Eulogy for Jim Green
Marianne Duddy-Burke, Executive Director, DignityUSA
November 24, 2018
It is a profound honor to deliver this tribute to Jim Green on behalf of DignityUSA, an organization he deeply loved, and that loved him deeply in return. The entire Dignity family, all across the United States, offers sincere condolences to Bill, to Jim’s many, many family members and friends, and to all who see a bit less light in the world since his passing.
I first learned of Jim and Bill as a young Dignity leader, when presidents including John Hager and Jim Bussen pointed them out to me and made sure I was introduced to them. I was told of how, after their parish priest had preached a homily condemning homosexuality and gay relationships, they had met with him to talk about the pastoral harm he had done. When the pastor insisted that this was the word of God that he would continue to preach, Jim and Bill promptly redirected their substantial financial contributions from the parish to Dignity, New Ways Ministry, and Call To Action, and later, to Holy Wisdom. In addition, I was told, Jim and Bill provided ongoing moral support, sage advice and prayers for every DignityUSA leader. They were folks I should get to know.
And get to know them I did! Jim, Bill, and I quickly bonded over our shared love of teddy bears and the somewhat embarrassing secret of being responsible adults who traveled with our stuffed companions! Jim and Bill opened their home to me during my Dignity travels on more than one occasion, and through these visits and phone calls, I learned of their daily visits to the nursing home where both of their mothers were. They spent hours there each day, helping to feed their mothers, making sure they got outside when they were able, and socializing with other residents, as well. Over time, I learned of the support they gave to young LGBT people who were on their own due to their identities, and of Jim and Bill’s concern for family members who faced health challenges or had suffered devastating losses. Over the years, Jim’s many phone calls to me inevitably started this way: “Hi, Marianne. It’s Jim Green from Madison. I have a couple things I want to go over with you. But first, how are you doing? How are Becky and your girls?” We never got down to business without catching up on those we loved. This deep and consistent care was a hallmark of how Jim dealt with everyone.
Jim cherished his faith and loved his church with passion but was very much aware of how it was flawed. He expected better of institutional Catholicism and was quick to speak out when church leaders’ actions hurt people. He and Bill worked hard to ensure that communities that provided sanctuary, inclusive welcome, and ecumenical vision were strong and vibrant. They knew that the Body of Christ takes many shapes and goes by many names. I think what touched me most about Jim and Bill was the way in which they marked significant anniversaries. Every five years on their 5 and 0 milestones, they’d have a liturgy and party that brought together folks from various parts of their lives, and they’d honor all of the commitments that those present had made to one another, and all of the love that was in the room. They always expressed gratitude for the communities that supported them, little realizing that it was their love and commitment that helped us all become community.
I realize that although this is a eulogy for Jim, virtually all of it involves Bill, as well. It is nearly impossible to speak of one, and reflect on one of their lives, without talking about the other. Such was the depth of their partnership. I would challenge anyone who does not believe that same-sex couples can have relationships that are generative and holy to look at Jim and Bill’s nearly 49 years together. Their love and support for one another, up until the last hour of Jim’s earthly life, is a model of a successful marriage. The number and types of people they worked together to support is beyond what any of us can guess. The generosity with which they nurtured individuals, organizations, and communities is legendary. Their marriage—and it was a marriage long before it could be legally recognized—reflects all that could be hoped for of any two people. It was an honor and inspiration to witness.
Jim said on several occasions that he hoped to keep his illness at bay long enough to attend DignityUSA’s 50th anniversary conference in Chicago next July. I am deeply disappointed that he won’t be there in person, but I know that his spirit will infuse every second of our celebration. Without Jim and Bill’s support and the generosity they inspired in so many others, we may never have made it to 50. I know I’ll be honoring him as one of our beloved Saints and Prophets, and his memory will be celebrated for many years to come.
Jim leaves a legacy of love, encouragement, determination, aspiration, and commitment. I will be forever grateful for his friendship and support. I know that the same is true for many in this room and beyond. Each of us is better for Jim’s presence in our life, and hope that he is at rest in the embrace of the loving God.