Eulogy for Jeff Coudriet
by Richard J. Rosendall
Foundry United Methodist Church
Wednesday, February 16, 2011
[Ad-libbed to Councilmember David Catania, the previous speaker, who had noted that the gay speakers were bringing up the rear: “Regarding bringing up the rear, David, let me remind you that after the miracle of the Wedding at Cana, the wedding guests marveled that the best wine had been saved until last.”]
Rev. Snyder, Rev. Coudriet, the rest of Jeff’s family, Mayor Gray, Chairman Brown, Councilmember Evans, other councilmembers, public servants, friends:
First, as a marriage equality activist, I want to say how gratifying it is to be in a gay-affirming church whose congregation voted overwhelmingly to perform same-sex weddings. I know Jeff would appreciate that detail.
Jeff Coudriet was President of the Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance for three terms from late 1992 through the end of 1995, when he became President of the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club.
At different times in his career Jeff worked for Congressman Maurice Hinchey, D.C. Councilmembers Sharon Ambrose and Jack Evans, and the D.C. Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration. He was also a board member of the Logan Circle Community Association and an advisory neighborhood commissioner in Ward 1. He served on the board of the local ACLU. He represented D.C. on the Electoral College in 1996.
Jeff was my immediate predecessor as GLAA president, and his was a tough act to follow. He had greater youth, better looks, and more equanimity. Things that made me angry would merely provoke Jeff's wit. He was a keen observer and his quips seldom missed their mark.
Mindy Daniels, who was Jeff's immediate predecessor as GLAA President, writes, “He was the first person I knew that owned a laptop, and he brought it to GLAA meetings when he served as secretary.” His embrace of new tools helped prod the rest of us. Just as he was finishing his last term as GLAA president, we launched our first website.
Jeff knew a lot about this city and the members of its political class, and he had definite points of view. He emailed me last summer when he was working on several candidates' responses to GLAA's questionnaire, and inevitably he shared his opinions of some of the people running. But I won’t share those comments with you, because, to paraphrase Falstaff, discretion is the better part of an awful lot of things. Remarkably, though, every politician who showed up here today was one of Jeff’s favorites.
Lives are bound up in our work. GLAA has a tradition of combining vision and passion with plugged-in pragmatism. Success requires knowing our stuff, developing policies and strategies and arguments; but relationships are essential. Our marriage victory relied not only on thorough preparation, but on knowing our city and its people better than our opponents. Many D.C. elected leaders have had backgrounds in activism and community service. One such is our mayor. GLAA goes back a long way with Vince Gray; our late former president Mel Boozer worked for him decades ago. Even when we disagree, we are connected by our mutual commitment to the city — a commitment shared by the staff in the District Building. Time and again, the quality of legislation can be traced to officials having recruited staffers like Jeff who were themselves community leaders.
Carl Schmid writes, “I have so many memories of working with Jeff on D.C. gay issues on the Hill. I remember how he used to sit in the front office for Congressman Hinchey and we used to gather up there and take over his office and strategize, trade info and plot next steps. Jeff, a partisan Democrat and head of the gay Democratic group, worked hand in hand with me, the head of the gay Republicans, all for the single purpose of achieving gay equality. He was a real gentleman, and I wish more people in politics today were like him.”
Carl continues, “Jeff was also my ANC commissioner. There was a development coming to the area, and he did a superb job of bringing all the parties together to reach an agreement. Nothing seemed to make him visibly mad, he was so easygoing. He wasn't afraid to challenge folks, but I never heard him raise his voice.”
Mindy says, “I recall that one of his favorite lines and responses was, 'That really sucks.' I think he would think his memorial service was very nice, and then roll his eyes and laughingly say, 'but it really sucks.' ”
He was smart and funny and wise, never better demonstrated than by the grace and good humor that he summoned as he bore his suffering.
As time goes by, as we go about the city, there will be people and places and objects and qualities that remind us of him. One of the landmark achievements on GLAA's 40-year timeline that happened on Jeff's watch, back during John Wilson’s chairmanship, was the decriminalization of homosexuality in D.C. I'll come upon my old button that says, “Not tonight dear, it's a felony,” which happily no longer applies, and I'll think how queer it is that such a law could ever have existed. And my thoughts will turn to Jeff and Mel and Johnny Wilson and so many other comrades who, in Shakespeare's words, are “hid in death's dateless night,” and there they'll be, shining in my memory, as if they never left.
(Photo of Jeff Coudriet by Joel Lawson)