Lorri L. Jean: “Great Things Must Come to an End”

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By Lorri L. Jean (Published in Spring 2022 Issue of Center’s Vanguard Magazine)

This is the last time you will hear from me in the Vanguard as your Center’s CEO. Even though I’m quite aware (and excited) that I’m retiring on July 1, I was surprised that the realization of this as my final column brought a lump to my throat. 

Over the decades I have used this space to relay important Center news, to share my take on what’s happening in our larger movement, to rail against injustice and to try to inspire my readers to continue to do whatever they could to advance our cause. I’ve always taken very seriously the leadership role I’ve been privileged to play and the responsibility I believe that brings. And while there is much about the stress of this supremely fulfilling job that I will not be sad to leave behind, THIS is one of the many things I’ll miss.

I love connecting with people who care about the Center and our community. I love that queer Angelenos (and some terrific allies) have built and sustained this incredible organization for more than 50 years. I love that the Center has always strived to do its best for our people and to fight for our rightful place in society. And I love that even when we’ve made mistakes or failed in some way to live up to our own very high expectations, we haven’t given up. As an organization, no matter the challenges, we’ve picked ourselves up and persevered, determined to do better, always buoyed by the support (and sometimes forgiveness) of our community. 

That’s truly extraordinary. 

Even more extraordinary is what the Center does every day for our community. I’m beyond proud of the progress we’ve made since I first took the helm in January of 1993, and I will continue to be a steadfast supporter of the Center until, as my Mom used to say, I turn up my toes. Hopefully that won’t be for a very long time because I have things to do! Places to go! People to see!

Many friends have commented that they don’t think I actually can retire. When I’ve asked them why they’ve reached such a conclusion, the answers all have a similar theme: They’ve seen how passionate and driven I’ve been about the progress of the Center and our larger movement and how much I’ve truly loved this job. They can’t imagine that an A-type personality can give up this kind of involvement. 

One of the reasons I can is Joe Hollendoner. Since Joe started last July, I have seen his dedication and determination, his competence and passion, his humor, and his huge heart. He is growing to love this organization as much as I do, and I know all will be well under his capable leadership. I can take the next phase of my journey knowing that he’s the right leader for the next phase of the Center’s journey. That is an enormous relief and a gift—to all of us.

And what is the next phase of my journey?

My wonderful (and very understanding) wife of 30 years, Gina M. Calvelli, retired at the end of last year after decades as an attorney. She and I plan to divide our time between Maui, Los Angeles, and world travel (at least, as long as our wanderlust, bodies, and money hold out). I’m also going to spend time on interests I’ve never had a chance to pursue because of how all-consuming the Center job has been. Running the Center has indeed been my life’s greatest passion. But now I want to spend what years I have left on other pursuits. For example, my mother was an artist, and I inherited some of her talent. She was always after me to learn how to use it. Now I’ll have the time to do so. Maybe I’ll pick the guitar back up or even write a trashy novel (just don’t expect a book about “the movement” from me).

Of course, I’ll miss the Center. I’ll miss being in the thick of things I care deeply about. I’ll miss being a full-time warrior in the fight for justice. I’ll miss my movement colleagues and everyone associated with the Center—my talented senior team members over the years, my phenomenally dedicated Board co-chairs, ALL of our fabulous Board and staff members and volunteers, our donors and clients. But retiring doesn’t mean I’m saying a final goodbye. I’m just changing the context in which I’ll get to see everyone I care about.

As I approach the end of my career at the Center, I feel prepared for the change that is coming for me. But mostly what I feel these days is enormous gratitude to all of you who’ve played a role in my and the Center’s success and survival and who have so greatly enriched my life. I wish I could thank all of you by name but that’d take this whole magazine. Suffice it to say that I believe you all know who you are, I hope you know how much I value you, and I thank you with every bit of my heart.

There is one person who must be thanked by name (other than Gina, who I’ll be thanking for the rest of my life for the myriad support she has always given to me in this role). That person is Darrel Cummings, the Center’s Chief of Staff. 

Darrel and I first met in the early 1980s as young activists together in Washington, D.C.  We were both idealistic and determined to change the world and very excited to be doing it in the nation’s capital. By the end of that decade, each of us had left D.C. for other adventures, but we stayed in touch. In the summer of 1992, when I accepted the job offer at the Center, Darrel was one of the first people I thought about. I knew I was going to need talented people I trusted to help me succeed at the Center. I was thrilled when Darrel agreed to move to L.A. and join the Center team. But I had no idea, really, how vital his partnership would become to me and to the Center. Or what a difference he would make in our fight for justice as well as a healthy, strong community.

I never could have succeeded as the Center’s CEO without Darrel. As the Center grew in the 1990s and required me to spend more of my time externally, Darrel kept things together internally (while also playing any number of important external roles). And ever since we returned to the Center in 2003 after a four-and-a-half year break, we have run this organization together (with lots of help, of course). We’ve relied on each other, backed each other up, learned from each other, occasionally pulled each other back from the brink. We’ve helped each other and our teams stay focused on the best interests of our community. We’ve laughed together, cried together, raged together, dreamed and schemed together, and, shoulder to shoulder, we helped fulfill so many of the Center’s dreams for our community. Darrel has been my trusted advisor, my right (and left) hand, my strategic and visionary partner, occasionally my therapist, my not-so-secret sauce, and always my beloved friend. I could not have asked for a better comrade and confidant. Again, I couldn’t have done it without him, and I wouldn’t have wanted to. Working so closely together for 30 years has been the great privilege of my life. Thank you, Darrel. I and our community owe you an enormous debt of gratitude. 

That’s how I feel about all of you, too. You’ve supported the Center through thick and thin because you’ve understood how important it is for the health and strength of our community. I hope you’ll be there for Joe as well as you’ve been there for me. Thank you for everything! I wish you great happiness and continued progress in our quest to build a world where LGBTQ people thrive as healthy, equal, and complete members of society.

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