Eulogy for Barrett L. Brick, 1954-2013
(Photo of Barrett Brick by Patsy Lynch)
I delivered the following eulogy at a memorial service for former GLAA President Barrett Brick on Sunday, September 29 in Washington, D.C. The room was overflowing with his friends. In addition to Rabbi Laurie Green of Congregation Bet Mishpachah, other speakers were Barrett's husband Antonio Ruffini, Noah Wofsy, and Sterling Washington of the Mayor's Office of GLBT Affairs.
Richard J. Rosendall
President, Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance
September 29, 2013
Barrett Brick moved in many circles and had many friends. Over three decades of friendship I encountered many of his affiliations—not just GLAA but the FCC, the ABA's Committee on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity, Immigration Equality, Lambda Salaam Shalom, Lambda Sci Fi, Reel Affirmations, the Screaming Eagles and DC United, and astronomical adventures like watching lunar eclipses from the Altamont rooftop or viewing a comet from the Manassas Battlefield.
Perhaps his father’s early death made him mindful that time is short. He was incredibly productive as an activist. His efforts as executive director of the World Congress of Gay and Lesbian Jewish Organizations helped the International Lesbian and Gay Association in its quest for consultative status at the United Nations. He pressed, with Michael Petrelis and Margaret Cantrell of ACT UP, for gay inclusion in the State Department's annual country human rights reports. He pressed, with Craig Howell of GLAA, for gay inclusion in the Holocaust Memorial Museum. He intervened with President Carlos Menem of Argentina on behalf of a gay rights group there. He was an early voice for inclusion of the faith community in LGBT movement organizing, which became key to our strategy for winning marriage equality in D.C. With Craig, Bob Summersgill, and me, he pressed the D.C. Office of Human Rights to get rid of the case backlog and put up educational posters around town.
In all of this, he was guided by Hillel: "If I am not for myself, who will be for me? But if I am only for myself, who am I? And if not now, when?" He was a graceful and perceptive writer. He had a gift for making connections that I could only marvel at. As an adviser and collaborator, he was beyond price.
His activism was leavened by humor. In an April Fool’s issue of the Blade back in the 1980s, he invented an anti-gay organization called the Orthodox Rabbinical Group Against Sexual Mishegoss, whose acronym was ORGASM. When I was invited to participate in a roast of activist Philip Pannell in the 1990s, we brainstormed jokes over dinner after a GLAA meeting, and he suggested that I falsely attribute a famous quote from Frederick Douglass to a D.C. politician of somewhat lesser stature. That simple bit of misdirection brought down the house. This man whose teaching gifts made me call him “Rabbouni” also had a keen eye for mischief.
Barrett consistently put his mind, energy, and money where his heart was—and he had a great heart. He channeled his passion into particular engagements with the world—bringing to bear his considerable learning, toughness, boldness, and a well-grounded wisdom. Our community, city, country, and world are much the better for those well-chosen engagements.
He endured his illness with such uncomplaining stoicism that some of us were more optimistic than was warranted. The one time he truly needed me was in August, before Antonio arrived, when he was transferred from G.W. Hospital to Manor Care Bethesda and asked me with uncharacteristically fearful eyes to accompany him. With his beard grown out and his hair turned white, we couldn’t decide which he resembled more—a Hebrew prophet or Gandalf.
On Tuesday, several of us watched as his remains were lowered into the ground in his family plot in New Jersey. But his spirit was not in that pine box. Somewhere he is himself again, wrestling, I suspect, with a powerful angel, like Jacob wrestling with God in Chapter 32 of Genesis: “You shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have struggled with God and with men, and have prevailed.”