After living with HIV for 17 years, Jimmy Lee Murray lost his battle with the virus Jan. 21. A native of Troy, NY, Jimmy's life travels led him to Chicago, San Francisco, and San Jose before he returned to his roots.
The gay and leather title systems helped him to overcome his natural shyness, as well as to build his self-esteem.
Jimmy enjoyed being on stage, competing first for the title of Mr. Windy City in the late 1980s as the representative from Chicago House and Social Service Agency, the Midwest's first residence program for PWAs. He worked for six years as the organization's Facilities Manager, maintaining three buildings, as well as coordinating and collecting donations of furniture, food, clothing and medical supplies. Jimmy cited this as the most rewarding job he ever held, as his interactions with the residents gave him the strength and support to cope with the loss of his lover and his own HIV status. He was recognized by the Gay Chicago Magazine Awards as 'Employee of the Year,' an honor bestowed upon an individual working within the LGBT community who went above and beyond the call of duty.
Jimmy was an avid softballer, and he was also known for his charity performances as The Diva, Miss Diana Ross. ( And when he made his first appearance, there was a very memorable wardrobe malfunction. )
When he moved to California, Jimmy won the first Mr. Ebony in Leather contest; he later relinquished this title following disagreements with the contest producers. He was also named as an early International Mr. Cheeks and Chaps. He was a popular bartender at Daddy's and The Mint in San Francisco, and Greg's Ballroom in San Jose.
Jimmy was most proud, however, of his winning the title of Mr. North Atlantic Leather 2000 after returning to New York. To mark his 40th birthday that year, he and Randie Smith, North Atlantic Leatherboy 2000, along with Jimmy's family, produced a fundraiser which netted $12,000 to purchase holiday gifts for the clients of Albany Medical Center's AIDS Unit.
He is survived by his parents, James and Betty Murray; his daughter, Tonya; a grandaughter, and four siblings. Jimmy will also be remembered by his eclectic chosen family which included Thom Dombkowski, Jill Carter, Marcus Hernandez, Jim Dohr, and Richard Allison.
Jimmy's leathers, most notably those thigh-high 'Diva' boots, have been donated for auction at this year's Cleveland Leather Awareness Weekend.
Memorials are requested to Chicago House, 1925 N. Clybourn Ave., Chicago, IL 60614.