A good man, big heart

  • Dennis Fujimoto / The Garden Island

    Malani Bilyeu

  • Bill Buley / The Garden Island

    Crystal Bilyeu spends a few moments at the casket of her husband, Malani Bilyeu, during his funeral service Friday at Kauai Veterans Center, before the coffin is driven to the Lihue Airport to be flown to Oahu for a second service today.

  • Bill Buley / The Garden Island

    Pallbearers carry Malani Bilyeu’s casket from the Kauai Veterans Center in Lihue on Friday.

  • Bill Buley / The Garden Island

    The Rev. Steve Rex gives the opening prayer and message at Malani Bilyeu’s funeral service Friday at the Kauai Veterans Center in Lihue.

  • Bill Buley / The Garden Island

    Crystal Bilyeu, Malani Bilyeu’s wife, hugs a friend after her husband’s casket was placed inside the hearse for transportation to Lihue Airport.

The first song Carl James “Malani” Bilyeu wrote after he and his wife Crystal were together was “King James Bible Believer.”

Friday afternoon at the Kauai Veterans Center, Crystal Bilyeu sang that song at her husband’s funeral.

“Sing along,” she urged the crowd of about 200.

Some did, and a few minutes later, Crystal Bilyeu said she would miss singing with her husband, particularly when they “sang together for the Lord.”

“Everything that we did good, we did it good for the Lord,” she said.

Malani was more than her husband and father to their children.

“He was my friend, too,” Crystal said, crying. “Malani was my friend.”

Malani Bilyeu died on Dec. 27, 2018, at the age of 69.

His music career spanned decades, from success with the legendary Hawaiian band Kalapana to his standout solo career and receiving a Na Hoku Hanohano Lifetime Achievement Award.

His distinctive voice echoed through the Veterans Center when a recording of his version of the National Anthem was played to begin the service. And later, a montage of his life with family and friends was displayed on a big screen, accompanied by Bilyeu’s hit song, “Naturally.”

In nearly every photo that flashed up, Bilyeu was smiling and laughing, his arms extended around others. People were always around him.

It was not a somber 90-minute service, but one marked by laughter and stories about Bilyeu, praised as a friend to many, a man whose faith guided his every decision, a man whose heart overflowed with love.

“Lord, we know we didn’t lose him,” said the Rev. Steve Rex, who delivered the opening prayer and message. “We know right where he’s at. He’s standing in your presence. He playing songs for you. May we never forget the message he always shared with us, that you are first.”

Bilyeu led Christmas Eve worship services on Kauai, and on Christmas Day, played at Chicken in a Barrel as the Kapaa restaurant served up free dinners.

“I want to be able to say I could go out like that,” Rex said. “He was a good man with a big heart, and he loved the Lord Jesus Christ, and he loved Crystal and he loved his family.”

When his health began to falter, Bilyeu’s priority was getting people saved, and he urged others to share the gospel, Rex said.

“My brother and friend went out swinging for Jesus, and he wants that for us,” Rex said.

Mayor Derek Kawakami described Bilyeu as “just one of those straight-up good brothers that we’re all going to miss.”

He called him a gifted musician, a rancher, a soldier who served in the Vietnam War and a grandfather.

“He was a true renaissance man,” Kawakami said.

“Malani was a generous man, always giving, with a heart that overflowed with love and aloha,” he said.

Kawakami said it was hard to believe he would no longer hear Bilyeu’s soothing voice live again.

“But, fortunately, his gifts will be forever memorialized in his recordings,” Kawakami said.

Kalapana and Bilyeu transcended generations with their timeless classics, he added.

“Malani is a legend, and legends never die,” he said.

Dickie Chang, who acted as emcee for the service, was good friends with Bilyeu. They often sat down with pupus and talked story about family and music while watching football.

Chang and the crowd laughed as he recounted a story about “Malani’s towel,” (he used it after a shower at Chang’s on Christmas Eve and it turned up in some unexpected places) which he presented to the family.

Bilyeu had nine children, eight grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren. And he deeply loved each of them.

“What a beautiful family he had,” Chang said as he asked the family members to stand so the crowd could see them.

Sharon Pait shared some stories about Malani, who worked at her North Shore ranch. He was eager to learn and to work and took on any chore. He painted, weeded, mowed and accidently drove the tractor, “Old Betsy,” into the pond.

“No task was too small for him, no task was too big that you can’t conquer it,” Pait said.

She said one of Malani’s favorite Bible verses was Philippians 4:13: “I can do all things through Christ, who strengthens me.”

“He told me he wanted each and every one of his family members to be saved. Their salvation was important to him. Their love for God was important to him. That’s what he wanted for all of you and for all of his friends,” Pait said.

Not long before he died, Pait said Bilyeu was sitting on a bench overlooking the valley. She recalled the words he said to her:

“This is like heaven on earth, right here, right now. I’m just experiencing a small piece of heaven. I tell you, I can’t wait until I go.”


Bill Buley, editor-in-chief, can be reached at 245-0457 or bbuley@thegardenisland.com.

  1. mina January 12, 2019 8:30 am Reply

    It is frightening the way this newspaper sucks up to Christianity.

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