John, I miss you already

I was meaning to get that recipe for peppermint bark John Heckathorn, beloved food critic and longtime friend, posted on his Facebook wall on Dec. 23.

He was making it for his daughter, Mallory, who excited commented, “You made this?! YAY!”

(She even reposted the photo to her Facebook wall and declared, “MINE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!” This is a very socially connected family.)

But two days later, early Christmas morning, John, just 65, suffered a heart attack and never regained consciousness. We were all rooting for him, even banking on his legendary stubbornness to pull through. We half-expected John to get up, look around and ask, “Where’s the party?”

But he didn’t. And it’s a loss too great to describe.

So many knew John — and in different ways. Some had him as an English professor at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. Others remember him as the editor and longtime food critic at HONOLULU. Some took his new media classes at Hawaii Pacific University, where he was an assistant professor. Others served him signature cocktails, called for advice, listened to him on the radio and read his blog.

He had 701 Facebook friends, 108 Twitter followers, and legions of fans around the world.

I had known John for years, back when he was editor of HONOLULU when it was located on Merchant Street. (He and his wife, Barb, were friends of my parents.) I remember visiting his office for the first time, back when I was in college, and he got lost in the building giving me a tour.

That was John.

Over the years he has been a mentor, an inspiration and a friend. I can’t tell you how many letters of recommendations he’s written and reference phone calls he’s made for me. I own a big part of my career to him. He believed in me, even when I didn’t believe in myself. And that meant — still means — a lot to me.

Any of his friends can attest: John loved life. He loved chatting up bartenders, asking questions, indulging in the best food. And he could cook, often texting me images of what he was making that night for dinner, the most recent of which was sausage and peppers. He was like that.

My goal, whenever I was around him, was to make him laugh. I remember talking with him at his office at HONOLULU and telling him about the two-line descriptors I had come up with for astrological signs. Pisces, cosmically confused. Aries, annoyingly effervescent.

“So what’s a Scorpio?” he asked, a Scorpio himself.

To which I responded: “Vindictive slut.”

That made him laugh for weeks.

John loved to eat. And he loved to share his favorite spots, too. When I worked at Hawai’i Magazine for a short stint last year, he would often join the editor, Derek Paiva, and me for lunch. Most often we ate at Saigon Restaurant Vietnamese in Chinatown, a restaurant he reluctantly let me blog about since he liked that it was a hidden gem — and that there were never lines during lunch. Even though he went there a lot and he ordered the same things — and he was, after, John Heckathorn, restaurant critic extraordinaire — he could still never tell the wait staff, “I’ll have the usual.” It was pretty comical.

During these lunches, he would argue with Derek about the best way to eat the famous pork chops from Manago Hotel in Captain Cook on the Big Island. (John liked them with gravy; Derek without.) He would tell us what his two daughters, Paige and Mallory, were up to. He would update us on the adventures of Scout (aka: Mini Beast), the little lost kitten Mallory had rescued and was now a permanent fixture in their Kalama Valley home. And he would talk about Barb, the love of his life and a feisty Aries who was really the only person I knew who could tame the Heck. Man, did he love his family.

I could go on and on about John. But Mallory really summed it up best.

Her text to me: “Tell everyone my dad was super kick ass.”

Well said.