Retrospective of Cully Judd
Solar Pioneer to the Islands
by Steven Connell & Lori Chang
Don Eovino, Cully Judd, Lori Chang
Cully came late into our lives and left too soon. Our sense of loss at his passing is not just one of grief but of a friendship nipped in the bud.
Lori Chang had met him through Don Eovino a few years ago and again more recently through Steve Connell via his membership in Investors 13, a social eating club. Cully invited Steve and Lori to visit at the house he had lived in since his school days at his alma mater Punahou next door. We took up that offer and stopped by his house one evening for a beer and a chat to get to know him and his business better. We can still hear his voice of intelligent kindness, and recalling his story he light-heartedly shared. His frequent boyish laughter still echoes in our ears.
He told us things that might not be widely known, so we wanted to share those things with his loved ones here today as they were spoken in his own words, every one of which has become precious now that we can no longer visit with him again. Punahou had had a requirement in those days, when service to one’s country was considered honorable, to belong to ROTC, “the best thing we ever had.” “They should have it to this day.” Cully had participated in ROTC as had his father had in 1936, eventually going off to war in Vietnam, a time when it was “crawling with military and guns.” It was “uniforms on Wednesday. They were strict. They had to do push-ups, march back and forth. They were trained with M1s. Later in life, he loved driving around Europe, particularly Germany, Austria, and Switzerland. He did a lot of business in Denmark and had gone as far astray as St Petersberg.
Cully held fond memories of his R&R days at the beaches in Thailand, where he fell in love with the flora, fauna, and humanity there. During these days he would say his prayers of gratitude every day. He did not like hunting until the end. In fact, the wild pigs would roam on his farm on the North Shore and were a “big pain in the neck, eating the gardens with their snouts.”
Recreational hunting in Thailand, easily accessible from Cambodia, brought back memories not of relaxation and fun but of pity for the pigs and animals who had fallen to his demise while hunting with his friend. Memories of those poor beasts intermingled in Cully’s mind with an elephant in Africa Cully witnessed his friend shoot. The image of those poor creatures remained with Cully as if it had happened just yesterday.
Cully’s wife Carolyn looked out the bay window askance and saw Steve with a bunch of his kids and wondered who the hell are these people walking up to my house uninvited? But they had been invited. Cully told Steve on multiple occasions please bring your kids to my house. Just come any time. You don’t have to call.
Cully had first met Carol in his Spanish class in high school at Punahou.
“She will make it”. That’s what he said when we asked her about Carolyn, who was not present for our second visit. We had asked him about his wife’s sickness. “Oh, we just discovered it from a lump on her breast. After that, boy those were the greatest fake boobies of all time. She is healthy as can be. She’ll lick this thing.”
“What kind of cancer is it?”
“Breast and liver cancer.”
“So it has metastasized? What stage is it?”
“Stage 4. But she is a beast. Still undergoing treatment to find out where all the cancer is.” No change. Her doctor is wonderful.”
Optimism is often misplaced when it comes to dealing with cancer.
“Where did you meet Carol?”
“She went to Punahou. She was in my Spanish class. I was looking over her shoulder during a test. She thought I was cheating. I was actually looking down her top (boyish chuckle).”
At the time we spoke with Cully, he mentioned Carol was healthy at the time. Still undergoing treatment to find out where all the cancer is. Currently three months into treatment. The breast cancer has metastasized to her liver.
Upon discovering a lump in her breast, she had had a mastectomy. “Most beautiful tit in the world. But I’m lucky I get to sleep with the falsies.” This was followed by a light chuckle and twinkle in his gentle eyes.
Cully and Carol started what became Interisland Solar. Cully’s father had started by collecting old solar panels and re-distributing them. Oil at the time, 1972, had spiked from $3 per barrel to $30, so demand was high. The pair sourced glass, copper, and aluminum from a California company, SunEarth, that they later acquired. When it was time to retire, Cully in his generosity, transferred ownership of the company to his employees for free through an ESOP program.
In retirement, Cully continued to be entrepreneurial, his sights set on new ventures. He told us about the need for batteries at solar installations. At the time of discussion, he was investing in an overseas company that made battery packs without using cobalt, which is in short supply and causes fires. “I just ordered them now and have to pay for it. I am too old for this, and Carol is pissed. We’ll see how that goes.” “Battery packs are tied into the grid. If you have a photovoltaic system, with Hawaiian Electric, you can feed the grid and get paid. You need batteries to store the energy created during the day. Solar during the day and drain the battery at night.” The conversation on this particular evening extended to Paesanos, an Italian restaurant at Manoa Marketplace; one of Cully's favorite restaurants he chose for us to end the night with further laughter, good spirits and food.
When Carol had left this earth, Cully seemed lost. He was not one to complain. But he seemed only half himself now that the other half had passed on to another realm.
Perhaps it was a sixth sense that lured us to visit him at Queens Hospital on February 22, 2023 after he had had only a “minor” heart problem easily repaired with a stint. He had had no idea Steve would be visiting.
He was facing away from the door when Steve entered his room, so he had to walk all the way around the bed to see him. Cully had an oxygen mask that he had taken off. He appeared to be sleeping, but he was wide awake.
“Cully, it’s me.”
I held his hand. He’d had no idea I was coming.
“How are you feeling?”
“Oh much better.”
He coughed, and his breathing was labored. I always entertain hope but never trust it.
“I was at home and had trouble breathing. My girl was helping me. She called the ambulance. There were 10 people all around me”
His left hand was wired up and bandaged.
“Can you believe they just inserted a wire here through my hand and fished the stent in all the way to my heart? I didn’t feel a thing.”
He asked about my children, who had come to visit him at his house with me a few months before. He didn’t forget anything. His made it clear many times that his door was always open to us.
“My son is six-foot three now. He runs like the wind. He and Lori are here to see you, but the hospital won’t let them in.”
Cully marveled at the news of my son, forgetting about where he himself was and what had happened to him and what the future might hold for him.
“The hospital only allows four visitors and I’m the fourth, but I’m going to go see if the attending nurse can over-ride the rules and allow Lori to see you.”
But the nurse wouldn’t.
I went back into the room to tell him I didn’t succeed and to say good bye. It was past the 8 pm cutoff time for visitors by now. I followed another nurse attending to him back in. She and I spoke. When Cully heard the female voice, he sat up and turned around with an expectant smile on his face.
Sadly, Lori would never see him again, nor would my son. Nor would I for that matter.
“I’m going to say good bye to you now” I told him. I held his hand again in mine. It seemed like the natural thing to do. Through all the tape and tubing, his hand felt as warm as his heart, and just as big.
And then Steve said good bye for the last time, for the both of us, to this larger-than-life man.
~Rest in Love Cully, you're a sweet man.
Heartfelt condolences to the Judd Family