10 December 2020

Howard Segars

A few days ago, one of our friends on Facebook posted a picture taken at our wedding. Three of our wedding guests were posed in the center of the frame -- and, with a pang, I noticed another familiar figure off to the side -- Howard Segars.

Howard Segars and Judy Maurer
That led me to search out our wedding album, hoping for a better view of Howard -- and here he is, talking with newlywed Judy outside the Friends Meeting at Cambridge meetinghouse, August 9, 1980.

Here on my blog, back in May 2010, I was musing about the passing of time, and went on to say:

I also think about people who are no longer with us. The Internet has completely changed our expectations about access to information -- but not all information becomes automatically accessible. I've become accustomed to being able to supplement a letter about some subject with hyperlinks to more information, but, honestly, when Gordon Browne died, it was a shock to find how little there was online to link to, in comparison to the floods of data available about people alive today who are unlikely to do 10% of what Gordon did for the world. Maybe it's time to revive and enhance the old Quaker tradition of the memorial minute, with encouragement to make them available online somehow.

Just to name one example: I really miss Howard Segars of Beacon Hill Meeting, and I wish there were more about him online.

I was at our home in Russia when I wrote those words. Now I'm back in the USA, with my paper archives right next to me. On a hunch, I went through my "S" folder -- and to my delight I found several letters and cards from Howard. Just as significant, in view of my wish from ten years ago, I found a memorial minute for him:



Howard DeFriese Segars of Beacon Hill Monthly Meeting died in Cambridge, Massachusetts on the 21st day of Six Month 1985 at the age of 38. He joined Friends Meeting at Cambridge Fourth Month 1972 and supported it with his gifts and efforts through the years. He also supported Beacon Hill Friends Meeting in its early days when only a handful gathered as a worship group. In 1980 when Beacon Hill became a monthly meeting, Howard became its first clerk as well as a founding member.

Many members of the Beacon Hill community recall that it was Howard who greeted them at their first meeting, and because of his outreach, they felt moved to return. Howard’s many letters to members, attenders, and other friends reflected his sensitivity to others and his desire to minister to their needs. His eloquent vocal ministry reflected his vast knowledge of the Bible, the early church and liturgical calendars of other faiths, his awareness of God’s presence, and his intense concern with suffering caused by injustice. Howard considered no task in Meeting above, below or beyond him, from dishwashing to care of children to struggling through Meeting for Business with such difficult issues as sanctuary for Central American refugees.

Among his contributions to New England Yearly Meeting were his memberships on the Permanent Board, New England Friends Home Committee, and the New England Friends Home Long Range Planning Committee. Howard Segars was one of the first to challenge New England Yearly Meeting to recognize contributions of gay men and lesbians and to welcome them openly into the mainstream of the Society.

He served Beacon Hill Friends House on the Program Committee, in the Quaker Studies Program, and through his counsel to staff during stressful times. He was also active with Friends General Conference.

Howard was deeply committed to issues of justice. As a teenager in Alabama during the civil rights struggle in the early 1960s, he chose to walk rather than ride the segregated buses. He worked as a VISTA volunteer in 1968 before finishing his degree in classics at Brown University. Studying clinical psychology at Boston University, he specialized in the care of the elderly and later lectured nationally on abuse of the elderly. Howard reminded us that all major religions teach us to care for our elderly.

He was instrumental in the formation of health and counseling services in Boston for gay men and lesbians. It is a sad irony that he died of AIDS, a disease that has so far afflicted mostly gay men. Despite declining health during the last two years of his life, he was available by beeper 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to the elderly that served through Guardianship Services; he was lecturing around the country until a month before his death; and he was an active participant in the Quaker Studies Program. He continued to live fully.

We know of no one who more passionately followed the admonition of Isaiah to “seek justice, correct oppression; defend the fatherless, plead for the widow.” He suffered the rejection of the disabled. He suffered the rejection of a gay man. He suffered the isolation of the outsider. He suffered the misunderstanding frequently felt by people who champion unpopular causes. Howard used the experience of his own pain to identify with and respond to the pain of others.

We rejoice in having had his strong presence among us and we feel intensely the palpable absence of his leaving. We grieve over our loss. We will miss Howard’s laughter and his spirituality.

  Committee: James Anthony, Don Galbreath, Lolly Ockerstrom, Erica Voolich

Easter 1982
Howard was a master storyteller, with stories (true or not, we didn't always know!) that were both hilarious and profound. He had a lot of material to work with -- his own experiences of life and service, his education in classics and psychology, his association with Quakers and with the Society of St. John the Evangelist, and most endearingly, with our own little Beacon Hill Friends community. 

We left Boston in 1980; on March 2, 1981, he wrote to us,

Meeting has grown since your departure and there have been a few First Days when folk have sat on the floor and the stairs! It's nothing short of amazing to me. The memory of tiny meetings for worship is still fairly recent and the change has been quite dramatic. I am learning, slowly, the art of clerking. Ministry and Counsel and business meetings have worked hard on the "busy" details and the work shows. Both of you gave much and your sharing has helped get Beacon Hill where it is today.

A short version of his memorial minute was published in Friends Journal in November 1985. I hope I've introduced Howard to more people through this post -- and if you already knew him, maybe you've had a chance to relive some good memories. Maybe you were even one of those who -- like Judy and me -- remember his warm greeting upon your first visit to Beacon Hill Friends Meeting.

Friends World Committee for Consultation is seeking the next general secretary for its World Office in London. Details here. (In case you missed it, there's a link on this page to Gretchen Castle's letter to Friends.)

In Russia, as elsewhere, sometimes it takes determination to remember. The case of Vera Ermolaeva.

Upcoming Scholar-Activist Encounter, December 17, features Weldon Nisley and Tom Boomershine. Cosponsored by Christian Peacemaker Teams, the Center and Library for the Bible and Social Justice, andthe Network for Biblical Storytellers International. 

Peterson Toscano on using the Zoom platform more effectively and creatively.

C.S. Lewis on "trumpery," via Nancy Thomas.

Remembering Little Charlie Baty.... Here's another collaboration with Anson Funderburgh and Mark Hummel:

No comments: