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Last Saturday night, KPFT/90.1 FM DJ Jimmy Carper gathered his crew around him. It was time, he said, to remember someone he never dreamed they would lose so soon. Carper, host of the gay issues show After Hours, paid tribute to Houston gay and lesbian activist Maria Minicucci, who died suddenly last week of a stroke at the age of 50.
The crew joined together to remember Minicucci's dry sense of humor, strong activism and commitment to the Houston Lesbian and Gay Community Center, where she had served as president and board director.
"Her footprint is all over the place," says Carper of Minicucci. Her death "came in through the back door and kicked me in the rear."
Minicucci was considered especially memorable in that she made a major mark on the gay and lesbian community, despite being in Houston only four years. She created diverse programming for the community center and was a regular contributor for the Houston Voice. She also fell in love.
"She believed there was pleasure in every day, and you had better find it," says Deb Murphy, Minicucci's partner. Murphy met Minicucci soon after she arrived in Houston, when she answered Minicucci's personal ad in the Houston Press. Minicucci proudly announced in the ad, "Radical Fem Seeks Bold Butch." The couple married later in Niagara Falls.
The classified ad was representative of Minicucci's strong sense of humor and pride in who she was -- something she tried to bring to the center when she became its president in November 1999.
Current center president Tim Brookover says Minicucci had a genius for creating activities to welcome newcomers to the facility. "The center is going to miss her more than we even realize right now," he says.
According to Brookover, Minicucci was pivotal in adding a Lesbian Film Night, a Lesbian Coming Out Group and a writing group called Write On, Women. She helped create several forums, including one on hate crimes and one on racism in the gay and lesbian community.
"More than one person has said to me that Maria had the gift, which everyone does not have, of accepting people where they are," says Brookover. "One of the things she taught by example was you treat everyone the same."
Voice editor and friend Wendy Mohon recalled how persuasive Minicucci could be in her editorials. In one column, Minicucci urged women to once again take up a "radical and raucous momentum," instead of letting feminism sputter out into a "ladylike lull." She concluded, "Our work remains formidable, our devotion remains fierce. But it is quite foolhardy to expect ladies to do women's work."
Offsetting her serious side was a subtle sense of humor she used to entertain friends. Murphy says when Minicucci laughed, her "whole body would shake."
She arrived here from Toronto, Canada, where she was active in the women's movement. She was born and raised in Buffalo, where she died while visiting her mother.
Minicucci earned advanced degrees in psychology and women's studies from Royokan University in Los Angeles and Goddard College in Vermont. She taught psychology at the Stafford campus of Houston Community College. She had a knack for reaching her students by using contemporary issues they could relate to.
"She spoke their language," says Donald Green, the psychology department chair at HCC Southwest. "I grew to like her so much as a person and as a professional."
Late last week her friends were scheduling a personalized memorial, a dance to honor the disco-loving Minicucci, at the center. "Maria was the mother of the community center," remembers Carper. "She brought nurturing to the place."