Prizm News / February 8, 2018 / By Bob Vitale
Generous, vivacious and one of a kind, she championed our cause when few others had the courage.
By Bob Vitale
Everyone has a Barbara Havens story.
Tom Queen remembers a Black and White Party she hosted at her home on Schiller Park in Columbus’ German Village back in ’96 or ’97. She put a spotlight out in front that you could see for miles, hired a drag queen to dress like Marilyn Monroe in “The Seven Year Itch” and had a makeshift sewer grate that fanned makeshift Marilyn’s white dress.
The guest list included the Republican mayor of Columbus.
“I left at 8:30 the next morning,” Queen says.
Todd Hellman remembers one of the early Art for Life auctions hosted by what was then the Columbus AIDS Task Force. He was a grad student at the time, new to Columbus and anxious to become involved in the community.
“Barbara Havens bought a piece of art for an amount that I couldn’t fathom.” Steve Shellabarger remembers the piece was by famed Columbus watercolorist Alice Schille; Queen remembers the price was $25,000.
Shellabarger hadn’t heard of the time Havens flew a group of drag queens up from Miami to help celebrate an award she received from the Human Rights Campaign, but he doesn’t doubt it’s true.
“She was a crazy lady,” he says.
Friends and family are sharing all of their favorite Barbara Havens stories this week. The woman described by more than one person as the Auntie Mame of Columbus’ gay community—bold, brash, generous, adventurous and more than happy to take everyone along for the ride—passed away on Friday, Feb. 2, 2018. She was 61 years old and had lived with the effects of multiple sclerosis for years.
But “she lived every day,” according to Shellabarger. “When she couldn’t do it, she did it.”
“She’s a woman who walked around with a positive attitude and a smile on her face in good times and in bad,” says Sally Blue, a former Columbus AIDS Task Force official who remembers the parties Havens hosted to thank Art for Life volunteers.
She also remembers a woman she describes as flawless: “porcelain skin, beautiful red hair, jewelry, dressed to perfection.”
Havens was devoted to her family—children John and Parker and three granddaughters—and to an adopted family that grew larger and larger through the years. She was an LGBTQ ally when there weren’t many around, and she was a visible, vocal supporter of equality and acceptance through the darkest days of the AIDS crisis.
“I met Barbara Havens—a force of nature—in the mid ’90s when we served as co-chairs for the Columbus HRC dinner,” says Mary Jo Hudson, who a decade later would become the first openly gay member of the Columbus City Council.
“At that time, the LGBT community had a few allies, but even fewer who were vocal or willing to even be seen with us. Barbara was the very first and often only vocal ally in many lives—including mine—and she was anything but shy. She left an indelible mark on all of our lives.”
From sponsoring a team in the local gay softball league (the Glamour Girls) to hosting a memorial service when a friend’s partner died of AIDS, Havens was there. She was always there, Queen says.
“She was hanging out with the gays when she was 19 years old.”
Havens grew up in Orange, Texas, a Gulf-coast town on the Louisiana border. She met her husband, Tom Havens, at Texas Christian University and the two eventually found their way back to his hometown of Columbus.
She brought her own unique brand of advocacy with her.
“Back in the day, she was the belle of the ball on the dance floors of Columbus and other places,” Queen says. “She was the light in a lot of people’s lives.”
Hellman describes himself as a “fearful young gay” when he first met Havens.
“Here was Barbara, loud as she could be, proclaiming how wonderful our community was,” he said. “If she could be out and proud, I could be out and proud. Barbara wasn’t afraid.”
As MS limited her mobility, she remained active, friends say.
At a Red Party at the Valley Dale Ballroom in Columbus, back when Havens first started having mobility issues, Queen recalls that her good friend, Corbett Reynolds, didn’t want her to miss the show but didn’t want her to have to contend with the crowds.
He created a spot for her in a balcony overlooking the dance floor and created a costume that looked like a throne. It hid a portable toilet, which she sat on buck naked from the waist down, unbeknownst to everyone around her.
She brought her brash brand of advocacy to the HRC dinner she co-chaired with Hudson.
“Our dinner may not have been the highest grossing event, but it included lots of drag queens, fortune tellers, a fabulous program, an outrageous auction that included a motorcycle, and some random llamas, along with the largest team of co-chairs ever. Only with Barbara,” Hudson recalls.
“Barbara made each of us slow down and enjoy the journey, and she did it with style.”
Services for Barbara Havens will be at 11 a.m. on Saturday, Feb. 10, at Schoedinger Northwest Chapel, 1740 Zollinger Road, Upper Arlington, 43221.
“We’re all terribly sad, but we’ve all been regaling each other of the wonderful stories,” Queen says.
Queen will share some of those stories at Haven’s memorial service, and more certainly will follow at a cocktail reception from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. at M Restaurant, 2 Miranova Place, Columbus, 43215.
“We’ll be sharing them for the rest of our lives,” he says.