Hundreds of friends, family and acquaintances of activist Vernita Gray gathered at the Goodman Theatre March 31 to remember her legacy and pay tribute to her.
The gathering was officiated by Mary Morten and Paul Fairchild. Additional photo spread at the link: www.windycitymediagroup.com/gay/lesbian/news/photospreadthumbs.php .
Morten said that Gray was "a person who led a life of activism, a life of joy and a life of unparalleled gratitude."
Fairchild spoke of Gray's final days, as she gathered friends and family, and then the day of her death.
"She was alone with the two women who loved her most, her wife, Pat [Ewert] and her mother, Toots [Hairston]." Hairston then read, A Psalm of David.
Gov. Pat Quinn then spoke of Gray's activist legacy, saying that Illinois "has a hole in our hearts. We lost one of our most special souls."
Quinn added he was grateful that, before Gray passed away, "We enacted something that she worked for her whole life [marriage equality]. ... She was here with us. She led us. She taught us."
Fairchild read a letter from Cook County Circuit Court Clerk Dorothy Brown. Mona Noriega, of the Mayor's Commission on Human Relations, who was Gray's partner for several years, then read a letter from Mayor Rahm Emanuel.
"Vernita was a poet who could use her words to to rally against injustice and counsel and comfort those in need," Emanuel wrote. "She was a role model who lived an authentic life, and inspired a great many to reach for their dreams."
James Bennett of Lambda Legal followed with a dedication from President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama.
"Vernita gave of herself to help move us toward a future where everyone is able to live and love as they see fit," the Obamas wrote. "She will be remembered for opening hearts and minds across our country, and for her selfless support of young people in her community."
Gray's frequent trips to the White House were brought up many times.
"You know you've arrived when then President gives you the shout-out, 'Hey, Vee,'" said Gray's friend, Donna Rose. "I thought that she had a studio down in the basement" of the White House.
Many people spoke of how Gray influenced them in their youth. Dameon Christian fought back tears as he remembered that, "Vernita taught me to be a same-gender loving individual" and thanked her "for the many seeds she placed in my life."
Camellia Noriega, who Gray helped raise, spoke of her family's life in Uptown, and read her college entrance essay, which talked about the influence Gray had on her life. Camellia and Ramon are Mona Noriega's children.
"She taught us humility, compassion and how to laugh at ourselves," Camellia said.
Shantell Steve, who was mentored by both Gray and Ewert, and the late Renae Ogletree, read a poem that expressed her gratitude for their guidance. In the poem she thanked the women for having "taught me what it was really like to have parents."
Gray's friend Kay Miles said that Gray professed to hippie values: love, peace, compassion and sexual liberation among them. "She not only believed them and lived them, she had a belief that these values would bring about a better world," she said.
Miles also discussed when Gray "dropped by" when she was so excited at having met Ewert. State Rep. Kelly Cassidy, who worked with Gray at the State's Attorney's Office was also around at that time of that first date.
"She wasn't sure at first, and told me to 'Stick close by,'" Cassidy said, but added that after it was apparent that Ewert and Gray had hit it off, "I knew that Vee had this one."
Judge Patricia Logue, who married Gray and Ewert in November, called the wedding "one of the great honors of my life. ... Somewhere up there Vee is smiling down on us. May her memory be a blessing."
Pat McCombs of Executive Sweet spoke of Gray's love for social events and social activism, and Candace King recalled Gray's love of dancingas she herself danced off the stage.
Musical numbers were performed by friends: Lucy Smith, Vanessa Davis, Richard Streetman and June Gearon. The Drum Divas started out the day with a processional.