Paying Respect to Gilbert Henry Stafford
The send-off affair for Gilbert Henry Stafford turned into one of the best parties in years. Someone quipped that none of the people in the room would have even thought about attending the clubs he worked at. It was an evening of laughter and great sadness. Speaker after speaker told impossible tales of a man who will be unbearably missed. All of old school nightlife was in attendance and all were dressed for respect. I did the door and recognized about 90% of the crowd. Freddy Wyatt and King helped me out there. King spelled me when it was my turn to speak, When I came back up for some air and a break from the sad realities, King told me that as he was letting people inside he was saying, ‘have a good time,’ a standard doorman thing to do. I had been doing it as well. It was like that all evening– old friends so happy to see each other, but then so sad that Gilbert had passed.
After violinists Samuel Thompson and Philip Peyton ferried us to a place of calm and beauty, I was asked to say a few words. Old friend Kevin James Dalton filled the big screen behind the podium with images of Gilbert’s very full life. Nightlife legend Frank Giresi had us all laughing so hard that we cried and then we cried so hard we all laughed. Other speakers included Dirk van Stokum, Nick Kadaras, David Sarner, Steven Hall and many others. I missed many as I was doing the velvet ropes. The list of who was there would be the who’s who of New York nightlife as Gilbert touched everyone. Father Chris did imitations and told tall tales that destroyed us all. Gilbert Stafford was the doorman at New York’s Area, Bed, Big City Diner, Crobar, Horatio 113, Jet Lounge, Living Room, Mr. Fuji’s Tropicana, Nell’s, Rehab, Remedy, Tatou, Trixie’s, Quo, South Beach’s Back Door Bamby, Lua, Liquid, Blue, Chaos, Crobar, Fat black Pussycat, Risk, Glam Slam, Groove Lounge, The Spot, V Lounge. He died in LA where he was doing the door at Playhouse in Hollywood.
The event was filmed and at one point you and I will be able to replay it. There is no way to describe the love and friendship in Hiro last night. A room full of players showed up to make sure Gilbert Henry Stafford was sent off right. My speech, which couldn’t hold a candle to the words of those that followed me:
Old friends pass away, new friends appear. It is just like the days. An old day passes, a new day arrives. The important thing is to make it meaningful. A meaningful friend – or a meaningful day.
I can hear Gilbert now, “The Dalai Lama Mr. Lewis! You actually quoted the Dalai Lama. How cliché Steven. We need to talk”
Many of the people in this room are involved in some capacity in nightlife. It’s a wonderful world for sure, but it is a world where meaningful days are sometimes overshadowed by meaningless nights, where smart people act supremely dumb. It is in this world were Gilbert Stafford was a star. An icon. He was suave. He was sophisticated. He had class swagger and smarts. He was a gentleman. He was often our soul. Our conscious. He was our friend.
When my world collapsed all around me and whispers and innuendo tore at my flesh and heart and I lowered my head, he admonished me to keep my head up. He pushed me to walk like a man. He got me through it. At other times when I swore I was the shit, he’d knock me down a peg with a “Mr. Lewis tone it down a notch right now. I know who you really are. Are you eating dairy late at night??” He’d keep me humble. Gilbert bellowed, he pranced, he showed off, he blustered, he gave you his all. We are all here to respect the life of a man who led by example and was always there for all of us
We come here to remember Gilbert Henry Stafford. We come here to honor him. I put to you that the best way to honor Gilbert is to live our lives to the fullest, to impart to the next generation and to each other any wisdom we may have picked up on our journey, the wisdom we gleaned from him. To remember our friend Gilbert we must give more of ourselves than we take for ourselves.
Nightclub people are very special folk. While many are motivated by greed and ego, many, including those I see here today, understand that at its core we all seek to be loved and adored a bit more than the next guy. We need maybe a little more recognition than the average Joe. We are a tribe of artists and actors, creative types and flim flam men. Gilbert Henry Stafford knew us all for what we are, and accepted us and loved us as for what we are. He loved us just as he loved the crowds who came to the clubs he maestroed. The crowds that knew his heart was as big as his voice.
I have defined him from the one dimensional world of clubs. Others will speak of other aspects of his life. But in all his endeavors I think we will find a man who’s love made others love, a man who used his door gig as a pulpit to enlighten the less enlightened, which includes almost everyone. A man so tall and so big a presence that he always seemed to see beyond us, over us, through us, into us.
In a world full of lies, Gilbert was a great truth. Although our hearts are heavy from our loss I can’t help feel that he would have wanted us to celebrate his life today. I ask you all for a big smile for the wonderful life of Mr. Gilbert Henry Stafford, a man for all seasons, a man of wisdom , of patience, of dignity. A man who, with his life, has made all our lives so much better. To Gilbert.