• AMP at South East HS - March 11, 2016

    Dick Sommers – second row, second from right

Dick Sommers – In Memoriam

June 3, 1936 – February 11, 2019

At Monday evening’s rehearsal, at 9:57PM, we learned that our brother Dick Sommers had made his transition. In a long-standing tradition at GMCLA, we sang “Gaelic Blessing” to say goodbye, and send him off in song.

A pioneer in the Gay Rights movement, Dick was a member of  the Mattachine Society in the 1960s; typed articles for a publication we now know as The Advocate; helped establish the Metropolitan Community Church (MCC), which is now ministering to LGBTQ people in 37 countries; and of course, was with GMCLA since almost the beginning in 1979, never missing a rehearsal.

GMCLA was Dick’s family, and last week, over 40 Chorus brothers visited him in the hospital to sing not TO him, but WITH him. He loved it so much, he sang along with his family. We will cherish memories like this forever. Thank you Dick for all you have given us.

May your love live on and may you Rest in Peace.

Below are some collected memories and thoughts from chorus members whose lives have been touched by this remarkable Citizen Activist.

I had the honor of transporting Dick to and from our annual retreat the last few years Dick was able to go. We also were roommates at retreat each year.  So I got to spend more than a few hours with Dick over a few years.

One of the things I had to accept about spending time with Dick was that conversation did not happen most of the time: he spoke in monologues, at least with me.  Of course, he had many wonderful stories about his life, the life of the chorus, and the LGBT movement.  He was a prominent activist all his adult life, as many have noted, and it was fascinating to hear his tales of gay life and the gay movement of the fifties, sixties, and seventies.  And he had endless stories.  I’m a pastor, and it’s my job to be a good listener, so I was pretty good at listening to Dick’s long monologues.  But there were times that I would wonder if he had any interest in conversation, or in hearing some of my stories.

He was fiercely independent at retreats, in spite of being increasingly blind each year.  When I would offer him my arm to guide him, he would swat me away, pointing out that he knew Camp Hess Kramer well enough to make it around without any guidance.

The last time he went to retreat, we were driving back to LA on the 101.  Around Malibu Canyon Rd., my 15-year-old Toyota Celica died.  Somehow I managed to pull over to the shoulder. Not only did my car stop working, but Dick stopped talking.  I was stunned.  He did say he was worried about getting back home in time to get to a play he had tickets for.

As we were waiting for the auto club to get there, with both of us getting more and more impatient, who should stop to see if he could help but Tim McConico.  Somehow in the heavy traffic, he managed to spot us.  Our gracious rescuer kindly took Dick the rest of the way home, while I continued to wait for a tow.  I have to admit I was relieved that I didn’t have to listen to Dick’s monologues anymore.

Now how I wish I could hear just one more monologue from Dick.  He was a true inspiration, and certainly a hero of this chorus, and of the LGBT movement.  I will miss him greatly.  Deep peace be yours, dear Dick.

Steve Pieters

Last night we lost a good one. Dick Sommers slipped away at home under hospice care with his Chorus brother Eduin K. Lastimosa at his side. Dick was a founding member of the Gay Men’s Chorus of Los Angeles 40 years ago and we were indeed his only family. I met Dick in February 2013, right after I’d sung my very first performance with GMCLA (the “it gets better” premiere at the Ebell Theater). He was standing outside looking at his phone waiting for his ride to show up, and I checked in with him to make sure he was okay. We started up a conversation and have been friends ever since. I gave Dick many rides to rehearsals and to Chorus events around town.

Nearly blind, Dick had this amazing ability to know exactly where in town we were as I drove; it was instinct. And he never forgot a detail. A mile away from his apartment, unable to see a thing, he could say, “Now we are at the corner of Western and Romaine, and that building on the left was built in 1922, but CBS bought it after the war and used it to warehouse costumes, then Jimmy Durante had a stroke in the lobby in 1967.” He did that ALL the time!

A year ago or so, I was going to Dick’s apartment to help prepare his meals for the week, sort out his 40+ pills he took each day, clean the place up (those cats!), but most importantly just visit with him. Dick was never without a story to tell. I bought a hand-held recording device with the intent of creating an oral history project with him. We only made two recordings, then his health declined quickly. I regret not starting it a year earlier. He has taken so many stories with him.

Nick Kuefler

I first met Dick in 1996 when we were in a group together called Hart Circle, a gay naturist spiritual group.

I had been to GMCLA concerts, but thought of those on stage as gods. How could I ever join such a fabulous group? But Dick encouraged me to audition in 1997, I was accepted in a class of 11, and have been here ever since.

Richard Shive

He and I often stood next to each other during performances for many years. When I was in need for a temporary place to stay, he invited me into his home. I will always remember his steadfast dedication to GMCLA. Rest in Peace Dick!

Russ Bickers - Alumni

Dick and I had our disagreements, but I never doubted his dedication to the Chorus. My deepest sympathy to his loved ones, and all praise to him as a fellow chorister. Ave atque vale!

Gene Dryer-Bivens – Alumni

I didn’t know Dick Sommers very well, beyond just being a singing member with him the past fifteen years. But yesterday, when I saw we were filling slots to make sure he was not alone when he left us, I had to sign up for the some time.

I was there last night from 6:00 to almost 8 on, where I sat and played GMCLA music playlists the whole time I was there. His breathing became more labored, and I had a sense his time was coming. When I left, and was relieved by Eduin K. Lastimosa, I was filled with sadness, knowing this life that had been so dedicated to GMCLA would soon come to an end.

About an hour later, Dick Somers passed away, with brother Eduin there to make sure he didn’t leave this world alone. I am honored to have spent some of his last moments alive with him. RIP DICK SOMMERS.

Thomas Franklin

Every Valentines Day Dick Sommers arrived early to rehearsal and handed a valentine card to each Chorus member and guest who entered! He was so thoughtful!

John Burnett – Alumni

In addition to the individual valentines Dick gave to ALL members for years, I remember how he faithfully ran the spotlight at the Retreat Talent Show for years.  He did this as his eyesight deteriorated and he had difficulty seeing.   I found his AMP story so powerfully moving.   The Chorus is so much better for having him a part of it.

John Dennehy

After Dick Sommers’ eyesight failed and he had to quit driving his beautiful fire engine red Cadillac, I drove him to sectional rehearsals and AMP performances. He always entertained me with stories from his years with GMCLA. He had a keen memory for names and dates. Thinking back, I should have recorded those as an oral history of the chorus.

As I was on hiatus for the 2018 GMCLA Holiday Spectacular concert. He was very frail but clearly anxious to have an afternoon out. He was waiting, ready to go when I arrived thirty minutes before the appointed time. We went to one of his favorite restaurants, Damon Steak House, just down the street from the Alex Theater. It was dimly lit and quite sparsely populated.

I started to read the menu to him, but he quickly said that he would have the roast beef. Not finding it on the menu, I suggested a few other things, but he kept insisting on having roast beef. When the waiter came, Dick ordered the roast beef. Twice he ordered it and both times the waiter said that they didn’t have roast beef. After some discussion, he settled on a steak. His lunch was soup, steak, a large salad, a whole lot of French fries, several pieces of French bread, two giant glasses of iced tea, the remainder of my French fries, and a double scoop of chocolate sundae. Although in the end I had to feed him, he finished it all. I’m sure he could have polished off another steak.

Lunch was accompanied by stories of times when the restaurant was better  – times when they had sense to serve roast beef.

At the concert Dick was very pleased to be recognized from the stage. He was very emotional, several times breaking into tears as he recounted memories of previous holiday concerts.

I was with Dick before rehearsal yesterday.  His white cat was on the bed with him. He struggled to breathe. I knew he was in his last hours.

His was a life that made the world better for the gay community. Thank you Ed for your loving care of our brother. Thank you Nick for arranging the bedside vigil so that our brother did not die alone. He was with his family. This is why I sing with and support GMCLA.

Thomas Patrick Cullen

Very sad to hear of Dick’s passing.  Did you know that Dick was a founding member of our GMCLA Webmasters group?   I believe we started this group around 1997 if I’m not mistaken.   It was back when Ed Salm was managing our public-facing website and I was creating our first members-only website.   Also, I believe at one point back in the 80s, Dick was President of the chorus.  I’m pretty sure this was before the creation of the Membership Committee, so this was probably a chorus-elected role to go along with the section managers.   Craig Woodbury – Alumni also filled this position, either before or after Dick.    And as far as our AMP outreach program, I can’t think of anyone who participated in as many of those events as Dick Sommers.   He shared his “coming out” story many time with hundreds of kids out in the audience, and I think he took secret pleasure knowing he was our oldest member!   :)

Bobby Buchannan - Alumni

Oh Dick, you will he missed. For several years, I gave Dick rides to and from rehearsal. The most well-known of these trips was of course the time I left in a hurry and forgot poor Dick! I got a call at about 1030pm from him asking if I was still inside or waiting for him outside. I felt so terrible! Of course, he took it in stride. RIP Dick and thank you!

Rich Pedine