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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Monday, November 26, 2001

'Lady of Love' touched hearts of many

By Wayne Harada
Advertiser Entertainment Editor

On the Island music scene, Loyal Garner was the essence of love. She preached it, she believed in it, she lived it.

Loyal Garner left her legacy with many local entertainers, especially the members of the Local Divas, who will remember her love, comfort and professionalism.

Gregory Yamamoto • The Honolulu Advertiser

She also was a fighter, holding her own in her battle of colon cancer. So her death Nov. 15 surprised those nearest to her.

"I learned a legacy of love from her," said Carole Kai, one of Garner's surviving Local Divas singing sisters. "She taught me, and others, how to greet and love everyone unconditionally ... not just a mere hello, but a loving outlook. For her, it was the most important thing in the way she treated people. Friends, family and strangers. With love. And because of her spirit, I thought she'd be on stage, doing at least one song."

Indeed, the "Lady of Love," as Garner was nicknamed when she was playing host to the Muscular Dystrophy Association telethon years ago, lived what she preached.

"She was the foundation of our music," said Diva Melveen Leed. "I've known her for 40 years, since school days and when we both worked at the Hilton Hawaiian Village, and she really loved her music. And she had a lot of love for the Divas group; she was looking forward to our concert (on Thursday) and she did all our music (arrangements). She so wanted to be with us, on stage, and I know now she'll be with us spiritually. Her love is that strong."

Leed was in Tahiti when Garner died in The Queen's Medical Center. "The day I left for Tahiti, I went to see her at the hospital; she told me she loved me. Twice. I started crying in the parking lot and all the way home, thinking I might see her again. I called from Tahiti, and asked that they put the phone near her ear, so she could hear me, to tell her I was coming home. She died that night."

Janice Ukauka, Garner's manager and companion for the past two decades, shared a Kane'ohe home with the singer, composer, pianist, entertainer and TV pitchwoman. "She was such a fighter," said Ukauka, about Garner's two years of pain, treatment and search for miracle drugs and treatments to combat the spreading cancer.

Funeral services at 7:30 p.m. today, at Kawaiaha'o Church, where friends may call from 4:30 p.m.
Burial at 2 p.m. tomorrow at Hawaiian Memorial Park in Kane'ohe.
 •  "This One's for You, Loyal" tribute concert by the Local Divas, at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, at the Hawai'i Ballroom of the Sheraton Waikiki Hotel; $50, $40 and $28, at the hotel's dining desk; $5 from each ticket will go to Garner's medical fund; call 922-4422.
"When she was first diagnosed, the doctors said that Loyal might have six to nine months to live," she said. "From the first operation on, I told the doctors don't you dare tell her that. Well, she made it to almost two years, because of her spirit and the support system around her. The people in oncology often know who's going to make it and who won't, and who the fighters are. They knew her as a fighter, since she never quits."

Ukauka and her children, who were hanai family to Garner, were at her bedside at her death.

"She was very quiet, in a semi-coma. The last time I was talking to her, she squeezed my hand. I told her if she could hear me, to squeeze, that everything's cool. An hour later, there was no feeling. She took two big breaths. I told her, 'Baby, don't hold on anymore. Go to the light.' And she was gone. But really, none of us was prepared for this."

Garner didn't want life support. "Absolutely no machines," she told Ukauka. "She wanted to do alternative healing. Every time we fixed something in her battle, something else would break down. Like, we had to pump up

9 liters of liquid from her chest cavity. She had pain, but seldom complained. She so wanted to go home to Kane'ohe, but she never made it."

And, Ukauka said, Garner — plagued with a weight problem throughout her life — finally had shed a lot of pounds because of her illness. "She said she gets to the weight level she wants — but it's too late," Ukauka said.

The death, a week before a scheduled Divas holiday concert, prompted the vocal group to revamp the emphasis. Now, "This One's for You, Loyal," will be a tribute and a celebration of her life.

"It was her last wish to do the concert," Kai said. "She wanted the show to go on, no matter what happened. It's just not going to be easy, without her there on stage."

Capt. Ed Gabriel, a Honolulu Fire Department firefighter and a longtime backup percussionist for Garner, said she "was such a show person, with so much love and concern for her boys. She would always tell us, before the show, 'Good luck, have fun, relax and see you at the end,' " said Gabriel, who assembled eight pallbearers, including himself, for her funeral. "Loyal's always been classy, very classy, putting us in tuxedos, taking pride in 'my boys.' Now, when I play her music at home, I can sort of 'see' her look back over her right shoulder, at me. She just loved performing."

Nohelani Cypriano, the fourth Diva, said that she was a fan of Garner before becoming a sidekick "and I really looked up to her.

"She was always so professional; one day, I would think, I wanted to be like her. When I finally met her, she was so gracious, so easygoing. I had so much respect for her. I remember one time, when she was working with Melveen at the Polynesian Palace, I was asked to fill in because Melveen couldn't be there. It was challenging for me; I worried, if I forgot a line or something, and you know what, she'd cover, and nobody would know. And when they were organizing the Local Divas and asked me to be a part of it, it was such a thrill."

Cypriano said one day Garner pulled her aside and complimented her progress and growth as a performer. "We'd have weekend chats and visits; she was such a good friend and mentor."

When Garner's cancer diagnosis was made public, Cypriano cringed. "The first day of her (cancer) surgery was the day I buried my mother," Cypriano said. "She was going to sing her song, 'Mama, I Love You,' at my mother's funeral, and I ended up doing it because of her own illness. I'll never forget the timing."

Annette Peterson, former manager of Garner, said the singer's sincerity made her the ideal friend.

"She was easygoing, the kind of a person you always felt comfortable around," Peterson said. "She always was concerned about other people's feelings. The bottom line of her personality was her tone: she was, after all, the 'Lady of Love,' and that love made it easy for everyone to love her back with little or no effort. Everyone loved her hugs, as well as her music; the hugs and the songs were healing."

Robert Cazimero, who recorded the popular "Behold La'ie" with Garner, last saw her at a fund-raising tribute for her at Windward Mall in October.

"I looked at her from the stage, and told Roland, we have to do 'Pua Lili'a' for her, because she needed the energy," Cazimero said. "We saw her hand go up in the air, and I felt good, that she was getting into the energy. I had tried calling her for months; I finally talked to her the day after that concert. We conversed on that subject of the song; I could feel her love and her energy. You know, when we recorded 'Behold La'ie,' we did it in one take; I couldn't see her nor could she see me, because we were in different studios, but we connected mentally and through our voices. That's the thing about Loyal; she connects."

Leed echoed that ability to communicate. "Whatever she and I did on stage, our voices knew what to do and where to go," said Leed of their relationship as cohorts. "She was the serious person, I was the clown. It worked out well, whenever we got together."

Cazimero chuckled over a light-hearted remembrance. "I tell you, Loyal was never a cook and I would go to her house in Kane'ohe to pull weeds. Instead of offering dinner, she offered Popsicles. But that made me smile. I can only offer prayers to help her on her way, with only good thoughts now."

There were aspects of Garner's life only few knew.

For instance, Ukauka said Garner was an avid and agile golfer. "She learned from Jackie Pung and then I became her teacher, at Bayview, which my family used to own," Ukauka said. "Loyal was very good at everything she did; the way people looked at her, and because of her build, most people didn't know her as an athlete. But she could hit a golf ball a mile; she was good in the pool; at ping-pong; at overhand tennis. The woman was incredible."

She also had a big heart, said comedian Frank DeLima, who credited Garner with allowing him stage time when he was a budding performer.

"I met her at the Three Torches, when I was in seminary, and she was the first one to bring me on stage," DeLima said.

They quickly became lifelong friends, with Garner inviting DeLima to be part of her annual Mother's Day concerts until illness forced her to cancel the show the past two years. "When she was at the Canoe House, she also got me on stage, and it was there that I got recognized and eventually did my first album on Hula Records. She was one of a kind, and the thing I learned from her was timing — how to pace your show with chatter and patter between songs."

Tom Moffatt, the show and record producer, also had fond memories of Garner. "Most memorable were the Christmas concerts Loyal did with Melveen," Moffatt said. "They were very special events. I enjoyed working with her as an artist and as a person, because she was a warm, wonderful person."

Under Moffatt's banner, Garner recorded two of her early hits: "Blind Man in the Bleachers" and "Shave Ice."

Keola Beamer, who befriended Garner in the 1980s when both worked at the Reef Hotel, recalled vividly how Garner lived her "Lady of Love" role. "This was more than just a moniker for

Loyal," said Beamer, a Maui resident. "It was who she really was, on the inside. Aloha was infused in her being. She was such a wonderful performer; I will miss her very much."

Beamer noted the number of showbiz deaths this year and commented: "It's really been a sad year. Maybe Kimo (McVay), Auntie Irmgard (Aluli) and Loyal are all gathered around a celestial piano, making beautiful music up there."