., Duke Ellington, Dizzy Gillespie, Jesse Owens, Edward Brooke, Ella Fitzgerald, Nat King Cole, Hank Aaron, Roy Wilkins and Sammy Davis Jr. “They’re all prominent,” she says, “and I hope it gets published, because I’ve always admired the fact that African-Americans bore the burden of development in our country, yet they’ve gotten no praise for it.”
Our conversation devolves into writers’ shoptalk–deadlines, copy editors, PR people, the state of newspapers today, and, across the generational divide, typewriters vs. computers.
Her son Brian has given her two Apple Macs, a desktop then a laptop, which she doesn’t use. I tell her it’s really easy, no Wite-Out, but she says I sound like her son and that she already tried taking a class, to no avail.
“Old dog, new tricks …” she sighs.
I ask if she plans to write a memoir. After all, she’s now a kupuna (a revered elder) with much to pass on, I tell her. She is visibly surprised by the term.
“Well,” she says, “I’ll have to dictate it to somebody! I’ve got lots of stories!” HH