Perfect match

Bob Nunn and Tom Harrover have been a couple for 4 decades. But it wasn’t until a near tragedy that they realized they were truly meant for each other

LIFE GOES ON | Nunn, right, and Harrover stand before a project commissioned for the convention center hotel. Four years ago, Nunn was near death because of kidney disease. (Rich Lopez/Dallas Voice)

RICH LOPEZ  | Staff Writer
lopez@dallasvoice.com

Bob Nunn agrees with the adage that the longer a couple lives together, the more they begin to look alike. Nunn and his partner Tom Harrover might not look that similar on the outside, but they match in a way that few couples do.

Let’s start with some history.

The two have that classic meet-cute that began on the wrong note. As Nunn tells it, Harrover was the dullest person he’d ever met —the two just didn’t like each other. Then, following a spontaneous invitation to a midnight movie, they ended up hitting it off. That movie led to conversation and then dating.

Forty-two years later, they still watch movies — as Nunn puts it, “I couldn’t get rid of him.”

A job in Houston took Nunn away from Harrover for three months, but old-fashioned letter writing kept the newbie relationship afloat.

“Tom had been writing me letters. He’s a very good writer,” Bob boasts. “He basically proposed to me by letter.”

They committed to each other, moving in and pursuing their careers: Harrover in architecture and Nunn teaching art. For 37 years, they lived in “a fabulous house” in Hollywood Heights. Life was good.

Then their life took a sharp turn.

“When we got together, Tom knew I had a kidney disease,” Nunn says. “Nothing was really a problem until about 30 years after we met — my kidneys began to fail and I had to start dialysis.”

Nunn registered with Baylor for the national organ donor list, but the experience was frustrating:  They received little response or encouragement from the hospital.

“Bob was on a downhill slide and the frustration with Baylor seemed like they were stonewalling us,” Harrover says. “We talked about going to Asia even. It felt like they didn’t want to deal with a senior-age gay couple.”

A LITTLE DAB’LL DO YOU | Bob Nunn is officially retired from teaching art, but continues to paint.

Then Harrover suggested something novel: He could donate his kidney to the organ list, with the idea that Nunn could get a healthy one.  Sort of a kidney exchange.

In desperation, they went back to their physician, who enrolled them in St. Paul Hospital’s then-new program for kidney transplant. The experience was a complete turnaround. Nunn was tested and processed immediately while Harrover prepped for his organ donation to an anonymous recipient.

Kidney transplants require a seven-point match system; a minimum of three matches is necessary for the recipient to be able to accept the organ into the body.

The tests revealed that Harrover’s kidney matched Nunn’s on all seven points.

“We assumed I would donate mine for use elsewhere,” Harrover says. “It never occurred to me that we’d be a match. The odds for that are off the charts.”

“See what happens when you live together for so long?” he chuckles.

Just six months after entering St. Paul’s program in 2007, they were on the operating table. They were the first direct living donor pair in the program. “It was all fairly miraculous,” Nunn understates.

Four years later, both men are doing well. Although officially retired, they both continue to work: Harrover does the occasional contract job while Nunn is currently on commission for an art project at the new convention center hotel. Outside of any official work, each interjects their quips about home, life be it cooking together or working on the lawn.

The obvious question for them might be “What’s the secret?” But they don’t see it just that way. Their relationship boils down to the obvious virtues of trust, respect and compromise.

“Selfishness doesn’t rear its ugly head in this relationship,” Harrover says. “You just have to be willing to accommodate, support and encourage what the other is interested in.”

Nunn agrees. “I would not be doing what I’m doing without his support.”

Nunn says if there is a secret, it’s akin to the dynamic on a playground: Like each other and share. If you don’t share your whole life, there isn’t a relationship, he says. At this point, Harrover says it would be impossible to separate. On paper, they are so intertwined with their house and financials, he jokes they are “Siamese twins.”

They’ve witnessed a lot in their decades together, including something they never expected to come to pass in their lifetimes: Same-sex marriage. Coming from a time when just being gay conflicted with moral codes set by their jobs, they wonder over the progress made in recent years. (They were officially married in Boston in October 2009.)

“I’m confident that it will happen for everyone,” Harrover says. “I’m sorry that it’s moving at a glacial pace, but it has that same inevitability as a glacier. We’ll get there.”

But nothing compares to the bond Harrover and Nunn already have, a shared intimacy few couples could imagine. Same-sex marriage was merely unlikely; what they have experienced is miraculous.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition July 29, 2011.

—  Michael Stephens

Premature aging an issue for AIDS survivors

30 years after 1st diagnoses, scientists work to pin down cause of complications, while doctors develop treatment guidelines

LISA LEFF | Associated Press

SAN FRANCISCO — Having survived the first and worst years of the AIDS epidemic, when he was losing three friends to the disease in a day and undergoing every primitive, toxic treatment that then existed, Peter Greene is grateful to be alive.

But a quarter-century after his own diagnosis, the former Mr. Gay Colorado, now 56, wrestles with vision impairment, bone density loss and other debilitating health problems he once assumed he wouldn’t grow old enough to see.

“I survived all the big things, but now there is a new host of things. Liver problems. Kidney disease. It’s like you are a 50-year-old in an 80-year-old body,” Greene, a San Francisco travel agent, said. “I’m just afraid that this is not, regardless of what my non-HIV positive friends say, the typical aging process.”

Even when AIDS still was almost always fatal, researchers predicted that people infected with HIV would be more prone to the cancers, neurological disorders and heart conditions that typically afflict the elderly. Thirty years after the first diagnoses, doctors are seeing these and other unanticipated signs of premature or “accelerated” aging in some long-term survivors.

Government-funded scientists are working to tease apart whether the memory loss, arthritis, renal failure and high blood pressure showing up in patients in their 40s and 50s are consequences of HIV, the drugs used to treat it or a cruel combination of both. With people over 50 expected to make up a majority of U.S. residents infected with the virus by 2015, there’s some urgency to unraveling the “complex treatment challenges” HIV poses to older Americans, according to the National Institutes of Health.

“In those with long-term HIV infection, the persistent activation of immune cells by the virus likely increases the susceptibility of these individuals to inflammation-induced diseases and diminishes their capacity to fight certain diseases,” the federal health agency’s chiefs of infectious diseases, aging and AIDS research wrote, summing up the current state of knowledge on last September’s National HIV/AIDS and Aging Awareness Day. “Coupled with the aging process, the extended exposure of these adults to both HIV and antiretroviral drugs appears to increase their risk of illness and death from cardiovascular, bone, kidney, liver and lung disease, as well as many cancers not associated directly with HIV infection.”

In San Francisco, where already more than half of the 9,734 AIDS cases are in people 50 and over, University of California, San Francisco AIDS specialists are collaborating with geriatricians, pharmacists and nutritionists to develop treatment guidelines designed to help veterans of the disease cope with getting frail a decade or two ahead of schedule and to remain independent for as long as possible.

“Wouldn’t it be helpful to be able to say, are you at high risk, low risk or moderate risk for progressing to dependency in the next five, the next 10 years, being less mobile, less able to be functional in the workplace. Are you going to be safe in your home, are you going to remember to take all those medications? How are they going to interact?” explained Dr. Malcolm John, who directs UCSF’s HIV clinic. “All those questions need to be brought into the HIV field at a younger age.”

Research so far suggests that HIV is not directly causing conditions that mimic old age, but hastens patients toward ailments to which they may have been genetically or environmentally predisposed. Plus, their immune systems are being weakened over time even when they are being successfully treated for AIDS, John said.

“That’s probably true for a lot of these things. We aren’t saying HIV’s starting the problem, but it’s added fuel on top,” he said.

Stokes, a patient of John’s who goes by only his last name, is a prime example. At 53, HIV-positive since 1985 and in substance abuse recovery for the last 11 years, he says he is happier than he ever has been. Yet the number of ailments for which he is being treated would be more commonly found in someone 30 years his senior: a condition called Ramsay Hunt syndrome that causes facial paralysis, a rare cartilage disorder for which he has undergone four ear surgeries, bone death in the hip and shoulder, deterioration of his heart muscle, osteoporosis and memory loss.

A specialist recently diagnosed a Kaposi’s sarcoma spot on Stokes’ ankle. Although the cancer is not life-threatening, the sight of young men disfigured by KS lesions was a harbinger of the early AIDS crisis, and its presence on his own body is unsettling.

At his therapy group for men with HIV, aging “comes up frequently,” he said. “I say, ‘Just think what we have come through to have a life today.”’ At the same time, he acknowledges sometimes feeling self-conscious about his physical appearance and worries if “people are not attracted to me and unwilling to go the length of what it means to be with me, no matter how brilliant my mind or my zest for life.”

Loneliness, financial worries and concerns about who will care for them and where can weigh on long-term AIDS survivors in the same way as all adults living in a society that values youth, Charles Emlet, a social work professor at the University of Washington, Tacoma, said.

As they get older and sicker, many feel “doubly stigmatized,” he said. Some people who have lived with the virus for a long time have been getting by on private disability benefits that will run out when they turn 65, forcing them to move to less expensive locations or to consider turning to estranged family members. Like soldiers from a distant war, many lost partners and their closest friends to AIDS.

Such emotional side effects, combined with the physical toll of managing chronic health problems, put older AIDS patients at risk for depression. At the same time, Emlet has uncovered evidence that a majority of long-term survivors also share another trait that typically comes with advanced age: that is, the ability to draw strength from their difficult experiences.

“The older adults I’ve interviewed, many of them talk about how much it means to them to give back, to do something positive with the years they never expected to have,” he said.

Peter Greene can relate to that. At times, like the days he is so exhausted he can’t get out of bed or the pain from his multiple maladies is too intense, he asks himself “the Carrie Bradshaw question — are we really lucky to still be alive?” Carrie Bradshaw was the character played by Sarah Jessica Parker in the Sex and the City TV shows and films.

As frightening and uncertain as this phase of AIDS is, he thinks he knows the answer.

“I’ve tried to make the time I have count, and really, now that I have the body of an 80-year-old, I probably have the wisdom of an 80-year-old as well, which counts for a lot,” Greene said. “Everything becomes clear at the end of your life and in some ways, thinking you’ve been dying all these years, you get moments of clarity that I don’t think everyone gets.”

—  John Wright

Deaths • 01.07.11

Pastor Linda Harris, 66, died Wednesday, Jan. 5, at Baylor All Saints Hospital in Fort Worth following a lengthy illness.
Born May 10, 1944, Harris worked for Kay Day Real Estate before becoming a minister. She was a nonbeliever and a motorcycle-riding “tough woman” who worked as a union rep at Frontier Airlines, friends said this week. But when her daughter was diagnosed with a terminal kidney disease, her life changed.

Friends said Harris sent her daughter to church alone several times before finally going with her. During the service that day, the preacher told those in the congregation to write down 10 things they wanted; Harris wrote that she wanted a healing for her daughter.

Shortly afterward, Harris’ daughter began to get well, and Harris herself had what friends say was an intense, personal experience that led to her conversion to Christianity. “God spoke to her and healed her daughter,” friends said.

That’s when Harris began her ministry, concentrating on reaching out to share God’s love with those who were most often forced to the fringes and left out by mainstream society.

Friends said Harris began by ministering to the homeless in Houston. She later co-founded Grace Fellowship in Christ Jesus, an LGBT church that held its early meetings in Oak Lawn but later moved to facilities on Westmoreland in Oak Cliff.

Harris also founded and was longtime pastor for Sanctuary of Love Church where, church members said, she created “a ministry for those no one else accepted, where love was unconditional. Because of that, people who wouldn’t be accepted anywhere else could go to Linda and feel love, and then they knew how to give love to other people.”

Harris also played a role in founding or helping develop other LGBT-affirming congregations in the area, and once spent six months ministering as an evangelist in South Africa as part of the Joan Wakeford Ministries.

Her final ministry was with Rainbow Ministries International, which she founded after leaving Sanctuary of Love. That church is now led by her successor, Pastor Alex Voss, and meets each Saturday at noon in the back building at 3917 Hall St. Voss said this week that the church has also developed a Web page, RainbowChurchTV.com, where videos of several of Harris’ sermons are now available.

Friends said this week that Dallas’ annual gay Pride parade was always one of Harris’ greatest pleasures, and that every year she built a float for the parade she won a trophy. They described her as an “extremely loving and caring and totally genuine person” who was known and loved by people from all over the world.

Her sister, Kay Day, said this week that whenever anyone asked Harris how she was feeling, she always responded, “I am blessed and highly favored.” Day also said that two days before she died, a man came to visit Harris and told her that he had been homeless, but because the pastor allowed him to sleep in her church, he was able to turn his life around. As the man left, Day said, Harris told him, “If you need me, just call me.”

Day said her sister “helped so many people who had AIDS and were disowned by their parents. She stayed with them, and she conducted their funerals.”

Harris is survived by her partner, Janice LaCount; her daughter and son-in-law, Monica Harris and Kevin Coble; her granddaughter, Sara Grace Coble; her sisters and brothers-in-law, Betty and Jon Barnett and Kay Day and James Peebles, all of Fort Worth; and by her dog, Blossom.

Funeral services will be held Saturday, Jan. 8, at 11:30 a.m. at Greenwood Chapel, 3100 White Settlement Road (at University Drive) in Fort Worth. A viewing will be held Friday, Jan. 7, from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. at Greenwood Chapel.

The family asks that in lieu of flowers, donations in Harris’ name be made to Janice LaCount Ministries, 3917 Hamilton Ave., Fort Worth, Texas 76107. Personal remembrances can be shared on Pastor Harris’ Facebook page.
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John Foster Barry, 44, of Dallas died suddenly on Friday, Dec. 30.

Barry earned a B.S. in psychology from the University of Texas at Austin and an M.S. in clinical psychology from the University of North Texas, and was a licensed professional counselor. He worked for many years as a psychotherapist at Oaklawn Community Services before joining a private practice, Turtle Creek Mental Health.

He was active in a number of local organizations, and was well known in the psychotherapy community. He was also known by his friends and family for his wit, kindness and warmth, as well as his fondness for movies, music and theater.

Barry was preceded in death by his parents, Captain George and Britt Barry of Arlington.

He is survived by his sisters, Linda Bennett and husband, Rob, and Carolyn Lytle and husband, Dave; three nephews, one niece, many loving friends and by the clients whose lives he touched as their therapist.

A memorial service was held Wednesday, Jan. 5, at Arlington Funeral Home Chapel. Donations in his name may be made to the Point Foundation or Love Out Loud Scholarship Funds.
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William Bloom, 70, died unexpectedly on Dec. 18 in Lewistown, Penn., while visiting relatives before a planned move to Panama in January.

He was born in Lewistown and raised in Bradenton, Fla., and had been a Dallas resident for 33 years.

After graduating from Florida State, Bloom entered Union Seminary in Charlottesville, Va., and was chosen to spend a year at Presbyterian Seminary in Montpielier, France.

He became the chaplain of Presbyterian students at Vanderbilt University and then became chaplain of Presbyterian students at Southern Methodist University in Dallas.

After three years, Bloom went to work for the education wing of the World Council of Churches in Geneva, Switzerland, and traveled all over the world giving seminars on literacy programs. Three years later, he began working for the United Nations and was assigned to the French Committee for Refugees in Paris where he worked with refugees from the wars in Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia.

He returned to the World Council of Churches and was assigned to Madrid for several years.

In 1977, Bloom returned to Dallas and worked at The Bronx on Cedar Springs until he and a partner started Frontroom Gallery in 1981. In 1999, he began working part-time at Nuvo until he started full retirement in 2007.

Bloom was an accomplished weaver, photographer and writer.

He is survived by his brother and sister-in-law, Joe and Marie Bloom of Etowah, N.C.; cousins Linda Smalley of Atlanta, Ga., and Frances Ware of Mechanicsberg, Penn.; and many friends.

There will be a reception for his friends at The Bronx, 3835 Cedar Springs Road, on Wednesday, Jan. 12 at 5:30 p.m.
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Anthony W. “Tony” DeCock, 46, died peacefully at home on Dec. 20. A memorial and remembrance service will be held at the home at a future date.

Born in Conroe, Texas, DeCock graduated Conroe High School in 1982. He then joined the U.S. Army and was stationed in Germany. In the Army, he began training and started a rewarding and successful career in computer engineering, eventually working for Texas Instruments, Microsoft Corporation and, most recently, Paladin and Northrup Grumman.

DeCock had a passion for family, friends and the latest computer and software technology and the home he shared with his husband was filled with laughter, late-night dinner parties and many electronic gadgets.

DeCock was preceded in death by his parents, Harry Hypoliet DeCock and Peggy Darlene Hilton DeCock.

He is survived by his husband, Richard Lindley; their dear friend and neighbor, Helen P. Fielden, and their dog, Jack Everett. He is also survived by a brother and two half brothers from the Houston area.

In lieu of flowers, donations in DeCock’s honor should be made to Resource Center Dallas’ AIDS programs or the SPCA of Texas.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition January 7, 2011.

—  Michael Stephens