I met Thomas Hunter Russell a couple of times through his friends Dr. Betty Berzon and Terry DeCresceno when he was Legal Counsel for GLASS (Gay & Lesbian Adolescent Social Services) in the mid-2000s. I don't know how tall he really was but he seemed incredibly imposing at our first handshake, with critical eyes that softened once he determined that I wasn't a working reporter at this particular party.
Someone pulled me aside and whispered that he was a Republican, as if giving me some inside information to be investigated later. I smiled. I'd already been schooled by Frank Ricchiazzi and considered Log Cabin/LA honcho Ritch Colbert a friend before I started reporting for the gay press. What I appreciated the most about that party was how well the politically diverse crowd conversed with each other.
On Monday, longtime activist Jeanne Barney sent me an email telling me that Thomas Hunter Russell died peacefully at his home last Wednesday, on Feb. 8. He was 71.
The LA Times has a pretty thorough obituary that focuses on his great love of organ music. A well known trial attorney and cultural leader in LA, he had also served on the board of the LA Gay & Lesbian Center and apparently had some interesting stories. In a piece on the life of journalist Aristide J. Laurent there is this note:
Through his work, [Laurent] became increasingly active in the movement and was present at many of the great moments in the local movement, such as being a monitor in the first gay Pride parade in 1970 and experiencing the police raid of Scotty's Baths on Melrose after the owner "Scotty" shot his business partner, Thomas Russell Hunter. "I'm sort of the Forrest Gump of the gay movement," Laurent quipped. "I just happen to be there when these things happen."
But in the LGBT community, Russell is best known for his work with the Log Cabin Republicans. Brad Torgan, President of the Log Cabin Republicans of Los Angeles County, sent me this comment:
Tom was a Log Cabin Republican pioneer, serving as President of the Los Angeles chapter in the early and mid-1980's, a time of tremendous growth and influence for the organization. He was incredibly generous in helping further the goals of Log Cabin in gaining equal rights not just for gay and lesbian Republicans, but for the entire LGBT community. He will be greatly missed.
The Times obit says:
[Russell] is survived by his partner of 32 years, Mr. Jerry Habel. A funeral will be held at First Congregational Church of Los Angeles on Tuesday, February 14, 2012 at 4:00pm, with a reception to follow. In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions may be made to: The Organ Endowment Fund for First Congregational Church of Los Angeles 540 S. Commonwealth Avenue Los Angeles, CA 90020