Bernard Duncan Mayes | October 10, 1929 – October 23, 2014

A hero to so many of us…

Read an invocation from Bernard to be shared with all of us after the dispersal of his ashes.

Here is an excerpt of an article in the UVa Magazine Summer 2015 edition written by Michelle Koidin Jaffee.

The Pioneer: Remembering Bernard Duncan Mayes (published in the UVa Magazine here)

Bernard Mayes had a long list of notable achievements before he even came to UVa: he’d served as an Mayes2Anglican priest, created the country’s first suicide-prevention hotline, and was at the forefront of launching National Public Radio.

But on Grounds, where he taught media studies from 1984 to 1999, Mayes is perhaps best remembered as a Cambridge gentleman in a professorial tweed jacket who broke down barriers for gay students and colleagues alike.

At Brown College on Monroe Hill, where Mayes lived among students in a faculty apartment for several years, he made sure no one was alone during the holidays. “There would be people left behind, students who couldn’t go back to Taiwan or the Middle East or wherever they were from,” says Carl Trindle, professor emeritus of chemistry and longtime administrator of Brown College. “He would provide them with Thanksgiving dinner. He would cook turkeys with their help.”

Mayes, who had suffered from Parkinson’s disease, died last fall in San Francisco. He was 85.

A native of London, Mayes first came to the U.S. as a priest, but also worked as a journalist for the British Broadcasting Corporation. After he moved from New York to San Francisco, he felt something had to be done about that city’s high suicide rate and came up with the idea of a hotline. In 1961 he set up a red telephone in a basement room – and established a resource that would become a model used across the country.

In 1984, after he’d taught at Stanford for 10 summers, UVa invited Mayes to be a guest lecturer. He decided to stay in Charlottesville, over time becoming an assistant dean and chair of the since-disbanded rhetoric and communication studies department. He tried for years to get the administration to support the idea of a department of media studies, and laid the groundwork for what eventually developed after he left.

In August 1995, assigned as his faculty adviser, Mayes first met an Echols Scholar named Matt Chayt. A couple of days after their initial meeting, Chayt, then 18, went to a welcoming reception for gay and lesbian students.

From left to right: Will Scott, Bernard Mayes, and Matt Chayt

He was pleasantly surprised to see Mayes there as well. “I was just really happy that this person who had all this remarkable expertise would have a personal background in common with me,” Chayt (Col ’99) recalls. As time went on, Chayt and his husband, Will Scott, would become friends with Mayes, eventually caring for him in the home the three shared in San Francisco.

Despite the challenges of the time, Mayes never tried to hide his sexuality. “He was a very openly gay man – and proud of his gay identity,” says Charlotte Patterson, a professor of psychology who partnered with Mayes to start the first group for gay and lesbian UVa faculty and staff members. “He would be happy to tell you about his first husband, who was a drag queen. That had a certain shock value at the time at UVa. He enjoyed that, I think, and he also educated a lot of people in telling his stories.”

In addition to organizing the first faculty group, Mayes led efforts to fight homophobia and advance gay rights at the University. He initiated a drive to include sexual orientation in the nondiscrimination clause of the College of Arts & Sciences’ policies and helped found the Queer Virginia Alumni Network, a gay and lesbian alumni group, later renamed the Serpentine Society. In 1999 the Serpentine Society created an award in Mayes’ name for service to the LGBT community.

Today, UVa has a Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, and Questioning Center, which operates under the Office of the Dean of Students and promotes awareness and inclusion. “Times have definitely changed,” Patterson says. “Bernard was here at the start of these changes, and he was not afraid.”

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In 2001, the University of Virginia Press published Bernard Mayes’ autobiography, Escaping God’s Closet: The Revelations of a Queer Priest, which won the national Lambda Literary Award in the spirituality category.

Escaping God’s Closet (limited preview from Google Books)

Other links of interest include:

Here is a summary quote about Soupism from Bernard’s Wikipedia page:

“According to Mayes, this implies that all things are interdependent and subject to constant, endless change. Mayes’ philosophy of “soup” further asserts that there can be neither a true beginning nor a true end of existence, and that belief in supernatural forces, gods, spirits, and the soul is false, being the product of human imagination. Mayes also argues that the interdependence, interaction, and endless exchange within existence necessitate a particular ethic. This ethic is derived from the further belief that love for others, egalitarian government, universal education, and respect for the planet and all that live upon it are critical for the continued health, well-being, and survival of the human species.”

1963: On the red telephone at the offices of the San Francisco Suicide Prevention Center. Photo courtesy of Look Magazine.
1963: On the red telephone at the offices of the San Francisco Suicide Prevention Center. Photo courtesy of Look Magazine.


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