Billy Gonzales was the type of guy who seemed to always have a grin on his face. Whether amused, confused, perplexed or disappointed (I can't remember ever seeing him angry), he always displayed that smile - the kind of look that made you think he'd eaten something funny or stinky - on his big, round face.
He was a friend that always made me feel better about life here in Lahaina. We'd see him driving around town, at Luna games, family parties and down at the beach, and we always shared a laugh or two at those meetings. Billy was a carpenter by trade and was the type of guy who would sneak into our house to attend to some needed repairs, then give me that grin when I tried to pay him for his work.
He was a family and community guy as well. He'd been working on the family home for a number of years to accommodate his growing 'ohana with wife Jeanne and son Hoku. There was the joy of grandchildren now, so that smile on Billy's mug seemed to stretch to his ears.
In a life dedicated to perpetuating the aloha of Hawaiian culture, Gonzales learned hula from Auntie Emma Farden Sharpe and honored the legacy of the canoe with his work with the Maui County Hawaiian Canoe Association and the Maui Interscholastic League.
I always got a kick out of thinking about the "discussions" that inevitably took place at the family dinner table, as wife Jeanne was a leader of Napili Canoe Club (along with Hoku), while husband/dad Billy paddled with Kahana. Family feud, local-style!
For as long as we can remember, Billy was the man who would swim out at Canoe Beach to set the racing lanes for both the MCHCA and MIL inshore regattas. This involved free diving 20-25 feet or so to attach the buoy flags to the cement weights at the bottom for the eight racing lanes that stretched about 200 yards offshore.
I met up with him a couple of times when he was trudging up the beach - ropes and fins in hand - after spending hours setting up the racing venue. He would be exhausted, but still he had that smile on his face.
Billy's paying it forward was interrupted only by a heart condition that required surgery. He was on the shelf for what seemed like a very short time before he was back at Canoe Beach showing off the 12-inch scar that ran down the middle of his chest and giggling about his doctor's reaction to his quick recovery. His vigor for life and family, as well as his work to perpetuate the Hawaiian canoe, reflected a renewed energy that we all admired. Malama pono, indeed.
Then God said it was time.
How else to explain how the Good Lord directs the intersection of a good man like Billy Gonzales with a recreational boat in a collision that would take his life. This has to be Divine Intervention, where God recognizes the beauty of Billy's life and says, "You've done wonderful work down there, and now it's time for you to come up here and enjoy the tranquility of Heaven."
As we try to rationalize our emotions and convince ourselves that time will heal our hurt, I can't help but feel that this time it's different. The outpouring of the celebrations of Billy's life - two days of flower scattering at sea and a standing-room-only service at the mortuary - manifest to me the great volume of influence he projected across our community and throughout Maui and Hawaii.
Right now, I feel that twisted feeling inside that I know will choke me up every time I drive by Canoe Beach or walk by his house, or see a purple truck driving down the road.
The Lahaina community sends its heartfelt condolences to the Gonzales family and especially to Jeanne and Hoku. He is a beautiful spirit that will live in us forever, and we are ever grateful for the example of the peaceful warrior he exemplifies.
Peace be with you, bruddah Billy!