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In loving memory of
Son Nguyen
  • March 19, 1972
  • -
  • February 22, 2021

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Obituary

Buckle in, folks. This will be a lengthier obituary. I tried to be concise, but you try summarizing the love of your life in 400 words or less. It’s a cruel task. So, I invite you to read on to get a glimpse into Son’s life and personality.

Born in Saigon, Vietnam, on March 19, 1972, Son Hai Nguyen was the first-born son to Lan and Thang Nguyen. He was later joined by a sister, Trang, and a brother, Phong. As the Vietnam War was coming to its bitter end, the selfless decision was made to send Son to America in the hopes of a better life. At the age of three, Son made his way to America via a two-month stay in a refugee camp in Guam before eventually being given entry to the U.S. at Camp Pendleton with his Aunt Thoa and his uncles Phuong and Long. As a 3-year-old entering America, Son’s first memory is that of a soldier handing him a lollipop, while elder family members surely carry the burdens of much heavier memories.

Son lived the immigrant’s American Dream with all the complexities that iconic path entails. He spoke fondly of his time living with his aunt and uncles before settling in with his Aunt Thoa and Uncle Rob, who eventually added a daughter, Christine, to the family. He felt a strong bond with his aunt and uncles over their shared struggle of coming to America. Like many immigrant children, Son struggled with the requirement to assimilate. He spoke Vietnamese only rarely and not publicly. He shared little of his past and only reluctantly. He used humor to deflect complex feelings. It took me many years to piece together that he was, in fact, a war refugee.

He bore the burden that comes with being assigned the label of model minority. While admired by everyone he knew, he was often passed over for opportunities and we were occasionally the targets of prejudice for being in an interracial relationship. Son refused to become embittered. He accepted the unfairness of life and chose instead to focus on the good in life and the goodness in so many people around us.

Perhaps being born in the midst of the chaos and trauma of a major war catalyzed Son’s lifelong peaceful nature. If you ask anyone who knew him, Son is known for his reliability, patience, kindness, compassion, and generosity. This is all true, 100% true. I hear it from everyone who has ever met him or worked with him. But he was also so much more. I’d like to share with you just a few of those other dimensions to Son’s life and personality that he often didn’t share with the public.

Son was an amazing basketball player back in the day. To my horror, he and his friends used to mountain bike at night in NC, where inevitably someone would come home bruised and battered, having predictably flipped their bike over a tree root. He was mesmerized by the ocean and always wanted to be near water. He really loved hiking in the mountains of North Carolina and was not afraid of heights. Son grew up heavily influenced by early rap and hip-hop. He was musically gifted but untrained. He could proficiently identify samplings of old music in new songs.

Son was a born performer. He loved to ham it up in front of crowds, excelling working for an entertainment company where his job was to flirt and dance with old rich folks at corporate parties. He was a really great hip-hop dancer and instructor, winning many awards at dance competitions with his all-male dance crew. He even worked as a backup dancer for a Miami rapper.

For years, Son and his friends were heavy into Jeep-ing. He deeply loved that old Jeep of his that could reliably be counted on to break down at the most inconvenient times. He dragged me on more than one Jeep Jamboree adventure. It always amazed me that he could somehow fit in with a crowd of self-proclaimed “rednecks” with confederate bumper stickers. But he did.

Son was raised with the kind of imagination that comes from feasting on fantasy and sci-fi books. He re-read these novels until nearly memorized, and lured me into these fantastical worlds with him, for which I am eternally grateful. Naturally, he loved playing D&D and video games as an extension of that imagination. He was tech-savvy and found his niche at Rollins College, where he could be a part of the noble institution of higher education while working with tech and working closely with people. He enjoyed interacting daily with staff and faculty.

After two decades of separation, Son was reunited with his parents and siblings who finally made it to the U.S. He relished this reunion. Though we didn’t get to visit them in California as often as we liked, whenever we did, his whole family treated Son and I like royalty, even going so far as to throw us a (second) Vietnamese wedding. There was a strong bond there, regardless of language and geographical barriers.

This family reunion reignited his desire to understand his roots. He began watching YouTube videos of Saigon and Vietnamese cooking channels. As he matured, the compulsion to fit in at all costs—the high price paid for assimilation—began to loosen, and he would occasionally fiercely advocate when he felt someone was mistreated or a policy was problematic. Given his easy-going nature, these rare outbursts from Son proved to be a very effective tool as those around him often capitulated, stunned to hear him use a firm tone and take such a strong stance. He began to stand up more and more against social injustices. And he quietly shared his pride of his Vietnamese heritage with those around him. One student worker wrote him when he was sick to share what a difference his pride in his heritage made to her as she navigated college as a Vietnamese outsider. In his final weeks, Son continuously watched videos of Vietnam. Though he only lived there for the first few years of his life, the place, the food, and family provided him comfort in the end.

It always seemed to me that Son saved my life. I was a very shy 14-year-old when a 17-year-old Son swept me off my feet with his over-the-top romantic gestures and swagger. He would fill jumbo cards with undying proclamations of love and buy me shell rings and trinkets with his meager paychecks. We acted as foolish teens in love do—obsessed and sneaking off to be with one another any chance we could, likely causing my parents and his aunt and uncle worry. Ultimately, we spent 31 years together, 21 of those married. We changed immensely over the years—thank goodness—but we chose each other again and again as we evolved. He moved not once, but twice, for my career. I couldn’t have found a more supportive partner in life. I miss Son terribly and still can’t imagine a world in which I don’t get to be with him every day to share my life. Before he died, Son reminded me to focus on how fortunate we were to have met so young so that we could still have had decades of memories together. Bittersweet.

Son had a natural rapport with children. First, with his niece Christine and later with our friends’ children Charlie, Sawyer, Wyatt, and Lucas. In particular, he had a very special bond with Charlie. One Halloween, Son and I decided to surprise Charlie by dressing up as unicorns, as she was. The look on her face when she saw us emerge from the bedroom in full costume is one of my most cherished memories, as is my recollection of Son proudly strutting down Park Avenue, in costume, holding Charlie’s hand tight even as we ran into multiple co-workers.

When Son was diagnosed with terminal cancer, we were in the midst of the process of adopting a baby. My biggest regret in losing Son is that I will not get to see him experience fatherhood and that a child has lost out on that special connection that surely would have enriched their life. His heart was open to adoption, and he would have been an involved and empathetic dad.

All of us who knew and loved Son are saddened to see a life of potential and goodness cut short. It is deeply unfair. I still expect him to walk through the front door. He leaves behind so many grieving family members and friends. But in the end, Son felt the love of everyone who reached out. We were buttressed by all the meals, cards, flowers, phone calls, gifts, visits, and the deep generosity of Rollins College where we both worked. He knew he was loved and that in his relatively short life he had made an impact on so many. I appreciate all of you for this lovely communal parting gift.

I hope this obituary gives you a glimpse into Son’s life. Due to COVID restrictions, we will be postponing a memorial service for a later date. I cannot imagine a service where anyone who wants to attend cannot and where we cannot hug one another. Once a memorial service date is set—perhaps the end of summer or the beginning of fall—I will share that information. In the meantime, please keep sharing with me and each other any stories you have of Son to keep him alive for all of us. And if any of you would like to share a few words about Son at this future service, either spoken or through writings, please let me know. In lieu of flowers, please hug tightly the person you love most in this world and let them know how much you love them—something Son and I did every single day together.

Love,

Amy


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  1. Suzanne Mcclure says:
    06 Aug 2021
    My son in law, but really, my Son! Shall I describe how he worked his way into our lives? Amy came home from her first week in high school ~at the age of 14~ with a boyfriend. So much for my not letting her date until she was 16! They spent a lot of time sitting on our couch, watching TV with the family. He would show up at our door 2 or 3 times a week, on his bike, "Just dropping by" right around supper time, and it didn't take long to realize he was here to stay. Also, what a wonderful boy he was. Amy was involved with dance, so he (somehow, we're not sure HOW) got the teacher bringing hip hop into her studio. Soon, there was a group of boys dancing away to MC Hammer and the like. He even taught classes! and joined a company that entertained at weddings, bar mitzvahs etc.
    As they grew in their love, it was evident for all to see. Such an easy-going, fun-loving and dedicated person, who never wavered in his devotion to Amy. And he was so smart!! I once saw his resume and didn't understand a word in it! So smart. When they got their virtual reality machine, he walked me through the complications (for an oldie like me) standing from the outside and he knew exactly what instructions came up, without seeing them! I think I was more blown away by that than the machine!
    When they got the diagnosis, the world as we knew it came to an abrupt halt. It all happened so fast. They faced all the challenges so nobly! I was so heartbroken! What a waste....but he will never really leave us, I know. He was part of my family, like no other. The college where they spent a good bit of their lives reacted immediately and wonderfully. What a special institution!! So generous and caring.
    Son, you are missed.

  2. Amy posted an image:
    22 Mar 2021
    Son
    Son

  3. Mike M posted an image:
    16 Mar 2021
    One of my favorite pictures of Son. It was my shirt. I gave him two others. One was blue striped and the other green striped. He wore one of those 3 shirts for 3 years every week.  Don't let the skinny kid fool you. He could eat for three, lol.
    One of my favorite pictures of Son. It was my shirt. I gave him two others. One was blue striped and the other green striped. He wore one of those 3 shirts for 3 years every week. Don't let the skinny kid fool you. He could eat for three, lol.

  4. Robert Heidel posted an image:
    16 Mar 2021
    Me and Son Hiking
    Me and Son Hiking

  5. Robert Heidel says:
    16 Mar 2021
    My heart is still breaking over the loss of such a good person and a dear friend. The memories I had with him will always be remembered. Such as the friendly political banters, and our disagreements over shooters usefulness hehe. I still have that vision in my head of Son saying he wanted a "little" mobile shooter to zip around town in and yet he goes and buys the biggest one in the store that reminds one of a motorcycle. Watching him drive that home scared to death of crashing because its to big still makes me laugh. In fact I am laughing right now. Thank you so much Son for laughter. And even though I am laughing I am still amazed at his bravery on making it home in one piece. Son always impressed me.

    And there is 100's of more great memories and those memories only exist because both Son & Amy included me in their lives. They both would call this introverted person every week to come over and be apart of their world. Like what Todd also said their was so many adventures, so many great times.

    It was both Son and Todd who got me into off-roading. I had such a good time with Son that I went out and bought my own Jeep. Son, Amy, Todd, Becky, myself and others would find lost unknown trails and drive our vehicles through flooded forests in the dark. IT WAS A BLAST. The midnight mountain biking where we couldn't see 5 ft in front of us. IT WAS A BLAST.
    I am shock we never severely injured ourselves.

    And lastly me and Son just siting in front of the TV relaxing and playing some coop video game doing our best to remove the horrors of working for CompUSA. Me and Son working at CompUSA is a perfect example of friendship. We both hated the place but we both got through the crappy job together because being with each other made work more bearable.

    And all of these great memories listed above started in 1999 when I moved to Raleigh NC and found a job at Circuit City. It was there I met Son and Todd. We all started roughly at the same time. We would sell computers to customers, but what was more important to us all was the question we would ask each other at work.... What adventure are we doing next? Thank you for that Son, Thank you so much!

  6. Todd D says:
    16 Mar 2021
    Son was gifted in so many ways but to me the best gift was the friendship. Both of you as much as i tried to always "one up you" on being a good friend you always stepped it up another level. I could never compare to be as good of friends to you two as you were to me. The mountain biking, the hiking, the amazing off road adventures (even though his jeep was always breaking down lol , ) , the cabin mountain trips, the countless hours playing video games we also had , the birthdays you gave me when you knew I had no other family or friends around at the time. This list goes on and on, all I can say is the world has lost another good guy. My love goes out to you Amy, Suzi , and Becky. Son may have passed on but my love for him and memories will last forever.

  7. William Bailey lit a candle:
    16 Mar 2021
    Lit since March 16, 2021 at 3:52:59 PM

  8. William Bailey says:
    16 Mar 2021
    Son will be remembered as goofy, compassionate, caring and sometimes hilariously inappropriate in all the best ways. Son was one of the kindest people I had ever met in life always going out of his way for others. I am thankful to have known Son and will never forget the impact he’s had on all of us. To quote Gandalf “Some believe that it is only Great Power that can hold evil in check, but that is not what I have found. I found that it is the small things, everyday deeds by ordinary folks that keeps the darkness at bay.” While Son was no ordinary “folk”, I like to think his everyday acts of kindness helped to make the world a little more brighter.

    Rest In Peace Son, your kindness will live on in all of us.

  9. Amy posted an image:
    16 Mar 2021
    More hiking in NC.
    More hiking in NC.

  10. Amy posted an image:
    16 Mar 2021
    Son with his loyal lapdog, Moxxi.
    Son with his loyal lapdog, Moxxi.

  11. Amy posted an image:
    16 Mar 2021
    Hiking in the NC Mountains
    Hiking in the NC Mountains

  12. Nicole, Shawn, Lauren and Ava says:
    15 Mar 2021
    Son was an an amazing man and we are truly sorry for your loss, Amy, Aunt Suzi, and Becky . Wishing we could be together. Sending love from Canada.

  13. Amy McClure posted an image:
    15 Mar 2021
    Son trick or treating with Charlie.
    Son trick or treating with Charlie.

  14. Mike M says:
    15 Mar 2021
    Such a great write up. No words can help me think what could have been. If I could have stopped more on the way to Florida from NY. If I hadn't lost touch for 3 years in the 90's and spent more time with you. Funny how I saw you in Publix and was shocked you lived on the other side of the road from me by Club Boca. In all my self-pity though it is the good times I'll remember most. Home Coming, Prom, Graduation, your wedding, my wedding. You playing video games with my kids. You trying to teach me Vietnamese. Me telling you to go for it with that girl Amy at the Quietathon. I will continue to lament Son's passing but I will also advocate my fight that took him. Cancer must be dealt with and Son will help me in that fight from above and in my heart and mind. RIP my wonderful friend. Until we meet again.

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