Derek Radford, who worked for several years at Pingpong Restaurant in Chicago's Boystown neighborhood, passed away Nov. 20 at hospice in Orlando, Florida, from renal failure. He was 32.
Radford, a St. Louis native who was openly gay, had been hospitalized since July, first with a gallbladder infection. His longtime friends, Linda and Beth Bax, were by his side when he passed.
"He didn't want people to know he was sick and took on quite the battle [as] an example of his strength," said friend Jimmy Kays, of Chicago. "He was sick [for the] majority of this last year and was awaiting a transplant."
Andrea Kline met Radford through a mutual friend, and the two quickly became inseparable. "We never had a dull moment," Kline said. "We were both free spirited, goofy [and] enjoyed laughing a lot."
Kline said that Radford previously worked at Abercrombie and Fitch, and they went together to 18-and-older gay clubs.
"The song 'Sandstorm' [by Darude] will forever remind me of him," Kline said, "that kind of techno song; we got pulled over [once] in his mom's [car] listening to that [song] super loud.
"He would come over randomly; my mom thought he was hilarious because he would do kart wheels and hand stands in my living room."
Radford was Kline's high school prom date. "I will forever cherish going to prom with my best friend," she said.
Radford enjoyed dancing and during his brother Jim's wedding, Derek was dancing with the new bride and her 2-year-old daughter, Reese.
Radford was inspired by the teachings of Buddha and Eastern philosophies. Also, Radford enjoyed making furniture out of discarded junk and he had a passion for decorating.
Radford enjoyed traveling and has been all over the world, his brother Jim said. "I actually have a travel urn for his remains, so I can take him and leave a part of him in the places that I visit."
Jim added, "I never thought I would only get to have my brother for 32 years. If I have learned anything from losing him, it's to tell the people you love that you love them every single day. And, treat those different from you with kindness and love because everyone deserves to feel loved."
Annye Magdic met Radford in 2013 and said he had an "amazing spirit."
"Derek loved life; he loved laughing; he cherished his friends and always made sure you knew it," Magdic said. "I know he enjoyed great food and conversation and could make some great dishes as well. He was so well rounded, generous and always there to listen. His loyalty as a friend was something I will truly miss. I'm so fortunate to have done some really fun things with him.
"Derek's best traits were his humility and his sense of humor. He will always be one of the funniest people I have known.
"I will forever cherish the amazing nights, candle-lit dinners [shared], art walks, watching sunsets on the roof, dancing until it hurt and laughing with you until we cried. Thank you for teaching me about real friendship and for being you."
Gina Hausmann was friends with Radford since preschool.
"He was always a vibrant, charismatic guy with a big heart," Hausmann said. "I remember one year I received a red cape-like jacket for Christmas and Derek called me 'Little Red Riding Hood" in it and would put it on and chase me and my friend Sheenah around the playground."
Radford attended Fort Zumwalt South High School in Saint Peters, Missouri.
"His sunny disposition was always a ray of light," Hausmann said. "He was the type of person that, if you were having a bad day, he'd listen open-mindedly with a caring heart."
Radford attended Fort Lauderdale Art Institute in the mid-2000s after time at the Art Institute of Chicago.
"I met him while working at a trendy Asian bistro [in Florida]. It was a fun group; we were mostly young students and would often go out after shifts," said Nikki Braverman.
"Everyone gravitated towards Derek; he was strikingly good-looking, hilarious, creative and fun. More importantly, he was an amazing friend, not only to me, but lots of people. He was special."
Radford first moved to Chicago in 2003 after graduating from high school.
"Nights out with [Derek] were always a good time; his energy was contagious and he was so witty. I loved his dry humor, his smile, his laugh, his stories," Braverman said. "During that time, I had my own set of obstacles and he was a great friend through it all.
"Even with all the years that have gone by, I'll never forget our friendship and it holds a special place in my heart."
Beth Bax has been best friends with Radford since 1984 and were next door neighbors for about 10 years. "Derek was my soulmate, my very best friend," she said. "He made my childhood and my life what it was. So much of my history is connected to him. In the 32 years I spent with him, I do not ever remember being bored. He was creative, caring, fun [and] funny.
"He was the truest of friends, the kind of person you felt lucky to have as your friend."
Radford is survived by his mother, Delilah; his father, James Jr., brother James III, sister-in-law Hillary, two nieces (Reese and Elle), paternal grandparents Mr. & Mrs. Joseph Chance, and a large extended family in Missouri, Illinois and Florida.
Jim Radford said that, if anyone would like to make a donation in Derek's name, please do so to a charity that helps gay youth.