From the way his parents tell it, Kevin Bristow was a man who shattered stereotypes.
Gregarious and eager to entertain, he also had a soft spot for the underdog, bringing the shy, awkward and often ignored into his ever-growing circle of friends.
He was both an avid sports fan and a total bookworm, a hit with ladies of all ages who played on his high school chess team and headed up the Latin Club.
Impulsive with a penchant for travel, he was also a careful planner, constantly jotting down his to-do’s for the day, the week, the month, the rest of his life.
That last list will be left, tragically, incomplete.
Kevin, a construction engineer, died as a result of an accident at a work site in Houston, Texas on Jan. 26, just a few days into his new job. He was 26.
Devastated by the loss of their only child, Patrick and Jacalyn Bristow want to ensure that the man who couldn’t be easily summed up or nailed down, their unique son for whom they were so proud, will forever be remembered.
The Bristows recently established two scholarships in Kevin’s name—one at his alma mater, N.C. State University, and another for college-bound members of Little Chapel on the Boardwalk, the church family in which Kevin grew up.
“What a shock this was to us,” Jacalyn said. “He was 26 years old and the love of our lives. He was extraordinary—so smart, so quick, so compassionate to everyone.”
Jokingly describing Kevin as a “hip nerd,” Patrick recalled his son as a stellar student. He graduated from Wilmington’s Ashley High School in 2007 and headed to N.C. State to pursue a degree in civil engineering.
“He did extremely well at N.C. State…He loved that school; he was very proud of it,” Patrick Bristow said.
So proud, in fact, that en route to his new life in Houston right after graduation in 2012, he made a pit stop—with all his belongings packed up in his car—to see his Wolfpack play in Tennessee.
That was just Kevin, his parents agreed. Free-spirited and adventurous, he was constantly on the go, whether it was a night out in the city he instantly embraced as his home or across the globe in China for a summer study abroad program.
Just before his sudden death last month, Kevin traveled to New Zealand and Australia, where, among other thrill-seeking endeavors, he took a helicopter tour and bungee jumped from a bridge. Returning home jet-lagged from that trip, he jumped in the car to catch a Houston Rockets game.
That long-held love of sports—Jacalyn recalls her son reading the sports page daily on his way to elementary school–propelled Kevin around the country. The Bristows said a U.S. map in his kitchen was peppered with pushpins from all the places he had seen NFL games—with a color-coding system to note which Miami Dolphins match-ups had ended in a win or a loss.
“He had done a whole lot more in his 26 years than we ever thought of doing,” Jacalyn Bristow said.
That thought is a comfort to the Bristows, albeit it a small one in the midst of their overwhelming loss.
They have found some solace, too, in an outpouring of support, a church foundation to lean on and countless amusing and touching anecdotes from Kevin’s many friends across the globe, a testament, the Bristows say, to how many lives their son impacted.
And, looking past the pain, the couple plans to move forward with Kevin’s memory at the forefront, to honor his life and the love and laughter that filled it.
“You pick yourself up and when you recuperate, you go and do for others,” Jacalyn said, adding she wants to eventually work with parents grieving from the loss of a child.
In that spirit of outreach, the Kevin Collier Bristow Memorial Scholarship Endowment has been set up to be administered through N.C. State’s Engineering Foundation. Donations may be made online (choose “Other” and designate the full name of the scholarship) or mailed to: 232 Page Hall, Campus Box 7901, Raleigh, NC 27695.
For the Little Chapel on the Boardwalk fund, checks payable to the church noting the Kevin Bristow Scholarship Fund in the memo section can be sent to 2 West Fayetteville St., Wrightsville Beach, NC 28480.
“We want to make sure his name will go on forever,” Patrick said. “Our only goal in this whole matter is that he will not be forgotten.”
A Celebration of Life service for Kevin will be held at 2 p.m. on Saturday, March 5 at Little Chapel on the Boardwalk, 2 West Fayetteville St., Wrightsville Beach. A visitation will follow in the church fellowship hall.
Hilary Snow is a reporter at Port City Daily. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.