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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, January 17, 2010

Vet, son remembered with laughter and tears

By Michael Tsai
Advertiser Staff Writer

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Billy Palumbo spoke yesterday during a memorial service for his father Nicholas and brother Tim at Star of the Sea Parish in Kähala. Nicholas and Tim were killed last Sunday when their plane crashed into a steep ridge.

Photos by REBECCA BREYER | The Honolulu Advertiser

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Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Sue Sylvester-Palumbo, in yellow dress, hugged well-wishers who gathered at Star of the Sea for a memorial service for her husband and son.

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A week ago on Saturday, 20-year-old Tim Palumbo joined his cousins at a screening of "Sherlock Holmes" while his father, Nicholas, convened a regularly scheduled meeting of his family and friends' gourmet club.

"Afterward, (Nicholas) said it was the best gourmet dinner ever," said his wife, Sue Sylvester-Palumbo. "I told him that's what he always said.

"He just looked at me and said, 'Life is good.' "

The next day, father and son set off for their weekly trip to Läna'i aboard Nicholas Palumbo's Piper Cherokee single-engine plane. On their return flight that afternoon, for reasons yet unknown, the plane crashed into a steep ridge between Ka'au Crater and the Lanipo Trail, killing both.

Yesterday, hundreds of people packed Star of the Sea Parish in Kähala for a memorial service that, consistent with the Palumbos' shared sense of humor, elicited nearly as many laughs as tears.

Nicholas Palumbo, 81, was co-owner of the Cat Clinic in Kapahulu (along with his wife) and also operated a veterinary practice on Läna'i. He also worked at the Hawaiian Humane Society for many years and was its first on-staff veterinarian. Tim Palumbo was the youngest of his eight children and the designated co-pilot on his weekly jaunts to Läna'i.

Yesterday, several members of the Palumbo and Sylvester families spoke about the two fallen men and the unique bond they shared.

Sylvester-Palumbo recalled the concerns her family initially had about her being involved with a divorced father of six who was 29 years her senior.

"But we built a family together , built a practice together, built a life together," she told the audience. "He was and always will be the love of my life."

Billy Palumbo, who lingered long after the service to chat with visitors, said last weekend's accident caught him off guard.

"Dad was invincible," he said. "At least, that's what I've always felt. He was 81 but I always believed he'd be around forever."

Pamela Burns, president and CEO of the Hawaiian Humane Society, called Nicholas Palumbo an "incredible champion for animals in Hawai'i and a true advocate for improving the lives of animals."

"He had an incredible sense of humor and a huge zest for life," she said. "He treasured every moment, reveled in it. He just adored his wife, and he and Timmy had an incredible relationship."

Outside the church, Eddie Louis, a Hawaiian Humane Society inspector, said Palumbo's positive attitude was infectious.

"Some jobs are hard to do, and at the shelter we deal with a lot of abused and neglected animals," Louis said. "But Nick was always positive and he always found a way to make you laugh."

Louis recalled the time Palumbo took him to Läna'i in his plane.

"It was my first time in a small plane like that but he was in such control I knew it wasn't a problem," he said. "I'll always remember how peaceful it was flying back and watching the sunset."

Given the age difference between them, Sylvester-Palumbo said she expected to outlive her husband.

"But Timmy and I were going to grow old together," she said. "I used to brag that I'd never be an empty nester."

Sylvester-Palumbo admitted she was disturbed by news reports that identified her son as disabled.

"He was a young man with many, many abilities," she said. "He knew no limitations."

Sylvester-Palumbo recalled her son's fascination with weather data and car mileage as well as his "wicked sense of humor."

Tim's grandfather Manny Sylvester recalled the daily calls he would get from Tim asking him for weather updates from Lake Tahoe.

"I knew he called every day at 6:30 p.m. so one day I made sure I got all the information," Sylvester said. "I told him the temperature, barometric pressure, the full report. There was a moment of silence and then he asked, 'What's the dew point?' "

Laurie Seu, Tim Palumbo's special education teacher at Kalani High School, said Palumbo was a personable student with "a great way of expressing himself."

Seu said Palumbo took pride in numerous responsibilities, from stocking shelves at the school store to reminding teachers to read the morning bulletin.

"He was there in the morning to greet you and there at the end of the day to say goodbye," she said. "He was just a joy to be around."

Nicholas Palumbo's daughter Nancy said community reaction to her father and half-brother's passings has been "overwhelming."

As he prepared to leave yesterday, Billy Palumbo smiled at the thought of how many people had attended the service.

"Tim would have been so thrilled to see how many people came out for him," he said. "Dad and Tim impacted our lives so much, it's nice to see that it didn't end with our family, that it extended to the community as well. This would have meant so much to them."