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People Lost In 2019: Quy Pham

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

This weekend, we're remembering people we lost in 2019 - not politicians or celebrities, but people you told us about who lived exceptional lives.

BILL CAVENDER: I knew him as Quy Pham. But the full name is Martino Pham Phok Quy (ph).

FADEL: This is Bill Cavender of Richmond, Va. He met Quy over a decade ago.

CAVENDER: I don't recall the exact day and time when I met Quy because once we did meet across the bar, it seemed like I'd almost known him forever.

FADEL: That bar was at Mekong, a Vietnamese restaurant off a busy Richmond highway known for serving up hard-to-get Belgian beers. Quy Pham was the young bartender there and more.

CAVENDER: At some points, people maybe had a little bit too much of a good time. And Quy would realize that. So he was frequently shuttling people in his car, which was affectionately known as the Quy cab, to get them home safely. And there were nights where he would drive people to the local Walmart to buy a dozen eggs and a pound of bacon so they could cook themselves some food.

FADEL: Behind the bar, Quy loved getting to know people and debate them.

CAVENDER: Fiery, animated conversations. I don't know if it would be a typical bar conversation. You know, a lot of people say, you know, don't talk politics and religion, et cetera. But, you know, he gave so much. And he was willing to kind of open himself up to people and find common ground and then build upon that.

FADEL: Cavender and Quy became close friends. He says Quy made you feel like family and even took Cavender to Vietnam to visit his family. It was a chance to learn about how Quy came to Richmond, his childhood in Ho Chi Minh City, being forced to move to a refugee camp in Malaysia with his family.

CAVENDER: I think there were certainly times where they didn't know where they were going to wind up. So you had this wonderful kind of combination of kind of a passion and a respect for where he came from, but this very proud kind of new understanding of, you know, who he was and the opportunities that he had as an American citizen.

FADEL: On June 30 of this year, Pham was competing in a triathlon in Virginia when he drowned. He was 35 years old with a wife and two kids. Bill Cavender says the community rallied around them. They raised money, local bands played in Quy Pham's honor, they even made him a tribute beer.

CAVENDER: You know, after he passed away, we were kind of gathering with people. And I would run into people that I didn't really know as well. And they would say, oh, you know, it was so difficult. You know, he was my best friend. And I would think to myself, wait a second, I thought he was my best friend. And I think that - that's a beautiful testament to how he treated people.

When I was in his company, you know, it was almost like stepping away from the world for a little while. I always left feeling a little bit better about myself. So I think he was just a special kind of person that really touched a lot of people through his huge heart and his love for the people around him.

(SOUNDBITE OF NGUYEN LE'S "SILK") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.