“A great time to be alive…” (My Eulogy for Jack Evans)

JackandGeorgeJack Evans was truly a larger than life human being who, along with his husband George, got too live through momentous and positive changes for LGBTQ people. I have said many times, say it again now, Jack and George have taught my wife and me a lot about what it takes to make a relationship last….

From them, and the fifty-five years of their relationship, we learned about commitment, love, the importance of humor, the necessity of supporting each other’s strengths, and forgiving each other’s weaknesses, how being in service to the greater community is important to deepening your relationship. They have taught us a lot about what it means to truly have a love that lasts.

Jack loved the younger generation. He got energy and drive from being around people. During the past ten years, he and George have been faithful ushers here at the church. They were both good at remembering little details about people. Even visitors who have only come once or twice, Jack would know when people were sick, or had some change in their job or life…and he would take an interest in them…an interest in people.

Jack saw it as a sacred obligation to mentor the next generation. But, oh my Lord, Jack was an extrovert! One of the classic definitions of an extrovert is that they get energy and life from being around people. That was Jack. Jack would have gone out every night.

George was content to stay home with a good book. But I think being WITH people, and being involved. I think it kept Jack young. As he told George just a year or two ago, when George complained about going out to yet another event, “George we can stay home when we are old!”

I myself experienced this boundless energy on the Sunday after Jack and George’s FIRST wedding. You may recall, Bill McElvaney performed a religious ceremony for them at Midway Hills Christian Church. It was a big deal. 300 guests. Sixteen attendants. We’d moved every chair inside the Midway Hills sanctuary. Media from all the local TV stations, and newspapers. The whole experience had been exhausting for all of us.

Two days later, Jack came up to me at church, using his cane and said, “Eric…that was a load of fun….so…what’s next?!”

And I’m thinking “Jeez, Jack, let’s just catch our breath for a moment…”

But it was that energy. Asking “What’s Next” allowed him to help found all the groups that have mentioned here today…
The LGBT Chamber of Commerce…the Dallas Way…The Black Tie Dinner…Volunteering here at Northaven every Sunday….

Jack was always asking “What’s Next?!”

Jack was such a fan of this church, such a loyal part of the crazy mixed nuts we call “Northaven Church.” One of the few requests Jack had for the service that we could not fulfill was to have John Thornburg speak. John, our previous pastor to me, is on a previously schedule vacation, and sends his regrets today.

But John and I both independently remember the same Northaven story about Jack…because it happened to both of us…

Jack and George had been coming to Northaven for some years…quite a few, actually. They were very involved in the church….they showed up at everything…they ushered all the time. But they had never joined Northaven, and everybody was curious about that.

I had always assumed that this was some kind of protest against the United Methodist Church. We have many folks around Northaven like that….people who, in protest of the general United Methodist Church…come to church here, but do not join. Along with many here, George and Jack did not, shall we say, have any love for certain parts of Methodist polity.

But, no, it turns out there was an entirely different reason they never joined.

As Jack told me, it was all about his mother. His mother, he told me on the phone one day, was Presbyterian. Jack had gone with her to church when he was a kid…

And so it was that Jack had had long ago made a promise to his mother: That he would not leave the Presbyterian Church while she was alive. She was, at the moment of that phone conversation between us, somewhere in her mid 90s. Jack had kept his promise. And he and George did not finally join until after her death.

But please don’t miss the irony…

Jack had been partnered with George for some 40-years by that that point….
But that was not apparently not a deal-breaker.

But becoming a METHODIST?! That was the bridge too far!

Jack loved his mother, and loved and respected his family. Jack’s family owned the town grocery store in Olney, Texas…Evans Grocers…when he was growing up. I remember talking to him about this, because my Mother’s family had also owned a town grocery story in their separate, small Texas town.

Jack told the story of how during the depression his Father would allow people to “buy” food, even when they couldn’t pay for it. His father kept a stack of 3×5 cards with a list of debts that people owed…debts that he never was paid, and that he never collected.

Can you imagine such a thing today? Can you imagine a grocery store, anywhere, who made sure that nobody in their town went hungry?

Jack learned important lessons about community, and about caring for others, from his family.

He left Olney to join the Coast Guard. He served in places like Memphis, Connecticut , St Louis and Hawaii. And it was somewhere in that time that Jack became….Jack.

Up until then, nobody called him that. And to his death, it wasn’t his legal name.

I was in a hospital room with George and Jack some years back, where I first heard George called Jack “CH.”

“Hey, CH….do you want some supper?”

I thought to myself…”Who is this “CH?”

And, as you’ve seen on your bulletin, CH stands for Clester H. And, apparently, growing up, Jack’s nickname was Corky….which he hated…and which I know perhaps two dozen people in this room still call him today.

So, during one of these stints in the Coast Guard, Jack got a new town and realized nobody there knew him by either Corky or CH, and he could be whoever he wanted to be. And so it was that Jack became…Jack.

The family wanted him to take over the family grocery business after his Coast Guard stint. But Jack just couldn’t see fit to that life. He got a sales job at Neiman Marcus, in Houston. This becomes infamous because, in a way, Neimans fired Jack for being gay. I know they’d be horrified by that today, of course.

In the course of his job, Jack was asked to take a polygraph test there, and one of the questions was “Have you ever done anything you could be blackmailed for?”

Well, Jack already knew he was gay. And everybody in those days understood that you could be blackmailed for that. And so it was that Edward Marcus fired Jack for failing that polygraph. But, before he did, he told Jack,

“We’re gonna have to fire you…but can you work through Christmas?”

IMG_2900
Jack’s Art

Jack eventually made his way to Dallas where he was selling costume jewelry door-to-door. Simultaneously, George had also made his way to Dallas, after an even more horrendous situation of being booted out of CIA. George was one of more than twenty young men, suspected of being homosexuals, who were placed in jail and hauled before tribunals in the late 1950s. Some did indeed spent time in prison.

George had managed to get off of the charges and had made his way to Dallas too. And so, the two of them had shared a similar early experience…losing a job, over the threat of being blackmailed.

They met once briefly in a private home, but the time that stuck for them was at the “8th Day,” bar on McKinney Avenue in 1961.

George remembers Jack’s business card that said he worked for “Emmons Jewelers.”
He thought, “Wow, this guy’s a diamond merchant!”

They moved into an old duplex on Reagan Street, across from the original MCC Church location. These were very challenging days for the gay community. Jack and George could sit on their porch, and watch police cars, patrolling around the church on a Sunday morning. And no, they were not there to offer “protection.”

IMG_2882Later, they suffered as friends were rounded up by the police at staged parties. The police would thrown “sting” parties to out gay men. Their names were often published in newspapers, and people left town in embarrassment.

Later still of course, they lived through the AIDS era, where they lost hundreds and hundreds of friends. In fact, more than once in a Baylor Hospital room, one of the two of them would remark to me that very room we were in now had originally been constructed to be a part of an HIV wing at Baylor. And we would marvel at the history, and how times had changed.

It’s no doubt hard for many in the younger generation to even imagine or understand that time today. But I’ll come back to why I mention such challenging times in a moment.

Jack didn’t immediately go into real estate. He worked for Metropolitan Savings and Loan for fourteen years. But he kept getting passed over for promotions.

So, when he and George bought a house in Lakewood, he liked the process so much that he got his real estate license. They could not both be on the mortgage, that was against the law. But they got into the business, flipping houses we might say today…working for a broker in Lakewood.

The eventually opened the offices of Evans Harris Realtors on Lemmon Avenue, and later would later join several prestigious brokers during their careers. But they became Dallas Real Estate legends.

Jack and George were the perfect team. Jack was drastically extroverted. He loved the people part of real estate. George could handle the paperwork. That was his skill. They each complimented the other, perfectly. They were an amazing team, personally and professionally.

I shared some of those stories of George and Jack’s difficult early years…the horrible times that all gay and lesbian people went though in those days….because it seems to me that it helps to place the joy of these past few years for them into a greater and more profound context.

You see, Jack was constantly aware of the amazing social changes that were happening right before us. More than once, when some gain in LGBT Civil Rights would happen…maybe the Lawrence v. Texas case…maybe some state getting same sex marriage rights….When one of those things would happen, I can remember Jack saying, “Eric, it’s a great time to be alive…”

I think George and Jack both lived with a profound sense of awe and pure joy for just how much things had changed for gay and lesbian people over the years, and that they got to be a part of it, and witness it unfolding before their eyes.

There are regrets, yes…of course. That Jack died just two short days before his first anniversary. That he did not live to see the people of Northaven vote last Sunday….by 98 percent of its members..to begin hosting same sex weddings. These are real losses, and they might seem like tragedies.

But we must also think back on this last year, the one that has just passed, the year and George and Jack had. On that day, June 26, 2015, these two men…who were already legends in the Dallas community for five decades….became media superstars.

1979545_10153312070909333_9145288557846269956_n

First couple to marry in Dallas County….with my better half, Dennise Garcia, performing the ceremony…
Coverage in news media nationally and around the globe…
The New York and LA Times…German and British and Italian papers….
Sweetheart Candy Sweethearts on this past Valentine’s Day!

PEOPLE MAGAZINE!!

Wow…we all learned that apparently the biggest deal of all is being in People Magazine! SO many people said later, “Hey, we saw y’all in People Magazine!!!”
I don’t know what that says about the state of our culture….but it is what it is…

— The point is, everywhere George and Jack went this past year…people stopped them…

“Hey, aren’t you that couple who got married? Can we take a picture with you?”

Dennise and I went to dinner with them about six months ago, and before we even got to the table, somebody at another table had sent over a bottle of champagne to George and Jack. Our meal was interrupted several times by folks who wanted pictures.

Even at the HOSPITAL!!! Nurses, and orderlies would say “Hey, aren’t you that couple that got married?”

And the thing is: Everybody who said this? Everybody who came up to them?
They were so HAPPY!!! So happy for THEM! So happy for our nation, so happy for what George and Jack symbolized, for the journey that they had taken for all those decades.

That night at dinner, I snapped this picture of the two of THEM and Dennise getting their picture taken with some well wishers. I love this picture. to me, it encapsulates this last year they had together. You can see the expression of sheer joy and bliss on Jack’s face.

“It’s a wonderful time to be alive…”

IMG_4742

So, yes, we can say we might have wanted more time for George and Jack. But friends, think of what they got to see and experience.

They went from being fired for being gay, to being national celebrities because of it. They went from being part of a community subject to far too much fear, to being community leaders who helped build the legacy for the next generation!

I can’t think of two men who more deserved that victory lap of the last year

Thanks be to God that George and Jack got that victory lap!!!

What wisdom there is in this line from the scripture reading from 1 John today:

“God is love, and those who remain in love remain in God and God remains in them.”

Think of that line, as you consider the 50-year legacy of George and Jack.

“…Those who remain in love remain in God and God remains in them.”

The writer of 1 John goes on to say something that I think many of us in this room and understand, existentially. The writer says that anybody who claims to love God, but hates their brother or sister is a liar. Because God is love, so therefore all who love God ought to love their brother and sister as well.

This is not only deeply theologically true…but when you think on this passage, can you not think of Jack’s activism in the community for more than fifty years?

And so, we end where I began. Jack loved the LGBTQ community…the Dallas community as a whole. Jack mentored….IN LOVE. He mentored people because he deeply cared about the next generation. He deeply LOVED the next generation.

I’ve shared this next story with the people of Northaven several times, because its one of the most beautiful moments that nobody could have possible planned…and to me, it symbolizes everything that George and Jack had become in their later years….

It’s the story of who ended up being the “audience” for George and Jack’s wedding, a year ago, last week. In that court room, in the Records Building, were dozens of dozens of other couples, who had rushed to the courthouse that day.

Couples who had been together five, ten, twenty years…but none of them fifty!

George and Jack were clearly the longest lasting couple there that day. So, when John Warren announced that he would issue the first license to them, a beautiful thing happened. All the people in that courtroom would, themselves, be getting married just moments later. But they would be led, mentored in this, by George and Jack. They got to be woven in to their story.

And even in their singular moment, George and Jack made sure everybody understood is was not just about them. Just after the service, as they took off their glasses to wipe away years, some reporter asked them the ridiculous question, “How do you feel?”

To which they answered, “Today is about everybody….everybody wins, and nobody loses…”

Even in their singular moment of celebrity, they made sure everyone understood it was not about them….

And after that, you might think they would have just gone home. But instead, after walking down the hall to register their license officially, they came back down the hall, and shook hands and gave hugs to the hundreds of other couples…took pictures with them. Because they understood the day was not just about them.

“God is love, and those who remain in love remain in God and God remains in them.”

Jack Evans remained in love his entire life…with George…with life…with his many grateful friends who are here this day.

And now, God remains in Jack.

God remains in Jack in the beauty of resurrection…the life that never ends….the journey of life into life.
Amen.

11403006_10153259333198891_3213693888536862144_n

 

Advertisements

Posted by

Eric Folkerth is a minister, musician, author and blogger. He has been Senior Pastor of Northaven United Methodist Church in Dallas, Texas since 2001. During his tenure, church membership has grown almost 30 percent, and a completely new church facility (sanctuary and education building) has been constructed. Northaven is a leading progressive Christian congregation in the Southwest. Northaven is an eclectic collection of gay and straight families, artists, musicians, theater folks, academic theologians, lawyers and judges (go figure), socially conscious community activists, people who don't "check their brain at the door," and a wide array of others who either see it as their "last chance" inside the "institutional church," or their first trip back in decades. Eric is an avid blogger and published author.  Eric is also an award-winning singer-songwriter, who performs throughout Texas and the Southwest. He's an engaging live performer whose first CD was released in 2000. His songs have won honorable mention in both the Billboard and Great American song contests; and he's been a finalist in the 5th Street Festival and South Florida Folk Festival songwriter competitions. Eric is also a leader of Connections, a unique band comprised of United Methodist clergy and layfolk from throughout North Texas. Connections performs "cover shows" of artists like Dan Fogelberg, Chicago, Eagles, Doobie Brothers, Billy Joel, Stevie Wonder, James Taylor and others. Their shows draw crowds of between 300 and 1,000 fans, and they have raised more than $240,000 dollars for worthy charities. Eric has led or co-led hundreds of persons on mission trips around the globe, to places such as Mexico, Haiti, Russia, and Nepal. He has worked with lay persons to build ten homes, and one Community Center, in partnership with Habitat for Humanity of Dallas. He's a popular preacher, and often tackles challenging issues of social justice in his writings and sermons. His wife, Judge Dennise Garcia, is a State District Judge for Dallas, County. As judge of the 303rd Family District Court, she consistently gets high ratings from area lawyers, and was named "best judge" by The Dallas Observer. First elected in 2004, she was the first Latina ever elected to a county-wide bench in Dallas County. She was re-elected for a third term in 2010. They have the world's best daughter, Maria, and an incredible dog, Daisy. (As always, if you like this post, then "like" this on Facebook by clicking the box below, so others can see too...)

One thought on ““A great time to be alive…” (My Eulogy for Jack Evans)

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s