Vietnam Vet's Obit Reveal: 'I Must Tell You One More Thing'

Edward Ryan tells the world he was gay, had longtime partner, was afraid of being ostracized
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Jun 14, 2024 8:23 AM CDT
Updated Jun 16, 2024 11:05 AM CDT
Vietnam Vet's Obit Reveal: 'I Was Gay All My Life'
Stock photo.   (Getty Images/Liudmila Chernetska)

By all accounts, Edward Thomas Ryan could claim a life well-lived. As noted in his obituary published earlier this month in the Albany Times Union, the 85-year-old Vietnam vet and retired firefighter from Rensselaer, New York, was a beloved brother and uncle to many nieces and nephews, with various "awards, decorations, and commendations" to his name. Then, at the end of the obit, this, written by Ryan himself to be included in his death notice: "I must tell you one more thing. I was Gay all my life: thru grade school, thru High School, thru College, thru Life."

Ryan noted that he'd been in a "loving and caring relationship" with a man named Paul Cavagnaro for a quarter-century, until Cavagnaro died in 1994. "He was the love of my life," wrote Ryan, adding that he would be buried next to Cavagnaro. "I'm sorry for not having the courage to come out as Gay," Ryan added. "I was afraid of being ostracized: by Family, Friends, and Co-Workers. Seeing how people like me were treated, I just could not do it. Now that my secret is known, I'll forever Rest in Peace."

The obituary has since gone viral, with the story even making it onto Thursday's Today show, notes the Times Union. Tandra LaGrone of advocacy group In Our Own Voices tells the paper that "it's a big generational thing," and that it's not uncommon for older generations to remain closeted. Within Ryan's inner circle, his secret was apparently an open one. "He was very private, but we knew. It just wasn't something we talked about," one niece says. William Brooking, Rensselaer's fire chief, knew Ryan since he was a boy and said he knew Ryan was gay. "It didn't bother me, but I don't know how the old male macho fire service would have felt about it back then," he says.

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NBC News notes that condolences and messages of support soon poured into the obituary's comments section. "May you rest peacefully in the arms of your forever love," wrote one commenter. "I'm so sorry that you never felt safe to be your authentic self. Your bravery followed you beyond death." Another wrote: "I'm straight, but this is why pride events are important and still needed. Because until it is normal that a gay person can be seen publicly with their partner, then there will always be very heartbreaking stories like this where someone feels they have to hide their true self." (More obituary stories.)

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