David Bohnett Speeches

Horace Collins Memorial

My name is David Bohnett, and I had the good fortune of getting to know Horace and Bob after they had moved to Los Angeles, California. Hearing the comments this afternoon reinforces my regret that I didn't meet Horace sooner, but those of us in Los Angeles who got to know and love Horace feel grateful for our rich though too short acquaintance of such a wonderful man.

Horace was a board member of the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Community Services Center, as was my lover and friend Rand Schrader. Last week I spoke with several Center board members about Horace and his contribution to the Center. The common themes of these conversations were reflections of Horace as an articulate, well spoken, assertive and thoughtful man, someone who commanded the respect of his fellow board members. Horace understood that the Center was no longer a grass roots organization, and he was one of the first of a 'new kind' of board member who helped the Center reach out to other communities and evolve into the vital and diverse institution it is today.

I think perhaps Horace's greatest contribution as a board member was his effort to partner the Center with AIDS Project Los Angeles for the HBO benefit premiere of 'And the Band Played On'. This event helped establish the image of the Center as a major philanthropic agency in Los Angeles. Next Saturday, the Center is holding its 23rd anniversary ball and is proud to honour HBO with its Corporate Vision Award. There are many people in Los Angeles and at HBO who recognize and are grateful for Horace's contribution to the gay and lesbian community.

When I think back on the time I spent with Horace I am immediately struck by how good a 'listener' Horace was. Of all the people I've known, I think Horace was just about the best 'listener' friend I've ever had. I can picture many a time that Randy and I spent with Horace and Bob, often for dinner, and after greetings were exchanged and martinis served, we would sit down in the living room and Horace would say, 'Now how are you?'. When Horace asked this question he would look me right in the eye, cock his head to the side, and do an amazing thing — he would actually listen. There is nothing I miss more about Horace than hearing him ask 'How are you?'. Scott Peck, in his long-standing bestseller The Road Less Traveled, says:

“True listening, total concentration on the other, is always a manifestation of love. An essential part of true listening is … the temporary giving up or setting aside of one's own prejudices, frames of reference and desires so as to experience as far as possible the speaker's world from the inside, stepping inside his or her shoes. The energy required for the discipline of (listening) and the focusing of total attention is so great that it can be accomplished only by love, by the will to extend oneself for mutual growth.”

Through his focus and attention, Horace walked in each of our shoes. He helped us grow individually and helped himself grow through the giving of himself, and for this gift I will always be grateful.

It seems that not long after Horace began serving at the Center, my friend Randy retired from the board after 15 years of service. Over the years, Randy was responsible for bringing many people into the Center family, and I think Randy was especially pleased that he and Horace had the opportunity to serve together before his illness forced Randy to retire.

Randy and Horace shared a special closeness, forged in their common struggle against a disease that would claim each of their lives. As Randy's illness progressed, it seems as if he and Horace began a transition to a separate dimension. If you will, picture two independent but parallel sets of railroad tracks. Randy, Horace, Bob and I all started out on the same set of tracks. At some imperceptible point, Randy switched over to the parallel track, and then a short time later, Horace joined him. We were now the four of us, still together, but on two sets of tracks. Bob and I could do little but watch as the gap between the two sets of tracks grew wider, as our friends and lovers ultimately veered off on a path that took them farther and farther away from us.

One night, Bob and Horace brought dinner over to our house. Randy was in the bedroom taking an infusion when they arrived. As Bob and I prepared the dinner in the kitchen, Randy and Horace sat quietly together in the bedroom. There, they exchanged thoughts about the Center, and probably a little gossip too regarding other board members. As Bob and I talked and worked together in the kitchen I remember feeling that something was happening in the other room that we were not, and could not, be a part of. Two men, each with the greatest respect for the other, were coming to terms with the end of their lives. They were traveling together on this separate set of tracks, and they knew their time together on this shared path was limited.

Well, here we are, mourning the loss of Horace and so many others we have lost to AIDS. I've had a hard time coming to grips with this loss, with the sense that there seems to be no end in sight. For Bob, and the rest of the people here, I'd like to share a little trick with you that sometimes, not always, helps me deal with pain of our loss. I think of that time Bob and I were in the kitchen preparing dinner, and I pretend that our loved ones are so very close by, just in the next room. It doesn't always work, but once in a while, for a brief moment, I can really believe that Randy and Horace are right down the hall, listening to each other, waiting for us to take in the dinner.