The Legacy of John Lydgate

WAILUA —John Lydgate was a family man, a teacher and a historian who invested the last two decades of his life to building a park for the Kauai community.

He died on May 1 after a brief struggle with lymphoma, surrounded by his wife Charlotte and sons Chris, Bill and Kai.

Lydgate is also survived by his son, Andrew, and his nephew, Will.

“Dad loved Kauai,” said Chris Lydgate. “He truly believed in serving the community and leaving things better than he found them. He just brimmed with aloha. One of his favorite phrases was, ‘The purpose of roots is to put forth branches.’”

Putting forth branches meant investing time and energy into the community and into Lydgate’s own family, and one way he did that was by teaching world history at Kauai Community College for 10 years — until 2004.

He also was president of the Kauai Historical Society, a reader at St Michael’s Church, member of the Kauai Historic Preservation Commission and the Friends of Kamalani, proprietor of the Ship Store Gallery in Kapaa and was active in several communities of faith.

Lydgate moved to Kauai with his wife, Charlotte, and their infant son, Kai, in 1993, after spending the 1980s on a three-year mission in India with the Episcopal Church, where they helped impoverished villagers in Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu raise silkworms.

Born in 1936, Lydgate graduated from Punahou School on Oahu in 1955, and went to Yale, graduating in 1959 with a bachelor’s degree in history. He received his doctoral degree from University of London, where he played basketball.

“Once losing a hard-fought match to a team from Oxford fronted by Bill Clinton,” Chris Lydgate said.

In the 1960s, six-foot-six John Lydgate was an accomplished surfer and worked summers as a lifeguard in Cornwall, England. There, he also taught people how to surf.

“He was an early pioneer of surfing in Cornwall and loved teaching people to ride a board,” Chris Lydgate said. “Among his first pupils were four lads from Liverpool, members of a then-obscure band known as the Beatles.”

John Lydgate joined protests in the late 1960s against the Vietnam War when he taught history at Georgetown University. At that time, he was married to his first wife, Jenny, and he took his family from England through eastern Europe in a Volkswagen bus.

They drove through Turkey, the Middle East and the Khyber Pass to India before returning to England, where Lydgate took up a post teaching economics at Cornwall College.

There, he also organized workshops on Celtic Cornwall and eastern philosophy.

“Big John aka Professor aka Mahogany Jack lived an amazing existence. He exuded so much positive energy and charisma and that will inspire me and others forever,” said Kai Lydgate.

When he arrived on Kauai with Charlotte, Lydgate began working on Lydgate Park, named after his grandfather the Reverend John Mortimer Lydgate.

“He built a place that connects the community and that provides a space for healthy activities that promote wellness,” said Tommy Noyes, with Friends of Kamalani.

Noyes met Lydgate volunteering at the park and the two have worked together as members of Friends of Kamalani and Lydgate Park for 20 years.

“He was there with us every Saturday morning doing cleanups,” Noyes said. “And you’d see him out there every morning with a bucket and a rake, or planting palm trees. ”

Morgan Pond was a passion for Lydgate, and he spent hours pulling driftwood and debris from the water so keiki had space to swim.

“It’s gonna be tough to continue dad’s legacy, but I think with the help of the community we can keep the coconut palms at Lydgate Park fertilized and watered,” Kai Lydgate said. “He loved the park so much and he was always making new friends there and supporting people who were going through difficult times. He truly cared about other people and listened to what you had to say — no matter who you were.”

The family invites everyone on Kauai to join in a potluck celebration of life in the pavilion at Lydgate Park on May 9 from 5 to 8 p.m.

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