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The man I married is dying. The priest says to write a thank you letter.

Jack Thomas Dawson on our wedding night, 1990.

Dear Jack,

Thank you for being in my life.

Thank you for chasing me down at a party on December 6, 1985. I can still picture us sitting there on the couch that night, in your apartment on the third floor of the Roanoke. I sat on the left end, you sat on the right, we faced each other and talked for two hours after everyone else had left.

I didn’t want to go to that party; Liz had to talk me into it. Then once I met you, I didn’t want to leave.

I did, though; I’m kind of proud of that. I got home and told her, “I met someone.”

The next day I called and asked you for a date. You said yes. We met for dinner at a restaurant on Ludlow Avenue; again, we talked for hours. I was measuring to see if you were lover material; thank you for letting me do that. That was the night I fell in love with you.

I don’t remember whether we went home together or not; I know it didn’t take long.

I remember that antique bedstead you had, with the curved footboard. I remember that awful mattress. I remember discovering, that first week, all the sports trophies you had in your closet. You were a champion in bowling, baseball, softball, volleyball, darts, golf, so many sports; at Western Hills High School you were “the fastest white boy in Cincinnati.” You got a track scholarship to Miami University, but it didn’t pay all the bills, so you enlisted in the Navy instead.

Thank you for serving your country.

They taught you to repair electronics, put you on an aircraft carrier and shipped you to Vietnam. It wasn’t as dangerous as the Army, but it wasn’t any piece of cake. You got through it and made it home in one piece. You enrolled at UC, worked your way through college and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice.

You were one of the brave ones in the city’s first Gay Pride March. It was a demonstration then, not a parade; it was a political confrontation with a narrow-minded city. You had a right to speak, a right you fought a foreign war to defend; and so, with your body, you spoke.

All of Cincinnati thanks you for that.

I was impressed with you, buddy; you’re my hero.

We made a great pair for awhile; you among the first marchers, me the first openly Gay person to use his full name in the newspaper.

I asked about your trophies; you told me modestly about your feats. You belonged to competitive teams in all the rec leagues, and I said, “Wouldn’t it be nice to play on an openly Gay team for a change?”

It was December, but we started making plans for a Gay softball team (“Dust Off Your Jock and Join!”). We paved the way for the Greater Cincinnati Sports Association, the Cincinnati Alternative Volleyball Association, the River City Softball League, the FrontRunners, the bowling leagues; we did it, buddy. Every Gay and Lesbian athlete in town thanks you for that.

We sponsored a team—the only one with women and men, along with a Straight guy—and I got to watch you play, while you chuckled at me in right field. We finished second in the 8-team Gay league and you got elected to the All-Star Team. We went to Cleveland and played in an all-Gay, all-star tournament. I was so proud of you. Part of that was because of your athletic ability, but I saw something even more important: how well-liked you were among all the players.

It was true then and it’s true today: everyone who knew you loved you. You let people see your soul, and everyone knew you were good as gold.

Thank you for marrying me on our fifth anniversary.

I have to laugh for a second, remembering that crazy wedding in our apartment. People were invited for 7:00, and I wouldn’t let them in at 6:59, I wasn’t ready yet! But Fr. Wayland Melton came to officiate, my mother and Martha Weyand came, her daughter Peggy was our Best Woman and Bob Lauterwasser was our Best Man, so we did the apostate deed. We weren’t the first in town to have a same-sex wedding, far from it, but now it’s legal in California. Soon it will be legal in the Episcopal Church.

Thanks for saying yes, and showing up on December 6, 1990. I still have your ring, dude; I’m still wearing it. I promised you forever and I meant it.

An e-mail from Scott says the hospital has just summoned him; I guess you don’t have much time. But you have lived well, mister; thank you for that.

We made a great team for eight years. We put out a real Gay newspaper. Our stories made an impact; Mayor Luken didn’t get to replace AIDS expert Dr. Evelyn Hess with a money man on the Board of Health. While I was chasing stories, you were selling ads; we were united in purpose, to help liberate LGBTs in Ohio. Liberation hasn’t come yet, Jack, but you and I speeded it up. Thank you for that.

Thank you for all those hours together in the office, debating, discussing, trying to understand the issues, personalities and politics we faced. Thank you for your always cogent analyses. I constantly relied on your judgment. Whether it was the Reds and Bearcats or Jerry Falwell, Phil Burress or the Preble County Strangler, you were always ready for me with logic, wisdom and emotional support. So what if you couldn’t write your way out of a wet paper bag? You were in every story Gaybeat published.

Thank you for all the times you made me laugh. When people asked me how I could be in business with my lover and hang out together 24/7, I’d just point to you and say, “He’s got this dry wit that gets me through the day.”

When you got sick in 1987, not that much changed; yes, your body did, but your mind didn’t. Your soul didn’t change; if anything it deepened.

Where once you’d worked with desperate people with mental illness and homelessness, you came to work for another kind of people equally desperate—for freedom. You were always present for them; on their behalf I say thank you.

For speaking out for Gays in the military for a full hour on “The Fred Andrle Show,” thanks and a salute.

For taking care of your mother Kitty in her last years, thank you.

For your outspoken advocacy for people with disabilities, for serving your city and surveying all the barriers to mobility and dignity downtown, thank you.

For being a friend to Peg and Scott and so many others, thank you.

For being an instrument of peace in a violent and hate-filled world, thank you.

For documenting the human rights struggle in photographs, thank you. For publishing the truth about us for eight years, thank you. Man, all of Gay Cincinnati says thank you.

For gracing my life with your grace; for loving me when no one else seemed to; for welcoming me back every time after our separation; for simply letting me know you, Jack, for spending time with me, for touches: thank you.

The phone hasn’t rung yet; but I’m praying my eyes out that when your time comes, God welcomes you to heaven with these words: Thank you, Jack, you did great!

God plays softball, and he knows an all-star when he sees one.++

July 3, 2008

5 Responses

  1. Even thou we never met, I have to thank you too Jack, for the twinkle in Josh’s eyes when he talked about you and what you both did, like fighting on the baricades of Gay Liberation and Justice.
    Even after the separation you were still the man in Josh’s life. Thanks for making this man happy.

  2. What a wonderful letter. Jack sounds like such a wonderful contributer to the community, we should all be grateful.

    The best to you and your family in what is obviously a difficult time.

  3. Exactly 30 minutes ago I got the call: Jack has died. He was surrounded by friends, and prayers were said.

    He is at peace now, in perfect health.

    Peter got it exactly right: from December 6, 1985, Jack was always the man in my life. May he rest in peace and rise in glory.

  4. I am so sorry to hear about Jack. I had not seen him for some time. You two were an important part of the GLBT Community here in Cincinnati. He will be missed and you are missed.

    Peace!

  5. Thinking of you at this sad time, Josh.

    You ARE both missed and did lots of good!

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