The Private Life and Public Death of Frank Koury

Frank Koury wanted to keep his gay life at home and his legal life at Fulbright & Jaworski separated. But when he died, everything was revealed.

Even as he lay dying of AIDS, Albert Frank Koury was intent on being a Southern gentleman. It was the way he was brought into the world, 40 years before in New Orleans, and, as much as he had a say in such things, it was the way he intended to leave it.

In late June 1993, nearly five years after he was diagnosed with the HIV virus, Koury was admitted to Park Plaza Hospital with pneumonia. Though he didn't think it was his time to die, he summoned his lawyer, Randall Lamb, to the intensive care unit to discuss a revised draft of his last will and testament. Later in the week, Lamb returned with his secretary to witness the signing of the document that would tell the world Frank Koury's last thoughts. On that second visit, Lamb noticed that Koury appeared much sicker. His oval, olive-toned face was pale and bloated behind an oxygen mask; a respirator tube tapered down his throat.

Still, Koury was well enough to pick up a pen and write a short message on a pad of computer paper. Lamb smiled as he read the first line: "You sure look nice." It was the sort of charm, effortless even in extreme circumstances, that people had come to expect from Frank Koury. Lamb read on: "I reviewed [the will] upon receipt but would prefer to be cleaned up etc. and sit down like gentlemen in a few days. It's not pneumocystis so I think we can wait a few days. Is that OK?"

Lamb left Park Plaza with the will unsigned. Then, a few days later, on July 6, he received a phone call from the hospital. Koury's lung had collapsed. He rallied briefly, but died of heart failure shortly after 7 p.m.

Professionally, Frank Koury died fulfilled. He had a coveted partnership at Fulbright & Jaworski, one of Houston's illustrious Big Three law firms, a comfortable, six-figure salary and an enviable estate. He also had a valued reputation as a "lawyer's lawyer." But if his professional life seemed beyond dispute, his personal life was another story. In Frank KouryÕs death, the question of who he really was became an issue that would tear into his family, his friends and his memory.

It was the will, left unsigned, that caused Koury's personal life to come to the fore. The will led to an embarrassing court battle over his estate that ended this April with a bewildering jury verdict. From that case emerged a puzzling story of an ambitious and seemingly self-assured man blessed with an immediate and aristocratic grace, who tried to strike a balance between being a gay man, an ideal member of a prominent law firm and the perfect son. It is the story of a man who, for all his accomplishments, could never quite reconcile these distinct images of himself.

The will reflected that confusion. Signed, it would have left the bulk of Frank Koury's estate to a man who had lived with him for years, a man he referred to as his spouse. To sign that will would have been to admit to the world at large that he was, indeed, gay. That he didnÕt sign the will has left those who loved Frank Koury -- chief among them Sam Templeton, Koury's live-in lover -- confused about just who Koury was. Was the unsigned will simply the unfortunate result of a death that came a day, an hour, a minute too soon? Or was it a tragic sign of the lengths Koury was prepared to go to rewrite the record of his life? There was a time when understanding Frank's conflicted life didn't much matter to Sam Templeton. But since then, he has discovered that Frank Koury was HIV positive Ñ and well aware of it -- during the years that the two of them were having unprotected sex. With his own death from AIDS imminent, Templeton has begun to wonder about the man he once thought he knew so well. He has fixated on the illusive, unknown chapters of Frank Koury's life. They haunt him, for how these chapters are pieced together will validate or destroy his memory of their relationship.

"Was it that he really didn't care about me at all?" Templeton says. "Was I just a concubine hired on to help Frank Koury get through his illness?

"If there is an afterlife, I'll get an answer from Frank. "Who shot JFK?" -- that'd be the first question. Then I'd say, "Why didn't you sign the will?" I'll get an answer and it better be a good one."

Sam Templeton is not the only one who has been seeking answers. So has George Koury, Frank's father, and the man who, for two miserably wet days in early April, engaged in legal conflict with Templeton over what Frank intended to do with the fruits of his labor. More than mere wrangling, the trial was a coming-out party of sorts, but one in which there was little to celebrate.

It had been late evening in Southern California when George Koury received the news of his son's death. George had moved from New Orleans to Escondido, near San Diego, in 1984 with his former secretary, Jacqueline. George had married Jacqueline in 1982, seven months after the death of Frank's mother, Eleanor. His father's remarriage so soon after the death of his mother upset Frank and his two older sisters, Pam and Michelle. Frank never visited his father in Escondido. He only saw him when George passed through Texas on his way to New Orleans on business, or during visits to Dallas, where Michelle lived with her family.

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