Paul Harding Douglas ’80

Paul Douglas ’80 (1959–1995)

 

Paul Douglas ’80 (1959–1995) Paul Harding Douglas died of AIDS-related complications in New York City in 1995. At the time, he was Executive Director of the AIDS clinical trials unit at New York Hospital-Cornell Medical Center. A grandson of Paul H. Douglas, former U. S. Senator from Illinois, Paul was prodigiously talented. Poet, author, singer, he received two MA’s in computer science from Columbia, where he was co-founder of the Gay Health Advocacy Project. He co-authored The Essential AIDS Fact Book and The Essential HIV Treatment Fact Book (both Pocket Books). Paul was thirty-seven; his funeral service included several songs performed by fellow Kroks.

Personal tributes:

Marc Johnson ’78: I loved hearing Paul’s bass tones resonate through the Pudding Bar during rehearsals. His visual-artist side always percolated restlessly, and he reveled in how his upbringing in the bohemian West Village gave him “street cred” as an artist. When the group hatched a scheme to create the Val Jam in 1978 (to generate revenue during a traditionally slow period and hey, have some postexam fun too), I jumped at the chance to work with Paul on the first poster. We brainstormed in my Adams House room, until Paul finally conceived the poster’s lascivious Krok head. We transferred his sketch to artboard (I handled the press-on lettering, in this time of pre–desktop publishing!). After we delivered the artwork to a Porter Square printer, Mother Nature dumped two major snowstorms — including the Blizzard of ’78 — and the Governor shut down the state. With no “T” beyond Harvard Square at the time and the streets buried under three feet of snow, how could we the posters in time to publicize the concert? Walking was tough enough, not to mention carrying a heavy box of posters! I finally borrowed a bike and pedaled, slipping and sliding up Mass. Ave. Strapping the box onto the bike’s rack, I somehow managed to make it back to the Pudding. I recall a very satisfied look on Paul’s face — as we helped establish what has become another Krok tradition. He was a gentle, creative soul, and I miss seeing him at our reunions.

Bill Shebar ’79: In the summers of 1979 and 1980, Paul and I were singing waiters, along with Allen Gifford ’80, Howard Cohen ’81, Katie Geissinger ’80, and Liza Hale ’79, at the Skipper Restaurant on Nantucket. Our cords lubricated with free drinks, we’d do four sets of show tunes nightly, peppered with Krok favorites. In the late set, Paul would drape his 6’4″ frame over a chair and sing “In the Wee Small Hours.” He was handsome, witty, and endlessly creative — sculptor, punk rocker, computer scientist, dance videographer, AIDS researcher, and poet. Just for the hell of it, he learned to tell a silly joke — about a kangaroo in a bar — in twelve languages, including Swahili.

Each day before the restaurant opened, we’d make “lobster setups” — nutcracker, shrimp fork, and Wash ’n’ Dry rolled up in a lobster bib. One afternoon we composed poems and folded them into the set-ups — including this: “The happy lobster in the wild,/Innocent as a newborn child,/Does not suspect the Skipper’s plot/To drop him in the boiling pot.” Later that evening, the Skipper’s owner gently reprimanded us for having put one of the customers off her lobster.

On a July morning 15 years later, I visited Paul at New York Hospital. He was terribly thin and too tall for the bed, his toes poking out of the sheets. I reminded him about the lobster poems. He managed to quip from under his oxygen mask: “Our most enduring work.” Later that week, with Paul fading fast, I went back to the hospital with George Colt ’76. Standing at his bed, George and I sang him “Loch Lomond.” We fought back tears, but the look of bliss on Paul’s face kept us steady. As our voices filled the room, the machines and hospital furniture melted away. The music took us someplace else. Paul would die soon, and eventually so will we, but at that moment the three of us shared a piece of eternity. At the end of the song, Paul struggled to say one word: “Beautiful.”

When a group of Krok alums recently sang “Loch Lomond” at the Class of 1978 Twenty-fifth reunion, the much-copied scores had Paul’s signature in the upper right hand corner. The signature fades with each new round of copies, but Paul is there whenever we sing.