Comox Valley loses a community icon

More than 250 people attended the 2018 Earl Naswell Community Christmas Dinner, including the founder of the event, Earl Naswell (pictured, with Santa). Photo by Terry Farrell
The guest of honour, Earl Naswell himself, at the 2019 dinner. More than 250 people attended the Earl Naswell Community Christmas Dinner on Dec. 25 at the Florence Filberg Centre in Courtenay. Photo by Terry Farrell
Jin Lin (right) and the kitchen crew putting the finishing touches on some plates before serving, during the 2019 Earl Naswell Community Christmas Dinner. Photo by Terry Farrell
Earl Naswell and event co-ordinator Rob James share a moment at the 2018 event. Photo supplied.
Earl Naswell (left) and Murray Coulter enjoy their Christmas dinner at the 2017 event. Photo by Terry Farrell

The man whose legacy to the community was forged nearly four decades ago passed away on Tuesday.

Earl Naswell died Tuesday, at Cumberland Lodge. He was 89 years old.

In 1982, Earl Naswell went door-to-door to local businesses, asking for help to provide a Christmas dinner for himself and about a dozen friends who were, in Naswell’s words, “a bit down on their luck.”

The Comox Valley business community responded in droves, and a tradition was born.

The Earl Naswell Community Christmas Dinner has been held every Christmas Day since, and has grown every year. In 2019 more than 250 people attended the dinner itself, with nearly 500 dinners served in total, when the take-out portions were considered.

Nearly every food grocer in the Comox Valley contributes to the event, and every year, event organizers have to turn volunteers away. It has become a Christmas tradition for many people in the community.

RELATED: More than 250 people attend 2019 Earl Naswell dinner

COVID-19 restrictions in place added to the grief for the Naswell family.

“Unfortunately because of COVID, we couldn’t be by his side,” said Earl’s daughter, Debbie Maclean. “We were in the works to bring him to my sister’s, but he passed before that. We were able to go in and see him after, which was so hard to take because for these longs months we couldn’t [visit].

“We are very upset with the COVID restrictions because having a funeral is hard, as so many want to go. We are looking into something but not sure how we will go about it for now.”

Earl’s close friend, Murray Coulter, was a staple at the Naswell table for the Christmas dinner.

“Dale Naswell, Earl’s son was very instrumental in bringing Earl year after year,” said Coulter. “With the help of others, we would eagerly await his arrival and make sure the Naswells had a front-row seat.

“Earl told me last Christmas that he never dreamed the annual dinner would turn into such an amazing success. Through the co-operation, generosity, and volunteer support of the whole Comox Valley community, the Earl Naswell Christmas dinner event has become not only a tribute to Earl but a continual blessing to everyone that is involved, and to all those that come and enjoy it.”

“Last year was the final time that Earl would attend the Christmas Dinner in person, however, I know he will be with us in spirit for many years to come. Earl was an asset to this community, he was kind and generous.”

Courtenay Mayor Bob Wells was saddened by the news.

“Earl exemplified the very best in our community,” said Wells. “Since 1982 the Earl Naswell Christmas Dinner has brought together businesses and volunteers to provide hundreds of meals every year to those in need. His legacy will live on through those that volunteered and enjoyed his dinner over the years. I look forward to these dinners in the future.”

Naswell’s death has also hit the event organizers hard.

“When I first asked Earl about the Community Christmas Dinner that he began nearly 40 years ago, he just smiled and said yes, it’s a good thing,” said event co-ordinator Rob James, who has volunteered his time for the past 15 years. “He was excited to see how the day had grown over the years to become a day full of friendship, caring and sharing for the whole of the Comox Valley. We were always humbled when he arrived with his friends and family every year, always saving him a table up front and centre so he could really enjoy the live music and festivities. He will be greatly missed by all who knew him, but the legacy of Earl Naswell will live on, especially on Christmas Day.”

“I am so sorry to hear that Mr. Earl Naswell passed away, a person so special can never be forgotten,” said Jin Lin, who works in the kitchen for the dinner every year. “‘See you next year,’ that’s what volunteers say to each other after the Earl Naswell Christmas Dinner, and every year, Mr. Naswell would stop at the kitchen and say ‘Merry Christmas, thank you all’ to the volunteers before he left. Although we won’t see him again, the spirit of ‘sharing and caring’ will be passed on. Rest in peace, Mr. Naswell, and thank you.”

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