Under his watch, the stature of the annual pageant was elevated from a competition struggling for visibility to a vibrant television broadcast with a live audience. Miss Hawaii contestants were crowned Miss America in 1992 and in 2001, and 10 Miss Hawaii contestants have been Top 10 finalists.
A visionary, McGarvey also helped establish a foundation that would provide scholarships for women aspiring to win the Miss America crown.
"Thom started with the Miss America program with the Miss Maui (competition) in 1977, moving on to the Miss Hawaii in 1981, and becoming the executive director for Miss Hawaii in 1983," said Carolyn Suzanne Sapp Daniels, Hawaii's first Miss America in 1992. "Having two Miss Hawaiis become Miss America is a great accomplishment for Thom and the Miss Hawaii team."
"Thom McGarvey selflessly volunteered decades of service to the Miss Hawaii Scholarship Program and the community at large," said Angela Perez Baraquio Grey, Miss Hawaii 2000, the second Miss Hawaii to become Miss America in 2001.
McGarvey had been public relations manager for Hawaiian Airlines, producing halftime shows for the NFL's first Hawaii Pro Bowl in 1980, repeating the halftime task in 1981 and 1982 to ensure national network TV coverage of local talent.
He applied that template when he left Hawaiian Air to become executive director of the Miss Hawaii program,elevating its community profile with live telecasts as well as exploring and emphasizing the scholarship program. In the process, he developed a network of devotees to volunteer and help stage the pageant who today credit McGarvey with laying down a solid core of scholarship with beauty.
"I always saw Thom as 'the man behind the crown,'" said the pageant's current executive director, Ryan Brown. "Thom is one of the most generous people I have had the pleasure of meeting. He gave of his time, his heart and his soul. He took money from his pocket to make things happen for the contestants and organization, with never a flinch, never a pause.
"From the beginning -- and I would hear Thom say this over and over -- he would emphasize that 'our job is to create the very best experience for the young lady who is chosen as Miss Hawaii.' This was the bottom line, the golden rule, and it came from Thom. Our decisions and our actions needed to be ever mindful of this one fact."
Entertainer Robert Cazimero, who performs as The Brothers Cazimero with sibling Roland, said McGarvey tapped the duo frequently to help spread the spirit of aloha.
"We traveled to Hong Kong, played the World's Fair in Brisbane and with Thom's ties to the Miss Hawaii Pageant, found ourselves performing in Atlantic City the year Carolyn Sapp (Daniels) ended her reign as our first Miss America," Cazimero said."Ever courteous, humble and kind, supportive and respectful of others, we all will miss Thom very much."
McGarvey also had ties with 'Olelo TV for five years as programming manager.
"He believed passionately in 'Olelo's mission, even after he retired (in 2006) and proved it again and again by taking the time to volunteer for six more years. He left 'Olelo a better place and we will always be grateful that he shared his many talents with us," said former 'Olelo staffer Keali'i Lopez.
Ray Abregano, who worked alongside McGarvey as co-executive director, said McGarvey had liver cancer and told no one about his condition.
"The cancer affected his kidneys, and he was rushed to Kaiser on Dec. 2, but it had spread throughout his body. And up to the time he died, he was working on and thinking of the Miss Hawaii Pageant."
His remains, donated to the University of Hawaii medical school, have been cremated, Abregano said.
"He always was waving a banner of support with (Miss Hawaii's) name and face, chanting, singing Hawaiian love songs, dancing the hula, as theyoung hopeful looked into the crowd of thousands, screaming so many state names. Look for the big grin: It's Thom," Sapp Daniels recalled.
"Were it not for his leadership, vision, tough love, stern style and commitment to excellence, none of us would be the women we are today,"Baraquio Grey said.
McGarvey was born on Oct. 22, 1943, in Pennsylvania and was raised in Virginia and educated in California. He migrated to Hawaii 45 years ago.
With degrees in musicology and experience in media and communication, he worked as a deejay on KMVI radio in 1969 on Maui, where he found a loyal following as "McGuava," as he was fondly called. He also was entertainment editor of the Maui Newsbefore moving to Honolulu to handle public relations for Hawaiian Airlines.
He worked in public relations posts with former Mayor Eileen Anderson's administration, the Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau, the state Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism, the University of Hawaii Community College system and Communications Pacific. In his last years, he was resident manager of Iolani Court Plaza condominium.
A celebration of McGarvey's life is planned, date and time pending, at the Mystical Rose Oratory on the Saint Louis-Chaminade University campus.
Source: staradvertiser.com Photo: McGarvey and Miss Hawaii on the right