A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about Thom McGarvey and others who mentored me when I began my radio broadcasting career. Several readers contacted me with their own recollections of listening to KMVI in the mid-1970s. Those were our glory days, when KMVI dominated the Maui airwaves, led by the man we fondly called McGuava.
Thom McGarvey died peacefully in his sleep on Jan. 8, the day that column ran in The Maui News. He had been fighting liver cancer for several years, but kept it secret until the last few weeks of his life.
Known as "the man behind the crown" of the Miss Hawaii Pageant, Thom has been hailed as a visionary. In his 30 years as executive director, he built the program up to its present level of prominence and prestige, establishing the annual pageant as a spectacular live telecast and increasing scholarship awards nearly a hundredfold. Under his leadership, and with longtime associate Ray Abregano as co-director, the Miss Hawaii Pageant produced two Miss Americas: Carolyn Sapp Daniels (1992) and Angela Baraquio Grey (2001). Both credit Thom with helping to shape them into winners and the women they are today.
While devoting countless volunteer hours to the pageant, Thom held a series of public relations positions at Hawaiian Airlines and several government agencies. He also served as programming manager for 'Olelo TV, Honolulu's version of Akaku, from 2001 to 2006. True to his generous nature, he supported 'Olelo as a volunteer for another six years after he retired from the job.
Born in Pennsylvania and raised in Virginia, Thom arrived on Maui in 1969 with a music degree from USC. The handsome, eloquent 26-year-old worked as a DJ before being promoted to program director at KMVI and eventually entertainment editor for The Maui News, back when both entities were owned by Maui Publishing Co. His involvement with the Miss America organization began in 1977, when he and Ray stepped in to help with the Miss Maui Pageant. Thom was choral director of Sing Out Maui for several years and also volunteered much of his time to community and high school theater, which is where I first encountered him. A couple of years later, he encouraged me to apply for a job at the radio station and became my first program director. I was 17 years old.
L.D. Reynolds was music director then. He remembers Thom as an accomplished musician and "a very mellow dude."
"We did share a deep love of all kinds of music, and I always loved to engage him in conversation about the subject as his knowledge was immense and he communicated his enthusiasm for music extremely well," he said. "I took a class in music appreciation at MCC with Frank Tavares. We would gather the whole class over to my home because I had a decent sound system. Thom was always a part of that group. I remember when the Beatles 'White Album' was released and I played it for the group, all of us hearing it for the very first time, and the room was filled with elation with each song. Of course, the whole class hung on every word of Thom's assessment of the recording."
Former news director Mike Hurley recalls: "Thom spent hours of his own time with me in the old studio with the piano trying to get me ready to sing in two Maui Community Theater shows . . . I can assure you that anyone else would have given up, faced with my very limited singing ability. Thom did not. I always have appreciated his efforts . . . As program director, Thom was able to lasso the various egos, including mine, both on the air and off, to keep the station running smoothly."
Maui's Riddle King, McAvoy Layne, also remembers Thom as a consummate broadcast professional: "He was such a good radio guy. In 1976, he went to Philadelphia and phoned in a remote broadcast as they rang the Liberty Bell to celebrate our 200th birthday. At the time I was standing in the on air studio and even to this day it gives me chicken skin to think of it."
Always gracious, never pretentious, Thom was extremely intelligent and deeply compassionate. He was a gentle man and a gentleman who tirelessly gave of himself to enrich the lives of others. Even in death, he devoted himself to the education of Hawaii's youth, donating his body to the University of Hawaii medical school.
A celebration of his extraordinary life will be held Monday at the Mystical Rose Oratory on the St. Louis School - Chaminade University campus, 3140 Waialae Ave., Honolulu. Visitation will be held at 5, services at 6:30 p.m.
I'm certain he is already preparing a choir of angels for the occasion. Mahalo, McGuava, from your Maui 'ohana. Aloha 'oe.
* Kathy Collins is a performance artist, broadcaster and freelance writer whose "Sharing Mana'o" column appears every Wednesday. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.