Remembering Jack Lord
Heroes live as long as people respect them.*
Sometimes, a person reaches out and touches us. We feel his influence as surely as if we have known him every day of our lives. As I read through statements made by Jack in his many interviews, I come to see that he really was quite open about who he was and the lessons he learned in life. He may not have given us his hat size, but he did give us much of what was in his heart.
Jack Lord, born John Joseph Patrick Ryan, was -- and is -- a man to be admired and respected. He is a man who touches us by what he believed and how he lived. But he was not always that way. Like all of us, Jack started out young and naive. Although he stumbled along the way, he found his footing and continued to grow -- giving to and doing for others -- until, at the end of his life, he was nothing less than an elder statesman.
As an actor, Jack chose projects that stood above the ordinary; for example, he appeared as Brick Pollitt in the 1955 Broadway production of Tennessee Williams' Pulitzer Prize-winning play, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof; as Felix Leiter in the very first James Bond movie, Dr. No; and as Steve McGarrett in Hawaii Five-0. He appeared with such noted actors as Gary Cooper, Sean Connery, Helen Hayes, and Barbara Bel Geddes.
Long before Jack discovered acting, he discovered the art of painting. He was in high school when he won the prestigious St. Gaudens medal for his work. Two of his early works made their way into the permanent collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. Jack's art graced more than 40 museums and galleries around the world, including the Tate in London and the Corcoran in Washington.
If a fan recognized him, he gave a friendly smile. If children wanted to show him something, he took a genuine interest in what they had. When the small town of Hilo needed a grand marshal for its Kamehameha Day parade, he flew over and led the parade with great enthusiasm. When he learned that disadvantaged youth needed his help, he supported sports teams and schools for them. And that's just the beginning!
In his business dealings, Jack could be both demanding and shrewd. He protected his star image. He insisted that cast and crew give their best to the project at hand. He worked tirelessly to help the governor and the tourism board promote the Hawaiian Islands. So much the leader was he that he was asked by both the Republican and Democratic parties to run for governor of Hawai'i (he declined). He invested and managed his money wisely, then left it all in trust for the benefit of the people of Hawai'i.
Throughout his life, Jack remained shy -- "a very private person," his wife called him in an interview with the television news program, Inside Edition. Indeed, when the day's work was done, Jack preferred to go home to his wife, rather than live the social high life. When the week's work was done, he preferred to stay at home and paint to the point that his wife had to stay after him to be ready on time if they were going out.
As Jack grew older, he was content to walk along his beloved Kahala Beach with his lauhala hat pulled low and a walking cane in hand. He was equally content to sit in his living room and hold the kitten that he and his wife had acquired and given the unassuming name of "Kitty Boy." And, when he passed away, he forewent a large funeral with an endless procession in favor of a simple scattering of his ashes at sea attended by only those closest to him.
Jack's death hit many people very hard. Even people who did not know him off screen have reported mourning his passing deeply and for long periods of time. Because Jack chose to be cremated and to have his ashes scattered at sea, those left behind felt a need to have a place to go to pay their respects. Accordingly, a group spearheaded by Douglas Mossman and Esperanza Isaacs raised the money and hired sculptor Lynn Weiler Liverton to create a bronze bust in Jack's memory. It was dedicated on June 19, 2004, and receives daily visitors in its location at Kahala Mall.
What a wonderful life!
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* Spoken by Steve McGarrett to CDR Richard Royce in "Shake Hands With the Man on the Moon." Hawaii Five-0. Leonard Freeman Productions / CBS Television, 1975.
The photograph of Jack was taken by Dave Watson. It is used here with his permission.