Hess marks 25 years with RCD

Co-workers call him the steadying force, the quiet authority and the keeper of institutional knowledge

A QUARTER CENTURY  |  Craig Hess was Resource Center Dallas’ second employee when he started 25 years ago. (David Taffet/Dallas Voice)

A QUARTER CENTURY | Craig Hess was Resource Center Dallas’ second employee when he started 25 years ago. (David Taffet/Dallas Voice)

DAVID TAFFET  |  Staff Writer
taffet@dallasvoice.com

Craig Hess marked his 25th anniversary as an employee of Resource Center Dallas appropriately enough on World AIDS Day, Dec. 1.

To put that amount of time in perspective, World AIDS Day dates back only 23 years.

Currently, Hess is the insurance assistance coordinator at RCD. When he was hired in 1986, he started as the volunteer coordinator.

Hess was the second person hired by the organization — after community educator Mike Richards and before the agency’s first executive director, John Thomas. Hess said three people were hired that day.
“When I took the job, it was temporary — six months and they’ll find a cure,” he said. “This has been the longest temporary job I ever had.”

RCD Communications and Advocacy Manager Rafael McDonnell called Hess “a living history book” and “the keeper of institutional knowledge” for the agency. He said that Hess is a steadying force at the center and is treated with a great deal of respect.

“He’s the quiet authority,” McDonnell said.

Hess describes himself a little differently.

“I’m the voice of reason among the insanity,” he said.

Hess said he’s amazed at what Resource Center Dallas has become.

In the beginning, he said, “This was as grassroots as it could be. And now we’re a United Way agency. Government funding? We never thought of that back then.”

He recounted how the insurance program he heads got started in the late 1990s. Dallas County helped Resource Center Dallas make COBRA payments for its clients. At the time, Parkland Hospital estimated that the $60,000 in insurance payments it funded saved the county more than $6 million.

“Now it’s more like $100 million saved,” Hess said.

Hess said his background is in accounting.

“I like doing it because it’s very exacting,” he said. “There’s no leeway. It’s very organized. This is extreme accounting.”

He called his job the one no one else wants to do.

RCD Executive Director and CEO Cece Cox was among the agency’s staff who heaped praise on Hess.

“When I first met Craig, he wore a different pair of high tops everyday and drove a Cadillac convertible,” Cox said. “He’s always had his own style and there’s something to be said for that.”

But her admiration for him was apparent.

“He’s given 25 years of service to this community,” she said. “He’s dedicated his life to that service.”

Cox said that she gets letters from clients about how much Hess has helped them.

“With this job comes many complaints,” she said. “To have a client take the time to send a letter of gratitude catches my attention.”

But she said to get letters about him repeatedly is a testament to his value to the organization and its clients.

Client Services Manager Jennifer Hurn said it struck her when Hess remarked that the names on the buildings are real people to him.

“Most of us here now can’t say that,” she said.

Hess agreed and was more comfortable talking about the many other people who helped build the center than about his own accomplishments.

He mentioned Bill Hunt who helped create the Food Pantry and the hot meals program that he dubbed “Chez Louise.”

“Bill wanted lunch served on china because it was about dignity,” he said. “Social, not institutional.”

And Hess has taken that lesson to heart. He explained why he’s devoted his life to RCD’s clients.

“I could be any one of the clients,” he said. “If this happened to me, how would I want people to treat me?”

So how long can clients count on him to continue doing his temporary job?

“I’m there till it’s over,” he said.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 9, 2011.

—  Michael Stephens

New gay Dallas artifacts: A letter from Log Cabin to Karl Rove, QL’s kissing booth and these pics

Resource Center’s Rafael McDonnell informs us that RCD has made some notable acquisitions of late for its Phil Johnson Historic Archives and Library. For example, McDonnell said activists Blake Wilkinson and Rick Vanderslice recently dropped off some Queer LiberAction memorabilia, including a megaphone and the group’s patented kissing booth. Also, some recovering ex-Log Cabin Republicans provided a copy of a letter they wrote in the 1990s to Karl Rove, then an advisor to Gov. George W. Bush (we’re dying to read this). And finally, McDonnell sent over the below photos he took of photos that came in from William Waybourn, a pioneering Dallas gay-rights activist who now lives outside of Washington, D.C. Unfortunately, many of these items will have to be placed in storage for the time being due to space concerns. But McDonnell says Waybourn’s pics are slated for display at the Center. After the jump, we’ve posted a few a more of them along with Waybourn’s descriptions.

This is a photograph I took of John Thomas in the mid-1990s. He loved it, saying it captured the essence of who he was. Later, when AIDS began to take its toll on him, John wanted it used as his “official” photo because he was concerned that people wouldn’t remember how he looked before AIDS, and not as someone ravaged by the disease. On a side note, I asked John, Bill Nelson, Mike Richards or others appearing in the media on behalf of lesbian and gay issues to look presentable, e.g. wear coats and ties, etc. John and Charlotte Taft, then Dallas’ most “out” lesbian, were always media outstanding role models, skewing people’s impression of what they thought “activists” looked and sounded like.

—  John Wright