Unsung Heroes: Joe Desmond and Ken Flanagan

By Bruce Monroe

      Joe Desmond (in back) and Ken Flanagan

     Joe Desmond (in back) and Ken Flanagan

Joe Desmond was a stalwart, albeit quiet, volunteer for the Dallas Gay Alliance and the Foundation for Human Understanding for more than nine years. He bought the first (!) computer for the Alliance: a Kaypro suitcase portable computer, from which we managed the membership roster of the DGA, the minutes, and also published Dialog, our monthly newsletter. Joe never missed a board meeting – and we met EVERY Monday, including our monthly membership meetings.

Joe Desmond served as a Captain in the Army where he honed his considerable secretarial skills as a protocol officer for the base commander. That experience served the Dallas Gay Alliance well. His minutes were impeccable and quite succinct.

His long term partner, Ken Flanagan, served in the Marines. Ken volunteered every Wednesday on the membership committee. Never one to lead, he was absolutely dependable. Ken, ironically was the outgoing one. Ken would wait for Joe each Monday night across the street at JR’s along with other partners and friends of board members. They called themselves the Bored of the Board. When the meeting concluded, we all retired to dinner at the Bronx.

Joe and Ken both participated in most, if not all, of our street actions. One in particular was when we used to let out the air in the tires of the buses of the Christian organizations that would pester the community on the streets of the Crossroads every weekend.

Both Joe and Ken were out in their respective workplaces. Joe was an actuary and Ken worked in insurance, as well. In addition to their service to the Alliance, where Joe served as secretary of the organization for many years, creating carefully transcribed minutes that, today, serve as the best reference for the details of many important events of the day.  They were also quite active in Dignity Dallas, a gay Catholics organization.

                  Joe Desmond with Bill Nelson

                 Joe Desmond with Bill Nelson

I remember, fondly, their annual Christmas Party at their home in Oak Cliff. The house was decorated to the hilt. Much like their personalities, it was usually a quiet affair, punctuated by Ken’s famous laugh.

When the Foundation for Human Understanding bought the building that now houses the John Thomas Gay and Lesbian Community Center and Resource Center (at the intersection of Regan St. and Brown St., the officers and directors were all worried about being in debt. When everyone else was wringing their hands with concern about the seemingly huge size of the mortgage loan which had been required for the purchase, Joe insisted that the purchase of the building by borrowing the money was a sound decision. We fretted about the note long after the building was purchased, but Joe kept telling us that most of the things we worry about never actually happen and that paying off the mortgage would all work out fine in due time.  Little did anyone know, that Ken and Joe had already made plans whereby the Foundation for Human Understanding would receive their entire net estates after their death.  

                [Left to right]. William Waybourn. -  Bill Nelson. -  Joe Desmond. -  Ken Flanagan

               [Left to right]. William Waybourn. -  Bill Nelson. -  Joe Desmond. -  Ken Flanagan

They both volunteered until they were too sick to participate. Ken died first, in 1993. Joe followed a year later. After they died, Joe and Ken’s sizable estate, more than $500,000 – unbeknownst to all – paid off the remaining debt. This is why their names adorn the exterior of Resource Center today

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