Jack Dowling made a mark on his art and LGBTQ community before he died of COVID-19: NPR

Jack Dowling made a mark on his art and LGBTQ community before he died of COVID-19: NPR

Jack Dowling was a painter, writer and dear friend. He died of COVID-19 on February 4, 2021 as one of hundreds of thousands of victims of the virus.


In the past few months we have remembered the lives of some people who have died from COVID-19. Jack Dowling was one of them. He was 89 years old. Jeffrey Solomon, a Los Angeles-based playwright and director, was a longtime friend of Dowling.

JEFFREY SOLOMON: There was no life or time wasted with Jack.


Dowling was a painter, writer, and supporter of the LGBTQ community. He had a summer home on Fire Island in New York.

SOLOMON: When I was 22 in the summer of 1989, I really wanted to live on Fire Island.

CHANG: Jeffrey Solomon says Fire Island looked like a safe place for the gay community to write his first play on. So he put up signs offering to clean and cook in exchange for accommodation.

SOLOMON: I would say it was false advertising (laughter). I just wanted to be out there. And I only got one call, and it was from Jack and his partner Wally.

SHAPIRO: Well, they gave Solomon a room to stay, but quickly found that his cleaning and cooking left a lot to be desired.

SOLOMON: I think Wally wanted me to be gone (laughter) because I was just taking up space. But Jack was deeply touched by the fact that I went to the beach every day and wrote this piece all day. And he persuaded Wally to let me stay.

SHAPIRO: And that was the beginning of a 32 year friendship.

SOLOMON: Having a friend like Jack many decades older, who came out in the 1950s, was just extraordinary.

CHANG: Jack Dowling also supported his communities outside of his home. He got involved with SAGE, an organization dedicated to helping LGBTQ elders, and left a great gift on his will. This is Michael Adams, their CEO.

MICHAEL ADAMS: He was very thoughtful and left his home to SAGE.

SHAPIRO: He hoped it would honor the memory of his girlfriend, trans activist Marsha P. Johnson. Adams says the two met at Chelsea Piers in the 1970s. That was a place in New York City with queer people hanging out.

ADAMS: Marsha P. Johnson was at the center of that creative cauldron on the piers. And Jack was part of it and knew her and admired her and cared for her very much. And so it was his hope that with the support he gave SAGE, we would do something to honor her or her legacy.

CHANG: SAGE sold Jack Dowling’s house and that money will be used to fund services and programs specifically for the transgender and non-binary elderly.

ADAMS: Those young trans people who did so much work with Marsha P. Johnson back then to build our community – they are our elders now.

SHAPIRO: Jack Dowling died on February 4th of this year of COVID-19 and other complications. His legacy and gift will spread in the years to come.


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Rachel Meadows

Rachel Meadows

Trending topics news writer who enjoys cooking, walking her dog and travel.

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