In 1984, Sue Loudon was directing one of a series of "USO" variety shows. The idea was to re-create World War II entertainment and introduce her troupe of Baldwin High School students to that era. I rolled up to the warehouselike drama room to see two MPs guarding the entrance.
One of the military police officers was Lloyd Gilliom. He played the role to the hilt, growling ad-lib orders. During the show, Lloyd did comedy bits with sidekick Herman Goldman. It was unashamedly corny - a takeoff on shtick popularized by Laurel and Hardy or possibly Abbott and Costello.
He was in that and later shows to support his kids - Eric and Amy. When Eric first appeared in a Loudon production, papa Lloyd and momma Mimi were in the audience. Eric's performance lit a spark. During a 1989 interview in The Maui News, Lloyd quoted himself as telling Mimi, "I guess we're back into show business."
Although born in New York City to Hawaiian dancer Jennie Hanaiali'i Woodd and a trumpeter in the Danny Kaye Orchestra, Lloyd had the benefit of an old-time island childhood. Lloyd spent his small-kid time with aunties and uncles - "A real, happy-go-lucky family."
"I can remember waking up in the morning and listening to my grandmother (Jennie Kaahanui of Molokai) pounding poi." He remembered "living in the ocean, diving, swimming, always messing around in the ocean." That was in the 1940s.
In the 1950s, Hollywood discovered Hawaii. Mother Jennie took Lloyd to Los Angeles, where she worked with Harry Owens and His Royal Hawaiians on television and acted in some 50 movies. Lloyd scored some movie bit parts and was a knife and fire dancer in Jennie's weekend luau. Lloyd laughed and said he worked a lot on his tan to become "a real Hollywood Hawaiian."
Mimi, eventually recruited to dance in the shows, was a lovely Compton College co-ed from Wisconsin when Lloyd spotted her in the audience at a show in Anaheim. "I was pretty aggressive in those days." Lloyd marched up to her and said he was going to marry her. He was a good-looking buggah. Two months later they did. They were 17.
The young couple continued to work the luau on weekends. During the week, she worked at an aircraft factory. He was an oil-field roughneck. On the Long Beach Freeway one day, Lloyd decided he "wanted my kids to know what it was like when I was a kid, the warm weather, the ocean, going to school with no shoes on. I was homesick." Besides, he said, "I got sick and tired of eating haole food all the time."
On faith, the Gillioms sold their house and cars and moved to Maui in May 1972. Lloyd had no idea what he'd do. He ended up going to Frank Abrams, who hired him to operate a service station in Kihei. After three years, Lloyd took another leap of faith, buying Maui Sandblasting. His island network came through. Tommy Redo got the new company off the ground by giving Lloyd the job of sandblasting 50 Dumpsters.
Money from the company, including recycling glass and inscribing monuments, often went into bankrolling productions put on by Eric and Amy. He was inordinately proud of his kids, including Tim, who became a commercial fisherman and crew member and captain on the Hokule'a and Mo'okiha O Pi'ilani voyaging canoes.
The last time I saw Lloyd, he was sitting in a Kaiser Clinic waiting room outside the radiation department. We swapped stories about trying to find something decent to eat while dealing with diabetes. He looked pretty good and had the same upbeat demeanor I will always associate with him. It's hard not to love a true Hawaiian with a true-Hawaiian's deep interest in everyone around him.
If he knew he had terminal liver cancer, he didn't say anything about it.
News of his death May 16 was posted on Eric's Facebook page. The coconut wireless spread the word among Lloyd's many friends, and everyone who ever met him counted themselves as a friend. He was that kind of big-hearted guy. As Mimi put it, "He cared about everyone he came into contact with."
Family and friends gave Lloyd Brent Gilliom, 71, a big-production send-off June 3 at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center. The theme quoted Lloyd: "I Wouldn't Have Changed a Thing," The show was brash and theatrical but filled with heart, just like the man.
* Ron Youngblood is a former staff writer for The Maui News. His e-mail address is email@example.com.