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My Heart Smiles: Life stories from an audacious academic!

Date: April 16th, 2021 in JABSOM News    Print or PDF

Meeting the Dalai Lama in Hawaii. Photo published in Virginia Hinshaw’s book.

My Heart Smiles: Life stories from an audacious academic!

Book review by Paula Bender JABSOM Communications

In an upbeat and informative recounting of her life adventures, Virginia S. Hinshaw, Ph.D., former Chancellor of the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa (UH Mānoa) and professor in its Department of Tropical Medicine, Medical Microbiology, and Pharmacology, provides a handbook for life with a series of lessons that are timeless.  

While it’s a story of a girl growing up when racial segregation was a given, it’s also a woman’s perspective of times when women in the workplace were not considered for brains, but for beauty.  It’s also a charming telling of a girl who grew up with unwavering confidence, someone who doggedly devised a formula for success.

She gives us all access to lessons learned from the challenges and opportunities she faced – laced with a great deal of humor and many inspirational quotes. Hinshaw’s anecdotes span from her childhood to being a parent and a learner, to her time as a Chancellor Emeritus/professor at the UH Mānoa John A. Burns School of Medicine. Her stories are completely relatable, as she recalls spending days with her grandfather who called her his Shining Star, to her college days studying microbiology in a realm where women were a rarity to working in hospitals, institutes and universities.   

To no surprise to anyone who knows her, Hinshaw was a feminist before the phrase was coined. She doesn’t exactly recount burning her bra, but she believed and believes in equality between the sexes. She did not put up with any man with a sense of entitlement. When she was flying alone for business, she’d have to battle to win the armrest, or, if men made advances, she’d have to whip out her Playgirl magazine. She’d gaze at the centerfold, give the obnoxious male seatmate the once over, and emit a disappointed sigh.  Who wouldn’t want to stay away from such an uncomfortable comparison?  

Hinshaw’s parents packed up the family a lot for her father’s jobs, so she quickly learned how to deal with frequent changes. The ups and downs of those helped her develop flexibility and resilience – valuable assets for anyone’s life.  She has two brothers, two sons, and married her high school sweetheart — from the third and final high school she attended. Also, if you want to read about how Hinshaw and her husband Bill raised their two sons, without any mention of the Internet and gaming, this is the book for you. Her sons are as different as night and day, and there was an army of teachers who wanted to be sure she knew it. Hinshaw didn’t wince when it was time for words with a gym teacher about a grade, or when challenged about why one son was very quiet and the other thoroughly enjoyed talking and sharing his knowledge with his classmates — about the facts of life! 

Hinshaw, and many like her, still blaze trails through barriers for women and for minorities. At one point in her many jobs, Hinshaw took a position at a hospital conducting microbiology research and clinical work, eventually developing an independent research project. She loved it. When she discussed her plans to leave, the hospital asked her to help find someone to take over her position. Since she had turned the job into a more supervisory, independent position, they decided that a man should be hired for the job.  

“This also meant, of course, that they would hire a man with my exact qualifications to replace me and pay him 40% more than I was making,” Hinshaw recounted. She goes on: “I know how humiliating it is to be viewed as less valuable because of your gender; that pain is surely no less for racial minorities, people with disabilities, LGBTQ+, and others characterized as ‘different’ and subjected to discrimination in the workplace and society as a whole.” 

This is a handbook for life that anyone would benefit from reading.  Expect to chuckle at her humorous stories, delight at how she blows the cobwebs from memories of your own life, and relate to Hinshaw’s sobering empathy for women and minorities and the challenges that persist. It’s as though she is saying, “That doesn’t make any sense!”  What does make sense is her hope that her reflections will inspire others to celebrate the wonder of their own lives.   


“My Heart Smiles: Life stories from an audacious academic!” is available on Amazon.com:  an electronic book and a paperback with black and white pictures (both at http://bit.ly/VirginiaHinshaw), and a paperback with color pictures (at https://www.amazon.com/dp/B08QQ5DK4B).


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