Walking to remember

FAMILY BUSINESS | One reason Kelly Smith works at the Tommy’s Hamburgers on Camp Bowie, owned by her parents, is that her job there gives her plenty of time to volunteer with AIDS Outreach Center. (Tammye Nash/DallasVoice)

For Kelly Smith, volunteering at AOC and participating in the AIDS Walk is a family affair — in more ways than 1

TAMMYE NASH | Senior Editor
nash@dallasvoice.com

When she was growing up, Kelly Smith always thought of her uncle, Brad, as more of a brother and friend than an uncle.

“He was my dad’s only brother. He was a chef, a great cook, and when my parents opened up Tommy’s Hamburgers, he helped them out a lot,” Smith said. “He was only 10 years older than me, and I grew up hanging out with him and his friends.”

But then AIDS struck, Kelly said, “and I lost Brad. I’ve lost his partner, and I’ve lost all of his friends but one. It was devastating.”

But before he died in 1994, Brad Smith introduced his niece to Tarrant County’s AIDS Outreach Center and the agency’s annual AIDS Walk. In the years since, the bond between Kelly and that agency has grown ever stronger, giving her an opportunity, she said, to honor the memories of her uncle and friends by helping those still living with HIV.

“I did the AIDS Walk with Brad in 1992 and 1993 before he died in 1994. Then by the mid-90s, I started getting more involved. I became a team captain and started getting other people to walk with me.”

But Kelly didn’t limit her involvement to the AIDS Walk: She joined the center’s board of directors three years ago and is now vice president of the board.

Still, the AIDS Walk holds a special place in her heart.

“It’s my passion. It’s my calling. I truly love it,” she said. “This year is my fourth year to be co-chair of the walk, and it’s going to be the best one ever.

READY, SET WALK | Participants in the 2011 AIDS Outreach Center AIDS Walk get ready to set out from the Fort Worth Community Arts Center on the 5K course. This year, the walk moves back to its roots in Trinity Park. This is Kelly Smith’s fourth year as AIDS Walk co-chair.

“My partner, Holly Edwards, works for Luke’s Locker, and now Luke’s has come on as a walk sponsor. It’s always so much fun to be part of the walk, but it’s even better now because this is something that we do together,” Kelly said.

Supporting the LGBT and HIV/AIDS communities has always been something of a family affair for the Smiths, starting with her parents, who own Tommy’s Hamburgers.

They first opened the restaurant in 1983 in an old Texaco station in Lake Worth. The second location opened 19 years ago on Green Oaks, and nine years ago the third location on Camp Bowie — where Kelly usually works — opened its doors.

Tommy’s has long been a meeting place for LGBT community groups, like Stonewall Democrats of Tarrant County, and a sponsor for events like AIDS Walk.

That support obviously grew out of the family’s love and support for Brad and Kelly, but it may have been kick-started by some people’s response to news of Brad’s HIV-positive status.

“We had a lot of people back then calling and saying things like, ‘Do all of you have AIDS?’ People were so confused about AIDS, about what it was and how it was spread,” Kelly recalled.

Kelly went to college first at Texas Wesleyan then graduated from Texas Christian University. She taught school for a few years, but then decided what she really wanted to do was return to the family business. And now she is in charge of marketing and buying for Tommy’s Hamburgers.

“It’s certainly never boring around here,” Kelly said. “I love working with my family and meeting the customers. But what I really love about this job is that it gives me the time to do volunteer work at AIDS Outreach Center.”

And that volunteer work is really about family, too: “There’s a great group of people at AIDS Outreach, like a family,” Kelly said. “It’s a group of people all coming together with one goal — to get services to the people who need them.”

Right now, that group is all coming together to kick off the agency’s 25th anniversary year with a successful 19th annual AIDS Walk. And although the walk accounts for only a relatively small percentage of AIDS Outreach Center’s overall budget, Kelly said it is one of the agency’s most popular annual events.

“This is the one fundraiser we do that everyone can participate in. You can bring your children. You can bring your pets. It’s just a lot of fun for everyone,” she said.

Kelly is getting close to her own 20th anniversary with AIDS Outreach, and that’s a long time to work or volunteer in the world of AIDS — burnout is often an issue.

But not for Kelly Smith.

“Things have changed over the years,” she said. “People are more receptive to donating to the cause and being involved. But at the same time, some things haven’t changed. People are still getting infected.

“Just recently, I reconnected with an old friend I hadn’t seen in awhile,” she continued. “He told me he is positive. On the one hand, it made me feel good that he felt comfortable enough with me, that he trusted me enough to tell me something so personal. But on the other hand, it was very hard to hear that someone else I know, a friend who is such a wonderful guy, has HIV.

“I was feeling safe again, I guess. And then my friend tells me he is infected. It just drives me more, makes me want to do more and work harder,” Kelly said. “I won’t stop. I can’t stop. Until there’s a cure, I’ll never stop.”

The 19th annual AIDS Outreach Center AIDS Walk will be held Sunday, April 3, beginning at the pavilion near 7th Street in Fort Worth’s Trinity Park. The event begins at 1 p.m., and the walk steps off at 2:30 p.m. Pre-registration is $25, available online at AOC.org. Registration the day of the walk is $30 and starts at 12:30 p.m. at Luke’s Locker, 2600 W. 7th St.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition March 4, 2011.

—  John Wright

A perfect ten(or)

SING OUT, LOUISE! | Keane Fletcher, front, is one of the openly gay members of the popera dectet The Ten Tenors.

Getting down with Down Under’s Keane Fletcher, one of the gay singers in the Ten Tenors

STEVEN LINDSEY  | Contributing Writer
stevencraiglindsey@me.com

There are Ten Tenors, but one who we find totally swoon-worthy: Keane Fletcher, a gay 25-year-old Aussie who sings like an angel. And the Ten Tenors is a great place to be a gay man.

“I read an article where it said that 30 percent of the group is gay. Does that mean three out of the 10 tenors are gay, or just bits and pieces of us all — like my toes, someone else’s neck, an armpit or two? That would make sense. Some of the straight guys in the group are the campiest ones of the lot,” Fletcher jokes.

For as long as Fletcher can remember, being in front of an audience was all he wanted to do, even though singing itself came much later.

“I was always into performing. I did all the school plays, I was on the debating team — very Glee,” he says. ”Anything I could do to get some stage time. I didn’t start singing, though, until my drama teacher at high school made me audition for The King & I. I got the part and haven’t stopped singing since.”

Before joining the Ten Tenors in early 2010, Fletcher had a starring role in Altar Boyz and the musical Buddy, about Buddy Holly, back in Australia. That’s as close as he’s ever been to Texas — and, he admits, about all he knows about the Lone Star State. But after a year on the road with his nine brethren, he’s looking forward to his Texas debut — and sharing what the group has been famous for since forming Down Under in the mid ‘90s.

“It’s been a very challenging experience. The Tenors have really allowed me to go further with my vocals and have opened me up to different styles of singing that I wouldn’t normally have pursued. That, and touring the world. I’ve visited nearly every continent in the last year. We’ve yet to book a show in Antarctica, but I’ve got my fingers crossed!”

Perhaps even bigger than Antarctica is Oprah — metaphorically speaking. Fletcher says appearing on her show was surreal — the media queen is just as popular Down Under as she is in the states.

“She’s definitely a big deal in Australia!” he exclaims. “She almost seems mythological to some of my friends back home. I’m sure there’s an Oprah religion forming as we speak.”

But what can really be surreal is life on the road.

“The first year with the group I tried to explore every town we visited. Now that I’m older and wiser I’ve learned to pick and choose what I want to see. We got to visit the Teotihuacan pyramids in Mexico City a week ago; that was incredible,” he says. “I’ve had a couple of good nights out on the road, too. In Toronto last December, we ran into some of the cast of Priscilla the Musical and they kept getting us to talk so they could study our accents. Apparently we say ‘no’ really strangely, so it sounds more like ‘noi.’ Who knew?”

The Tenors’ accents may not come through when they sing, but that’s just fine by their legions of fans.

“People can expect to see 10 guys belting their guts out. The biggest misconception is that all we sing is classical repertoire. I would say our show is more like a rock concert with suits. Or a classical concert with electric guitars. It’s classo-rock. Or maybe just cl’ock,” Fletcher says.

Perhaps most of all, he wants the LGBT community to come makes some noise.

“We love our gay fans, except they tend to be a little quiet,” he says. “It’s not until they get to the [autograph] signing line that they go berserk. I want to see people dancing in the aisles. And screaming, there is definitely not enough screaming.”

Consider the challenge accepted.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition Feb. 18, 2011.

—  John Wright