By Nadine Kam
Nadine Kam photos
My late husband, Christopher Neil, during one of our lunches at Du Vin.
Yes, I've been absent from this blog for a while. Maybe you read in the paper or heard that my husband Christoper Neil died, and I have been dealing with all the personal matters that follow with the passing of a loved one.
For as much as I've been in the public eye, we were very private, so most people never knew we shared 22 wonderful years together, sharing among things, a love of fashion, though he rarely went overboard the way I did. Allowing for the occasional blue velvet jacket or luxe Etro jacket, he mostly had a classic sense of style formed in his college days: the black T-shirt or white dress shirt, paired with denim and a black jacket, typically from Banana Republic, Armani or J. Crew.
We met cute, in the Honolulu Newspaper Agency library at the old Honolulu Advertiser building, where he initially worked as a labor reporter, while I worked at the Honolulu Star-Bulletin, initially in page design, while also reviewing restaurants and working on feature stories. Due to the competition between the two papers, the library was the neutral turf between the two newsrooms and we were something of an outlaw Romeo and Juliet couple. In fact, SB management forbade me from taking him on restaurant reviews to avoid "feeding the enemy," I was told.
Early photobooth sticker photo.
Shortly after we met in 1991, in my rock band days. Chris always knew his place. Kidding. Photographed by my friend Ed Dee Louie, as were the B/W photos below.
The two of us at Midweek style editor Yu Shing Ting's wedding in summer 2008.
It was a good thing he introduced himself (I had already asked Adv. reporter friends—guys—who he was and they were pretty meh; what do guys know?), because for our entire careers, he worked nights and I worked days, and after that first meeting, I rarely saw him in the building. Later on, he told me I wasn't very friendly that day, but what did he expect. I was working and here was this guy giving me the third degree in a rapid machine-gun fire sequence of questioning:"Who are you? What are you doing here? Who do you work for? What are you working on?"
I happened to be working on a story on Megadeth, a metal band whose lead guitarist, Marty Friedman, was from Hawaii, and when he knew the band and didn't mock me for what most newspeople would have considered a trifle of a music story, right then and there I decided he was the coolest guy in our two newsrooms.
Sometimes I would see him peeking into our newsroom from the top of the library's balcony steps, a big no-no. It was only at his celebration of life at Murphy's Bar & Grill May 14 that someone who once worked in the old newsroom told me that he was at the stairs looking for me, and when she'd tell him, "She's not here!" he'd run away. But I was there, I did see him and wondered what he was doing there. I never put two and two together.
My favorite story about getting to know him was when, after a couple of botched attempts to go to concerts together—he had invited me to Los Lobos but I couldn't make it, I had invited him to Dread Zeppelin but he couldn't make it—we ended up at some dive bar on Kapiolani Boulevard. I don't even remember the name of it. As we looked at the menus, he said, "I heard the sardines are good here."
Christopher at a restaurant in Kailua, where we lived for 10 years.
At that time, I was the first and only daily newspaper restaurant critic in town and most guys would have tried to impress me with their good taste and knowledge of food. Not Chris. He was neither pretentious nor ever went out of his way to impress anyone. He was just real and honest to a fault. I was so enamored that in my review of Manoa's Cafe Brio one year, I spelled his name out in the first sentence of every paragraph.
Chris had a beguiling mix of swagger and sensitivity. A rock star is what many people called him. He had an aura and energy that drew people in, irregardless of age or gender. Even those who only met him once came away with strong opinions about Chris and after his passing they were able to detail all the particulars of their meeting.
He cultivated a tough facade, but I knew him to be a kind, sensitive soul. "A soft touch," is how a colleague described his generosity. He was a selfless individual in many big and small ways. Even when he was sick, he put my needs and feelings above his own, so if I came home after a hard day he would ask, with great concern, if I was all right and would do everything possible to make things right. If I even mentioned in passing, that I was hungry, he'd jump out of bed to make me cheese and crackers, when simply moving caused him great pain.
After Chris became sick with lung cancer, whenever he felt sorry for himself, he often thought of students he met in his college dormitory at Kent State, before he moved on to earn a Philosophy degree at Boston University. At school in Ohio, able-bodied students were paired with handicapped students, many of whom had but a few more years to live. Yet, they worked so diligently toward their degrees. He admired their tenacity and the experience taught him a lesson in the strength and capacity of the human spirit. He had also learned early, growing up in Connecticut, about the inequities of life and the arbitrary nature of wealth and poverty, as well as the generational continuity of both states. It made him a crusader for equality and the idea that every child deserves a chance to succeed in life.
Neither I nor doctors could keep him alive, but I do want to keep his spirit alive.
Since the death of his friend Alex Lee, an aspiring chef who was killed outside a bar in the early 1990s when he was in his 20s, Chris and I had always talked about establishing a culinary scholarship once we retired and had some spare cash. I can't think of a more appropriate time than now to make his wish come true, which is why I have established a culinary scholarship at KCC's Culinary Institute.
For those who wish to contribute, checks can be made out to UH Foundation, with the notation "Christopher Neil scholarship fund," and sent to:
Linh Hoang, Director of Development
UH Foundation, Kapiolani Community College
4303 Diamond Head Road, ‘Ilima 212
Honolulu, HI 96816
Thank you so much for allowing me to indulge my memories of Christopher.