Adored Nepenthe Legend, Willie Nelson, Dies
July 18, 2012
Willie Nelson worked at Big Sur's iconic Nepenthe (667-2345) for more than half a century. Her parents, Dotty and George Lopes, were the first day chef and bartender. She didn't think she could work anywhere else.
So she didn't. An entire community is thoroughly grateful she did. And an entire community is mourning the fact she died yesterday after a sudden and intense two-month battle with lung cancer, at her home with her son and Nepenthe bartender Greg Nelson by her side.
To say "Willie" Charmaine Nelson—who hired much of the staff and charmed all of it—will be missed is like saying the view of the shimmering Pacific from Nepenthe's decks are sorta OK.
"[Her] life, laughter, and love touched all who were blessed to know her," reads the current Nepenthe Facebook status (the banner picture is of a young Nelson in the kitchen). "We cannot say goodbye, for she will be with us always, her spirit stronger than the body, her life living on in her vast circle of friends. We will never forget you."
Adds Erin Lee Gafill, whose grandparents founded the legendary cliffside outpost and whose brother still runs it: "We will never forget you, beloved Willie."
For a place with so much character, it's saying something that everyone, Gafill included, saw Nelson as the center of it.
"She was the heart and soul of Nepenthe," Gafill continues. "She worked behind the grill from 13, and was working up until just a few days ago. She blessed everyone who knew her with her bright spirit, humor, humanity. I've never known anyone so beloved."
That power of spirit continued up to her last day.
"The end came too fast," Gafill says, "but she met it with courage and compassion for all of us who feared losing her, a second mother to so many of the Nepenthe family. We cannot say goodbye."
The staff toasted their dear friend with a sip of brandy at the start of today's shift.
"We are heartbroken," says employee Alicia Hahn. "Willie was without a doubt the most hilarious person many of us will ever know. She had a big heart, was caring and compassionate, witty and had just the right amount of crass.
"Our hearts are heavy."