East-West Center Oral History Project: Mary Bitterman

Mary Bitterman

Mary Bitterman was working as the  general manager of the Hawai'i Public Broadcasting Authority when Governor George Ariyoshi tapped her to serve on the newly-incorporated East-West Center's first Board of Governors in 1975. Bitterman is proud of the five years she served, three of them as Board Chair. In 1979, she went to Washington DC to direct the Voice of America under the administration of President Jimmy Carter. In 1984, she returned to the East-West Center to head the newly-reconstituted Institute for Culture and Communication (ICC) under President Victor Hao Li. Bitterman talks about her four years with ICC, its main actors and activities, such as the very successful Hawai'i International Film Festival. She is currently the president of the Bernard Osher Foundation in San Francisco and maintains close ties with her East-West Center family.

Read Bitterman's interview narrative (pdf)


  • Personal Background
  • Life Before EWC - Arrival in Hawai‘i
  • Life at EWC - Board of Governors, 1975  - EWC Board Chairman - Reflections on Board Tenure
  • Institutional Transitions - Director of Institute of Culture and Communications
  • EWC’s Impact - On Career, Perspectives - On Region
  • Life Outside EWC - Career in Public TV, Foundations 


Interview Quotes
“My colleagues and I were especially pleased and proud that we had established a custom that could not be easily ignored of having the five Board-elected members come from the Asia-Pacific area...... After all, how could you have a Center promoting cultural and technical interchange between East and West and have the policy board consist of people exclusively from the West?”


"The artist-in-residence program was one of my favorites and we brought highly gifted and influential people to the Center like Mayumi Oda (now living on the Big Island); Jin Young-sun, the first woman to head an academic department in a Korean University (Korea University); Rupert Garcia, who began his artistic career as a political poster artist from Northern California; and Mohammed Yasin from India."


These narratives, which reflect interviewees’ personal perceptions, opinions and memories, may contain errors of fact. They do not reflect positions or versions of history officially approved by the East-West Center.