You could always tell whether someone was a “Rodger insider” by the way they spelled his first name. Anyone who forgot the “d” was clearly a wannabee. In the days of spellchek, you had to be extra careful – deletion of the “d” was a fate worse than anonymity for a Rodger fan.
I first met him in 1985, at a benefit for AIDS Resource Center (now Bailey House). His lanky 6’5” frame and those big ears towered above everyone else. I would soon learn that Rodger filled the room in more ways than one.
I don’t know why we clicked – he certainly had many other adoring fans from earlier days of the AIDS epidemic, his role in GMHC and his relationship with ACT-Up founder Larry Kramer, but it was love at first sight. From the initial “darling” in that sweet southern Rodger drawl to the hugs that required him to stoop over, even to my 5”7” frame, he was my friend and confident until he died. He had others in his life – many others – but Rodger was always there for me with his smartass surgical take on whatever was going on. And like the warrior he was, he never pulled punches!
A few years ago I called Rodger in Denver, where he was head of the Gill Foundation, to seek his counsel on funding issues. When I explained that most government contracts barely covered 1/3 of our modest overhead he shouted, “Close it down. We can’t continue to do this work without the money we need.” and ended by encouraging me to consider organizational hari kari as a political act. Board and senior staff members were shocked but I laughed knowing that Rodger had just delivered one of his loving but unsentimental asskickings. He always knew how to make others dig deep and muster their fight.
Last year I received a call from a colleagues of Rodger’s who informed me that he had committed suicide. When she said it was in Truth of Consequences, New Mexico, I couldn’t help notice the irony. This beloved man, legendary in his own right — an AIDS warrior who had conquered mountains, life on a nuclear submarine, thousands of gay men dying on his watch and countless stunning victories and devastating defeats, had gone to a remote desert town, settled in and taken his own life now riddled by chronic pain. In the end Rodger was the samurai who died by his own hand. For me life will never be quite as colorful without him. I miss you Rodger, and yes, you were right!