In Memoriam: Larry Pettit, 1945-2018

San Francisco loses a beloved activist and “character”

Photo: Alex Ray

Late night on November 7, 2018, a massive heart attack took from us Larry Pettit, one of San Francisco’s LGBTQ community’s most beloved “characters” and volunteers. His neice Melissa Willets announced his passing on Facebook. He was 73 years old.

Larry moved to San Francisco from Nebraska during the late 1960s. He often told me stories about living here as “one of the original hippie queers” in the city. He loved San Francisco at first sight and stayed here well past the Summer of Love. He enjoyed telling people that he had lived in San Francisco for so long that “I’m not fit to live anywhere else!” as he continued to fly his freak flag with great pride!

Those values embedded in the Summer of Love are ones that Larry practiced every day and never let go of. He volunteered his services to organizations and causes around the city more than just about anyone I’ve ever known. Ms. Willets said, “. I am most proud of him for being a ‘bleeding heart Liberal.’ He lived his beliefs. He fought for what he felt in his heart and would not back down.” His causes were wide and varied. His friend Cole Benson remembers “meeting Larry at a 6:00 a.m. Standing Rock solidarity rally—surely that speaks volumes about his dedication to a better world.” Larry was known as a staunch supporter of rights for women. His Quaker background made him an adamant anti-war crusader.

Larry’s service to the LGBTQ community in San Francisco is unquantifiable. No matter whether it was cleaning up the AIDS Memorial Grove or helping to host an art show gallery; volunteering at Frameline (the San Francisco Int’l Fill Festival) or building houses with Habitat for Humanity, if something needed to get done, Larry was there volunteering to help. He was one of the busiest members of Bridgemen, a service organization sponsored by the San Francisco AIDS Foundation, and the Elizabeth Taylor 50-Plus Network, which he helped to found along with ET50+ Program Director Vince Crisostomo.

“I first met Larry Pettit in the 90’s,” Vince told me. “That was the fresh start to what became a wonderful connection. Whatever the occasion and almost any event, Larry was always game to show up. He connected members of Wild Chats and other groups to 50-Plus. I could always count on him to tell me what was and was not working.

”In 2015 when he turned 70 he said he had never had a birthday party and so on June 12, 2015 a group of 50-Plus and Bridgemen members went to Encore Karaoke to celebrate our friend and founding member. The one thing that he asked for was an ice cream cake, which he ate with great gusto. Earlier this year, I went to visit him and he needed a phone charger. So I gave him one which he gratefully accepted. He said he would pay me back immediately. I told him to just consider it a thank you for the many volunteer hours he put in and for always showing up. He said if he had known that he would have asked for something more! Then for whatever reason he brought up the ice cream cake. He said it was an act of kindness he would never forget.”

Vince concluded, “Rest in peace my friend. Wherever you are I hope there are ice cream cakes that you can enjoy and that you will smile on us. I will miss you.”

Like many of the other members of the Elizabeth Taylor 50-Plus Network, I have enjoyed several hours just sitting with Larry at our Saturday morning coffee gatherings, talking local and international politics, our aging, artists and poetry. Larry was a rare, intelligent, compassionate, generous man, extremely loyal to his friends and his Tribe and unapologetically a bleeding-heart liberal.

Goodbye, Larry. Saturday mornings just won’t be the same anymore.

Reporting by Hank Trout