Democrat File Photo
Liberty's Bérubé Dead at 61
By Jeanne Sager
LIBERTY December 14, 2007 When it came to history, there was no one who could spin a tale like Allan Bérubé.
His eyes, usually warm and friendly, took on a special light when he spoke of preserving the past, the nasal tones of a New Jersey childhood creeping back into his voice.
This week, the light was extinguished with the death of Bérubé at 61 on Tuesday.
Celebrated around the nation for his gay activism, Bérubé was best known for penning the ground-breaking “Coming Out Under Fire: the History of Gay Men and Women in World War II.”
The book earned him a Lambda Literary Award from the foundation that proclaims itself the leading organization for LGBT literature.
This week, the foundation’s Web-site pays tribute to Bérubé, as do most of the premier organizations in the homosexual community nationwide.
The documentary version of “Coming Out” earned a Peabody Award as well as the prestigious Special Jury Award at the Sundance Film Festival and Teddy Award at the Berlin International Film Festival.
The subject of a book group discussion just this past May at the National Archives in Washington, D.C., the book represented the first real look at the men and women fighting two battles one against the enemies of America, the second against anti-gay authorities in their own ranks who were trying to declare them unfit to serve.
His work later earned him a “genius” grant from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and a Rockefeller Residency Fellowship in the Humanities from the Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies at City University of New York.
Raised in poverty in Bayonne, NJ, Bérubé escaped to the University of Chicago.
He dropped out in the midst of the Vietnam War, joining the American Friends Service Committee in Boston’s protest movement.
Coming out as a homosexual in 1969, Bérubé joined a a "gay liberation collective household," and later moved to San Francisco to join a gay commune for craftspeople.
There he helped form the San Francisco Lesbian and Gay History Project and started traveling the country presenting slide shows of his research into the depths of LGBT history.
Since moving to Liberty, Bérubé threw himself into both the gay community of Sullivan County and the overall life of the village.
Close friend Jonathan Ned Katz remembers a “utopian time” in Liberty when Bérubé sold his apartment in Manhattan and made the move full-time to his home on Carrier Street.
“Weekenders and full-timers were working together, gay and straight were working together, old and young were working together,” Katz recalled.
It was 10 years ago that Katz, his former partner and Bérubé discovered this corner of the Catskills, and it didn’t take long for Bérubé to jump in.
“It was the inspiration of the people here,” Katz recalled. “It was a part of his deep, deep caring about the social condition and his desire to help.”
Elected as a village trustee in 2003, he ran unopposed to retain his seat in 2005.
He was a popular figure at village hall, where Deputy Village Clerk Alice Gonzalez said he will be greatly missed.
“He was a great person, very, very considerate,” she said. “I look around and see so many things he’s done.”
Like much of Liberty, Gonzalez didn’t know Bérubé was sick couldn’t tell that the ulcers in his stomach were bleeding him of life.
“I wish I had known; I would have don’t anything for him,” she said.
Heinrich Strauch, head of the Liberty Community Development Corporation (CDC) estimates he met Bérubé six or seven years ago.
Still a weekender, Strauch said he’d meet Bérubé out and about and was drawn to the man who talked with such passion.
“He was very infectious in sharing his enthusiasm for the region,” Strauch recalled.
Later the two would work together as director of community development for the CDC’s precursor, the Liberty Economic Action Plan, Bérubé was the organization’s first official employee.
It was Bérubé who saw the ad for a New York City diner for sale helping to bring the Munson to the corner of Lake and Main.
He got to see it open just before he died.
Bérubé was also the main promoter of Liberty’s Main Street, the man chiefly responsible for its designation by New York State as a historic downtown district.
Named the Pride of Sullivan County for the Town of Liberty in 2005, Bérubé was a dual business owner with a bed and breakfast in his home and an antiques shop, Intelligent Design, on Main Street.
He ran the latter with life partner John Nelson, a nurse practitioner at Catskill Regional Medical Center to whom he was devoted.
The same could be said of Nelson, Katz said the two were a matched set.
Once manager of the Liberty Theatre, Bérubé delighted in bringing bits of Liberty’s past back to life.
“It wasn’t your whitey tidy New England town; it was a town with edges and character to it, and he liked that,” Strauch said of Bérubé’s affection for the village.
Memorial services are being planned around the country for Bérubé, with one in the works for sometime in January here in Liberty.