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A look back at my work with the LGBTQ community. I first became active in the gay rights movement in 1980 when I launched my LGBTQ jo...

Friday, July 11, 2014

Elliott Brager: A Major Force Passes On

To be sure, Elliott A. Brager, a well-known attorney in the Baltimore area, had his detractors.  He displayed a brash, caustic often overbearing personality, which many folks in his personal and more likely his professional life could not deal with.  However, I am confident that an overwhelming number of people who truly knew Elliott loved him.  Count me in the latter group.

Elliott Brager (L.) with close friend Steve Shavitz at a 2012 AIDS Action
 Baltimore fundraiser
I was deeply saddened by the news that Elliott passed away on July 7, just two days after his 72nd birthday from heart failure.  Elliott was a good friend to Bob and me, and he was the only other person whom I ever entertained in each of my three domiciles spanning nearly 37 years in Maryland.  While he could come off as gruff, passionate and aggressive— traits he took full advantage of during his lengthy law career—there was virtually nothing he wouldn’t do for you if asked.
His work in the early days on behalf of the then named Gay and Lesbian Community Center of Baltimore as a principal fundraiser is probably the reason the Center still exists.  He would aggressively push people to buy tickets to the many fall fundraisers and spring brunches in support of the Center.  So intimidating was he, that I was pressured to buy a couple of tickets in 1985 even though I was scheduled for near-emergency eye surgery the next day!

He believed in a number of other causes with AIDS Action Baltimore among them.  And when he attached himself to a cause, he went in with both feet.  Don Davis, owner of Grand Central, aptly called him a hero. 
You can read about some of his efforts in the splendid obituary by the Baltimore Sun’s Jacques Kelly here.

The thing I loved Elliott most besides his passion to do good deeds was his amazing, if acerbic, sense of humor.  It was a challenge to keep up with him, but I tried.  He never missed an opportunity to remind me when we were in a public setting how much shorter I was than his 6 foot 4 inch frame.  I found areas to counter-punch him, but won’t mention them here.  My attacks, though, were good-natured.
We were neighbors in an apartment complex in Randallstown, and on a sunny Saturday we were relaxing by the pool.  He offered me a peach as a nice gesture.  I told him I am allergic to fresh peaches (among other fruits), and if I ate one, I’d go into anaphylactic shock and likely die.  He replied (I think jokingly), “Have two!”

One day when visiting his apartment, I noticed he had huge stacks of newspapers on the floor.  I asked Elliott why he was saving the papers.  He said that he is behind in his reading and needs to catch up.  I promptly informed him that Truman upset Dewey in 1948.
As an attorney, Elliott was most helpful to me in the early 1980’s when he provided legal input as part of a story I was writing for the Baltimore Gay Paper on the police crackdown on hustling in the Patterson Park area of Eastern Avenue.  He outlined in clear, explicit terms the dangers a “john” would face in such an encounter and what would happen if arrested in terms of being incarcerated and how it could affect the john’s career.  It was a compelling, instructive part of the article, and hopefully, if people read it, that contribution from Elliott may have steered them away from such risky actions.

Until recently, I had never seen Elliott in action in court, but I had heard his antics were legendary.  One could actually feel sympathy towards judges, opposing counsel and people he had cross-examined over the years, if his reputation was accurate.    
Elliott Brager in 1986
As fate would have it, we were both appearing in a Howard County District courtroom fighting speed camera citations.  It turned out it was the last time I saw him.   

I was called ahead of Elliott to plead my case (to no avail) but had the good sense to hang around and watch this legal lion in action.  His defense was that the camera was not functioning properly.  While he lost his case in the end, observing the way he went about his business and going toe-to-toe with the judge—respectfully, of course—was literally worth the price of the ticket.  He was a gem.
Regrettably, our lives drifted in different directions, and we did not see each other as often as we once did.  Nonetheless, each year we’d exchange holiday cards to stay in touch.  His cards were always risqué during the years Lambda Rising was still in business.

We shared a lot of laughs and I totally enjoyed his company.  We shared a mutual respect for one another with Elliott being such a force in our community and him being an avid reader of my work.
Beneath his tough exterior, Elliott was a sentimental sweetheart.  He loved Bob and was so thrilled that he and I enjoy a happy relationship.  Back when Bob and I threw a combination Valentine’s Day and 6th anniversary celebration, although we expressly requested that the guests do not bring us gifts, Elliott still gave us a bottle of Mouton-Cadet Bordeaux (1983).  We were so moved that we decided not to open it.

It’s still with us, and when Bob and I celebrate our 35th anniversary in February, we’re going to finally pop the cork and toast Elliott Brager.  It’s time.


June Horner said...

Thank you for this lovely piece.
I have some good memories of Elliott Brager.

Unknown said...

This article decribed my uncle very well. Thank you. He is terribly missed

Unknown said...
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