Parting Glances: Remembering Triangle's Henry

Originally printed 2/20/2014 (Issue 2208 - Between The Lines News)

BTL PG 1/16/2002 - "If you want to get a Lifetime Achievement Award, you've got to kick ass. Thank you."

With these words Dr. Henry Messer, LGBT human rights activist and Triangle Foundation co-founder with the late John Monaghan, succinctly accepted a 1995 Lifetime Achievement Award given at Detroit's annual Pride Banquet.

If memory serves me, this verbal punch - coming from a noted and poised neurosurgeon at the end of a long evening of routine presentations - jolted me up from a deep state of noddy and neatly summed things up. It also brought the crowd of 325 cheering to its feet.

The award honored Henry's community involvement dating back to 1955 in New York, and Michigan and Detroit locally since 1970. Whether Henry's feisty advice will make it into "Bartlett's Familiar Quotations" remains to be seen.

Obviously Henry is a kick-ass fighter. How else can one explain his recent and astonishing medical history? He has survived an intruder gunshot wound to the stomach - monitoring the EMS team that rushed him to ER; an aneurysm - by recognizing the presenting symptoms in time to drive himself to a hospital for lifesaving surgery; and a triple heart bypass operation, with recreational recovery and up-and-about ward circulation within days.

Not bad for a surgical Clark Kent of 74!

If anyone really deserves a share of Henry's Lifetime Achievement Award it's his partner Carl House, 72. Carl is in every sense a gentle man. (Word separation intended.) He is also repose to Henry's energy, shelter to the good doc's activist storm.

They are well matched, especially when it comes to ocean liner travel on the Queen Elisabeth I and II. Or, sunny, open-house summers at their Fire Island cottage.

They met when Henry was stationed at Maxwell Air Force Base in Montgomery, Ala., and Carl was 100 miles away at U.S. Army Camp Rucker. Weekends Carl hitchhiked to be with Henry. (It was safe to hitchhike then. It was not safe to be gay. In the 1950s fag bagging was a double-barrel sport.)

Henry was inadvertently outed from Air Force service. Carl escaped investigative entrapment. They moved to New York City where Henry began his residency at St. Vincent's Hospital. They also found a thriving gay community, which I too was fortunate to visit as at age 19 in 1955.

It was the beginning of a partnership that has lasted for 50 years. (See "Men Together: Portraits of Love, Commitment, and Life"; Running Press 1997.)

Henry and Carl's commitment places them among select company. (Screen actor William Haines/ Jimmy Shields, 47 years; Composers Samuel Barber/ Gian Carlo Menotti, 44 years; Writer Christopher Isherwood/ artist Don Bachardy, 33; Playwright Tennessee Williams/ Frankie Merlo, 15; Poet Walt Whitman/ Peter Doyle, 8.)

Two weeks ago Henry and Carl were honored for their half century of devotion, collaboration, and adventure. Among the 100-plus well wishers gathered at Detroit's St. Regis Hotel were Congresswoman Lynn Rivers, Congressman David Bonier, State Representative Hansen Clark, and Detroit City Council President Maryann Mahaffey.

An unexpected tribute was a State of Michigan proclamation signed by Republican Governor John Engler. It was a grand moment for Henry and Carl. (And His GOP Roly-Polyness, if not begrudgingly as well.)

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