Chip Kushner, Customer Service Manager for Smokingpipes, died this morning in his home in Conway, SC. He was 53. His passing was a surprise. He was discovered this morning sitting in his chair in his bedroom by his roommate, colleague and friend, Nick Shane. While we don't yet have cause of death from the coroner's office, we believe he suffered a heart attack.
I was first introduced to Chip by pipe maker Jeff Gracik at the Chicago Pipe Show in 2009, which was Chip's first serious foray into the wider pipe community. He'd been a longtime cigar smoker and collector when Jeff met him through Captain Hunt's Tobacconist in San Diego. Chip was curious about this whole pipe thing and Jeff sat him down, handed him a Poul Ilsted pipe and tobacco and walked him through his first pipe smoking experience.
To say that Chip fell in love with the world of pipes and pipe tobacco is something of an understatement. By the time I first visited his home in San Diego in 2011, he'd amassed a remarkable collection of pipes and an even more staggering cellar of pipe tobacco. He became an early, ardent proponent of the new wave of American pipe makers, ranging from Jeff Gracik and Brad Pohlmann, who had been active for years, to the newer (at that time) guys like Ernie Markle and Steve Liskey. Shane Ireland first met him in San Diego in 2010 through the San Diego Pipe Club, of which Chip later became President. Indeed, Chip took Shane to his first pipe show, the West Coast Show in November of that year. In 2013, he traveled with Jeff Gracik to China and Japan to visit shops in Shanghai and to attend the All Japan Smoking Competition held in October of that year.
By 2012 or 2013, Chip was well known as an ardent collector and vocal proponent of artisan pipe making, particularly American artisan pipe making. He advised up-and-coming American pipe makers, he organized club events, and he was a perennial fixture at the Chicago, Richmond and West Coast Pipe Shows. He practiced law in San Diego, but his life centered on his hobby and his friends — pipe makers, industry people, and fellow collectors alike — from that hobby.
In early 2015, Chip took the next step into the world of pipes, closing his law practice in San Diego and moving across the country to work at Smokingpipes. He was pipe mentor or customer service mentor to so many at the company in the past four years. He was particularly open and generous with newcomers to the company, folding them into his life, showing them the ropes and sharing his love for pipes and pipe tobacco. Almost everyone who has joined the company in either the Customer Service or Merchandizing departments in the past few years credits Chip with early friendship and guidance as they were introduced to the pipe world and the company, whether they were colleagues like Kaz Walters or on his team, like Nick Shane, who was later also his roommate.
As a connoisseur of many fine things — ranging from pipes and tobacco to scotch to food — and being a particularly gregarious sort, he rather collected folks at the company, enthusiastically sharing his passion for pipes in the office, at a local tobacconist shop (either Low Country Pipe & Cigar or the Tinderbox that was a little closer to his home), or in his home. He hosted annual Chanukah and Seder dinners at his home, inviting both his Jewish and non-Jewish colleagues and friends.
Chip never married or had children. He was an only child. He built a life and a community for himself from the friends he made through pipe smoking. His pipe smoking friends — and especially his friends and colleagues at Smokingpipes and Laudisi — filled that part of his life. Even more so than most of us at the company, Chip ensconced himself in this community.
Mostly we remember him for his participation in that community, both at Laudisi and in the wider pipe world. We remember him for his conviviality. For his kindness and generosity. For his friendship. For his enduring, deep enthusiasm for our shared hobby.