Paul Lane died suddenly and unexpectedly last Sunday barely three weeks after a cancer diagnosis. The week before, shortly after he entered the hospital for his first chemo treatment, his condition suddenly fell through the floor. When I first visited him in the hospital, he was sedated and on a respirator. He died just forty five minutes before I arrived last Sunday for a second visit. Fortunately there were people to intercept me as I arrived and broke the news to me. I visited him one last time before they removed him from the room. He was only 57.
His passing is a great shock to me and to legions of other people. His death is a shock not simply for its suddenness, but for the huge gap he leaves behind in the lives of so many, in the lives of the communities he served well for so long. A lot of people depended on Paul, and he made himself indispensable.
Paul led an extraordinary life. Originally from Trenton, New Jersey, he followed the path of so many young gay men in the late '70s and early '80s into New York and its burgeoning gay scene. He was young and good looking and worked as a cocktail waiter at the long past and now legendary Uncle Charlie's. He remembered wearing hot pants to work, and how sore his tuchus was from being pinched all night. He worked as an occasional "escort," mostly as arm candy for wealthy gentlemen at public events. He once escorted Roy Cohn to the opera. Paul remembered him as a very bitter and paranoid man; it was not a fun date and he was glad to be paid for it.
Paul lived in Paris for five years as a young man. He had a lover there, and they remained friends. Paul regularly visited his ex and his family among with other old friends whenever he travelled to Paris. Paul had a talent for languages and he spoke French like a native (so I'm told). He also spoke Spanish, Italian, and Catalan, along with a little German. In his years in Paris, he worked odd jobs, mostly clerical, and he got his first taste of politics; not so much in the halls of power, but in the streets. Paul's politics were definitely to the left, and he frequently joined street protests over labor issues, gay issues, and other issues pitting the marginalized and despised against the powerful. He remembered Paris as the place where he was tear-gassed twice as well as for his first tastes of really fine food.
Paul was a deeply religious man born and raised in the Roman Catholic Church. He never really quite left that Catholic faith so much as the Catholic Church discarded him for being a gay man. While in Paris, he became a regular at an Eastern Orthodox congregation in the medieval church of Saint Julien le Pauvre. After he returned to New York, he followed the path of so many religious gay men into the Episcopal Church where he remained very active for the rest of his life.
Paul worked for many years as a travel agent for a large prestigious law firm in New York. He arranged their travel and lodgings everywhere from London to Beijing to Lufkin, Texas. He had great gifts for organization, administration, and diplomacy, and he used those gifts in the service of both the gay community and the Episcopal Church.
For many years, Paul ran the LGBTQ affairs office for the Episcopal Diocese of New York. He was a long time and active member of Integrity. He was a regular parade marshal for the Gay Pride Day march, and he organized our parish contingent and the whole Episcopal contingent in that parade. Paul was a long time member of Saint Luke in the Fields parish which is where I knew him. He was less interested in parish politics than in making himself available for whatever spontaneous event needed organizing and planning. On his own initiative, he would organize small acts of charity and rescue. He once organized a small donation drive to help out the residents of the Cheyenne River Reservation in South Dakota, people who've long been at the butt end of government and corporate power. A mutual friend of ours, Margaret Watson who is an Episcopal mission priest there, alerted us to the hardship caused by yet another piece of spiteful federal legislation. So Paul organized a "whip 'round" to raise some money to meet the immediate crisis on the reservation. He made similar efforts on behalf of people in distress here in New York, and for gay people in central Africa.
Paul was one of those rare people who could light up a room whenever he walked into it. And he could do so without dominating it. He was a real bon vivant who thoroughly enjoyed life from good company to good food. Doing good work and being generous was less a solemn act of self-sacrifice for him than it was a way of keeping the party going and the guests happy; a very exceptional quality for a saintly person. He never had much money himself, and lived with a barely adequate level of comfort in a small New Jersey apartment. He did all of his work with good cheer and humor, and his pleasure in it was infectious. His sudden departure leaves a great big hole in the middle of so many lives. As I said to a fellow parishioner, we now live in a post Paul world, and we are about to find out just how much we depended on him.
I will especially remember him for his generosity to me on many occasions. There were many times when I relied on his organizational abilities. Frequently, he volunteered his services before I asked. On my one and only trip to Paris, he met Bill Paulsen and I in the city, helped us with hotel bookings, and especially helped with getting the disabled Bill around the city. He was also a great guide and touring companion. I visited some sublime places with Paul. I saw Saint Denis, The Sainte Chapelle, Notre Dame, the Invalides, and Chartres with Paul. He was the one who got us up early to avoid the lines and to see the morning sunlight pouring through the windows of the east end of the Sainte Chapelle, a sight that I shall never forget.
Thanks for everything Paul. Rest in Peace and Rise in Glory.
Paul Lane in the ambulatory of Saint Denis in July, 2014
Yours Truly with Paul Lane on the right and Julia Alberino on the left at the
Women's March in New York, January, 2017.
Photo by Weiben Wang
Photo by Weiben Wang