A Turtle’s Tribute:
John Thomas was my best friend. I may or may not have been his best friend. With John, it simply did not matter. John Thomas was everyone’s best friend. He had the gift of making every single person with whom he came in contact, feel they were the most important thing in the world to him. And they felt that way, because he felt that way and treated them that way. I was the recipient of the greatest gift anyone can give: time. John and I had lunch together almost every Wednesday for 10 years.
John could listen better than anyone I have ever met. And he could wrap his long arms around you and the cares of the world vanished. And he was far from stingy with those hugs. Hundreds, if not thousands, of people have felt the calming, reassuring and healing touch of John Thomas’ life, and his hugs! To quote a friend, “his greeting was a hug, his hug like being wrapped in angels’ wings.”
I am honored and humbled to try to write something about John that will serve simply as a reminder for all who read this of their own experiences with John, or those who never knew him, to get an insight into this gentle giant who changed the world.
John and I attended a memorial service for a friend. It was pretty dreary and did not reflect the person we had known at all. We both left quite disturbed. On the way home, he said “Don’t even think of doing that to me when I am gone. I’m going home and spell it out for you.” And he did. On May 31, 1994, John wrote his own service. He did not want the Chorale of the women’s chorus (which he loved dearly) to sing because he said it was too hard on us to have to sing at our brothers’ services. He and I argued about this until the very end. He knew he couldn’t win that one.
So, he gave his own service a title:
“Rally for the integrity, dignity and rights of gay people and those living with AIDS and HIV.”
John lived his life fighting for just those things. No one fought harder. Two or three people together, could not have made the impact John made. His energy was something to be awed. He was at every single fund-raiser, every political event, every meeting that occurred for years. He was the un-proclaimed godfather and spokesperson for the gay community and more specifically, for those living with HIV and AIDS. His diagnosis, after having been at the forefront of the battle for many, many years, devastated the entire community.
These were the words he wrote to be shared after his passing:
Don’t celebrate my life. Live whatever part of my life you can and pass it on to others. Hurry on through the stages of loss and grief and mourning.
There is really not time.
Know the depth of sorrow that I felt leaving you far surpasses whatever you may feel.
My greatest sadness, and therefore tears, always came with a thought of letting you down or hurting you or disappointing you.
Please support organizations advancing self-esteem and value of the gay and lesbian community and people with AIDS/HIV.
I would rather you do this from your own commitment to making a difference to improve the lives of others, rather than as a memorial to me.
Music had been a part of John’s life since birth. The son of a Baptist pastor, still preaching and in his 80’s, John sang in church and in school and then in the TCC. John was devoted to his family, who simply had no choice but to accept him completely.
John’s own activism included being arrested at AIDS protests in Dallas, New York, Washington and San Francisco. He became a part of the lawsuits that first challenged Texas sodomy law and Parkland Memorial Hospital’s treatment of AIDS patients.
John was the first executive director of the Dallas AIDS Resource Center, serving from 1988 until 1995 when he resigned because of failing health. He sang in the Turtle Creek Chorale for 19 years, since the beginning. The list of organizations he served, either as volunteer or as a board member, are simply too numerous to list. They number in excess of 20. A few of them were the AIDS Resource Center, Turtle Creek Chorale, Black Tie Dinner, Razzle Dazzle Dallas, Dallas Gay and Lesbian Alliance, Nelson-Tebedo Health Resource Center, Dallas Legal Hospice, Stonewall Professional and Business Association, The Women’s Chorus of Dallas, Human Rights Campaign, Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund, Association of Gay and Lesbian Community Centers and the Gay and Lesbian Health Association. John, a die-hard Republican, was the first openly gay person ever to speak to the Republican National Committee. When challenged by his Democratic friends, he responded, he simply said the Republicans needed more enlightenment than did the Democrats. And try he did.
Today, the Resource Center boasts the John Thomas Gay and Lesbian Center. The Cathedral of Hope has shown its appreciation with the John Thomas Bell Tower and The Women’s Chorus of Dallas has its John Thomas Voice award. These are only a few of the lasting footprints John had on our community.
Some of the descriptors used in notes to him through the years were: Gentle giant of Dallas; Selfless; Friend; Tireless Crusader; Feminist; Broad smile; Impish chuckle; Bear hugs; Coffee cup and cigarette; dirty truck; rainbows; really bad, wrinkled, soiled ties, and of course…the monotone angel.
John died peacefully Wednesday, January 21, 1999. Services were held at the Cathedral of Hope in Dallas. Mourners overflowed the sanctuary, and were shown on closed circuit TV in adjoining Buildings.