In 2022 our local LGBT community grieved the loss of activists, bartenders, towering religious figures, community leaders, and more.

Here are some of those individuals SFGN wrote about last year.

Pam Robb

Animal Activist, teacher

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Pam Robb was killed by a large, mixed-breed dog while she was working with 100+ Abandoned Dogs of Everglades, Florida. 

The retired Cooper City High School teacher had volunteered there for more than six years. Witness reports say the dog grabbed onto her arm and refused to let go.  

Robb and her wife Angie Anobile married in 2016 but were together for more than 20 years. Anobile told WFOR that Robb loved her work at the shelter. 

“She wasn’t just doing. She was being. She was being Pam Robb, a wonderful, wonderful, giving, caring person. She just had a love for those animals. She really did.” 

Robb’s social media was flooded with messages of shock, sadness, love, and support. 

“The tragedy that took you from us, had you doing what you loved to do,” Jennifer Keyas posted on Facebook. “Rehabilitating a broken abused, tortured creature that humanity failed. This has rocked our 100+ family to the core and we shall never get over losing you.” 

Acclimating dogs and preparing them for their “furever homes” was a passion of Robb's. The work is hard, but she found reward in seeing animals drop their guard and learn to be loved.

Kyle Whittaker

South Florida teacher, activist

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In the classroom and the community, Kyle Whittaker impacted everyone. 

He passed away in November 2022 with friends by his side. He was 34. He was a long-time high school math teacher for The School District of Palm Beach County and an ardent activist for philanthropic LGBT organizations. He was known for creating or participating in fundraisers for a variety of local causes. 

He attended community events from Compass in Palm Beach County to making lunches for the homeless at United Church of Christ in Fort Lauderdale. Compass mourned his loss, posting, “Kyle lived his life in service and was always helping others through his volunteerism in the many causes he supported. We know in our hearts that Kyle would want us to continue to help and love others, to live authentically, and most of all, to be kind.”

His mother said, “Our dear Kyle has been ill for so many years and just couldn’t fight it anymore. Typical Kyle though, he didn’t let anyone know his health was failing and never missed a step at work. We spent time with the principal and admin of his school who couldn’t say enough! This Mom’s heart is full.”

Don Clark

Long time Wilton Manors bartender

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Don Clark died on Oct. 2, 2022. He had been fighting cancer for two years and had recently been hospitalized. 

Most recently, Clark was a manager at Georgie’s Alibi Monkey Bar on Wilton Drive. One of his fellow managers, Ron Woolery, had known him for a long time. They first worked together in 2006 when Wollery went to work at Bill’s Filling Station when it was on 13th Street in Fort Lauderdale. 

“If there’s somebody who’s a better man, I don’t think I've met him. Don was always just a great guy.” 

Woolery said Clark raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for Tuesday’s Angels, which helps people who need help fighting HIV/AIDS in Broward County. 

Customers and friends of Clark expressed their condolences on social media after the news of his passing spread. 

Cecil Cole Morris said, “He truly was a great man and quite the enigma. Always had a cheerful disposition and I always wanted to do a good job when I did work for him. A great work ethic to emulate.” 

Clark was originally from outside Lexington, Kentucky.

Leo Peralta

Partner of Wilton Manors City Commissioner Chris Caputo

Love, laughter, sadness, and tears blended together as nearly 300 people celebrated the life of Leo Peralta, the partner of Wilton Manors City Commissioner Chris Caputo, who took his own life after a long battle with depression. The Celebration of Life was held at Richardson Park on Sept. 3, 2022. 

The service was opened by Sunshine Cathedral’s Senior Minister, Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins, who shared a biblical story of how God showed Moses the Promised Land, kissed him, and took him home. Afterward, he said it was important to be there for Caputo and the community. 

“This was more than mourning the loss of a loved one. This was also trying to prevent the loss of other loved ones by getting that message out,” Watkins said. “I want them to know that they are loved. If they can’t believe that God loves them then I want to promise them that I love them. That this community loves them, so they are loved.” 

About a month before he died, more signs began to appear. Trainers at his gym said he wasn't putting in the same effort that transformed him from a skinny guy to a muscled man in under a year. Then he confided in Caputo that he was going to kill himself. Caputo contacted people that specialize in getting help for LGBT in dire situations. He reluctantly began seeing someone.  

“I can’t be angry about him taking his life,” Caputo said. “As angry as I am, I’m angry at everything but him. He gave it all he had.”

If you or someone you know struggles with suicidal thoughts, please call the new suicide hotline. You can call or text 988 to reach trained counselors.

Patrick Rogers

Beloved Reverend

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Rev. Patrick Rogers was born on October 15, 1956, and grew up in Dixon, Tennessee. During a stint at an MCC church in Topeka, Kansas, Rogers decided to rededicate his life to love. He often spoke about the actions of the hateful, anti-LGBT Westboro Baptist Church. The group is known for holding rallies at funerals for military and gay people. As a gay man, he was horrified. As a gay pastor, he knew love must always shine through. 

“It’s such a huge loss,” pastoral associate Emily Jazombek said. “I’m feeling so empty and numb right now. We just clicked. About a year ago he said, ‘I want to mentor you and keep you close by.’ We became closer and closer friends.” 

In early 2022, Rogers was diagnosed with very aggressive melanoma. Rogers was 65 years old. 

After treatment, he entered hospice care and passed shortly thereafter. His friend Slotnick said once the news spread he received messages from around the world offering condolences and celebrating his life.

Rev. Joseph Edward Gallant

Founder of Holy Angels National Catholic Church in Wilton Manors

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Rev. Bishop Joseph Edward Gallant, D.D., 76, of Fort Lauderdale, passed away on June 30, 2022. 

Gallant was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts, on May 28, 1946. He was a person of many talents and owned numerous businesses, including Gallant Interiors. Gallant was the general manager of the Wicks & Wax Candle Emporium. 

Gallant’s hobbies included gardening, writing, and singing. He was a regular at karaoke at Chardee’s and other Wilton Manors bars. He was extremely active in the gay community in Wilton Manors and Fort Lauderdale. In the 1990s, Gallant wrote a column published by Scoop Magazine titled “My Town,” and always ended with saying, “‘Til next week, be safe, be proud and be sure to tell ‘em ‘Joe sent me.’” 

Gallant was a founder of Holy Angels National Catholic Church in Wilton Manors. The proudest moment in his religious calling was when he was ordained Bishop by the Most Rev. Sean Alexander, D.D., O.S.B., on July 19, 2014. 

Gallant was committed to Alcoholics Anonymous when he decided to get sober in March 1992. He was an active member of the gay sober community and regularly attended the “Lunch Brunch” at Lambda Clubhouse.

Steve K. Smith

Longtime Key West LGBT community leader

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A Key West LGBT community leader, Steve K. Smith is remembered for making Key West a fabulous gay destination. Smith died of heart failure, the result of a long battle with cancer. He was 71. A fifth-generation Floridian, Smith was born in Daytona Beach and lived in Lakeland before moving to the Keys in the late 1980s. He was married to Paul Murray.  

“Steve was an extraordinary guy and a wonderful brother,” Mike Smith said. “He loved his adopted home of Key West, its colorful and wonderful people, and his friends and neighbors, immensely.” 

“Our Key West family has lost a true ambassador for Key West and the LGBTQ+ community,” said Kevin Theraiult, executive director of the Key West Business Guild. “Steve spent many years promoting our beautiful island community as an all-welcoming, LGBTQ+ destination. Words cannot express how much he will be missed. Our hearts go out to his wonderful husband, Paul Murray.” 

“Steve most certainly put the GAY in Key West and will be a huge loss,” said Richard Gray, senior vice president of Inclusion & Accessibility for Visit Lauderdale. “I always enjoyed our discussions on where LGBTQ+ travel was headed.”

Jeffrey Escoffier

Gay activist scholar and writer

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On May 20, 2022, the gay activist, scholar, and writer, Jeffrey Escoffier, died. He was 80. 

His career began in the age of New Left-inspired gay liberation. It lasted to the age of Pete Buttigieg and PrEP. He always linked LGBT political struggles to larger social issues, like class, gender, and race. All the while, he defended the diverse sexual behaviors and expressions. In his last book “Sex, Society, and the Making of Pornography” (2021), he examined the porn industry like any other industry in late capitalist society. 

In 1970, he became head of Philadelphia’s Gay Activist Alliance. That group led that city’s first Stonewall Commemoration in 1972. Escoffier also had a passion for writing and publishing. In 1972, he and others published “The Gay Alternative.” In 1993, Escoffier began to work for the New York City Dept. of Health and Mental Hygiene. He held the title of Director of Health Media and Marketing. He retired from that job in 2015. 

In a time of increasing economic anxiety and attraction to social democracy, Escoffier’s writing may have more relevance than ever.

Robert DeBenedictis

Original investor of Lips

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Robert DeBenedictis impacted hundreds, if not thousands, of people during his life, including many in South Florida.  

Many of them gathered on Feb. 27, 2022, at Tropics Grille in Wilton Manors to celebrate the man who brought smiles to their faces. The restaurant shut down for the evening so people could remember DeBenedictis. 

DeBenedictis passed away in October 2022. DeBenedictis was 87 years old. 

He was one of the original investors in Lips on Oakland Park Blvd. Lips’ owner, Mark Zschiesche, posted at the time, “He was a great man who helped many people realize their dreams by investing in them. Bob enjoyed life and he was always looking for a young entrepreneur he believed in to help them in their venture.” 

He was born and raised in Pennsylvania and attended Drexel University for his undergraduate and then a Master's in Business Administration. After a stint in the U.S. Navy, DeBenedictis moved to New York City, worked on Wall St., and was a small business entrepreneur, whose ventures included restaurants and real estate. 

He expanded his business to Florida in the 1990s. His partner was Bashir Khan.

Nick Coleman

Beloved local server

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Nick Coleman passed away after a brief but tough illness. And while COVID-19 didn’t cause his death, it is to blame. He was 32 years old.  

“It was about two days of symptoms that he thought was COVID,” his friend, Gary Hill, said. “He thought he would get through it. But the coroner said it was bacterial meningitis.” 

Coleman moved to South Florida in 2015 after growing up in Missouri. He was a server at several restaurants in and around Wilton Manors, and quickly endeared himself to the community. 

The news of his death was sudden and shocking, and his mother, Angelique Overstreet, urges everyone to cherish those close to them. 

Hill remembers his friend as someone who was “very outgoing, loving, [and] caring.” 

Because he had friends and family in so many places, several Celebrations of Life were held. 

Coleman was considered the life of the party anywhere he went, and gathered a “chosen family” everywhere he went, from Springfield, Kansas City, to Fort Lauderdale. Hundreds of people have posted pictures and memories recalling the times they spent with him.

David Guzdek

Longtime Wilton Manors bartender and gay softball enthusiast

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David Guzdek, a longtime popular bartender at various South Florida establishments and member of the local gay softball league's Hall of Fame, died in February 2022 after being diagnosed with Stage 4 lung cancer, according to his husband, Butch Fornaza. He was 47 years old.  

"All who knew him knew what a kind and generous soul he was," Fornaza wrote on Facebook. "He was one of a kind. My heart hurts and my life will never be the same without him. I know he is in a better place, but we are going to miss him terribly." 

Guzdek and Fornaza married on Feb. 29, 2016. Together they raised dogs and grew pineapples at their Fort Lauderdale home. 

Tributes have been pouring into Facebook since news broke of Guzdek’s passing. Most are shocked, in disbelief, and terribly saddened. 

“The heavens have a new angel,” writes Blanca Puerta. 

Others recalled his voice, welcoming smile, and love for his husband.

Ken Kelley

Former owner of Scandals

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Ken Kelley is remembered as a community-minded man who supported Wilton Manors and LGBT causes with unwavering support. 

Kelley died in January 2022 after a brave battle with cancer. He was 70 years old.  

Tributes on social media poured in from friends, customers, and former employees. They remembered Kelley as a loyal and generous employer — for years, he owned Scandals Saloon in Wilton Manors and the Stable Bar in Oakland Park. Scandals, a longtime area favorite, is known as a place where patrons could enjoy country music and line dancing. 

Aside from providing a variety of entertainment, those who knew him remember Kelley for his kindness and generosity. 

“He always had something funny to say and never had a negative word about anybody,” said friend Jeremy Pettus. 

“He was a huge community supporter,” said Terrence Smalley. “He helped raise tons of money for charity. He had a big heart and a great sense of humor. It’s a big loss for many of us.” 

In recent years, Kelley moved back to the Florida panhandle where his sisters helped care for him.

George M. Hester

Visual artist, animal lover and commercial illustrator

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George M. Hester, gifted visual artist, animal lover, commercial illustrator, and fashion photographer died on Jan. 15, 2022, in Wilton Manors where he had lived since 1990. He was 98 years old.  

Hester was a World War II veteran with more than 55 flights under his belt. His war experience made him an ardent and vocal pacifist. 

Hester loved to joke, and when he got to the punchline, the twinkle in his eyes was a reminder of his childlike wonder with the world. 

When he moved to South Florida, Hester continued his classical oil paintings and drawing until he began to lose his eyesight to macular degeneration over the past 20 years, which ultimately led to his blindness preventing further artistic endeavors. He endured experimental treatments involving dozens of painful injections at the Miami VA Hospital to restore his declining eyesight, but it was largely useless. A lifelong lover of animals, he donated generously to, and volunteered with pet rescue organizations, and adopted several animals, including his three-legged dog, “Tripod.”

Alberto Carrillo

Wilton Manors police officer and victim advocate

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The Wilton Manors police family suffered a big loss in February with the passing of criminal intelligence specialist Alberto Carrillo.

Carrillo, who also served as the victim advocate in the WMPD, died following a brave bout with throat cancer. He was 52.

Beloved by many and known for his calming presence and reassuring smile, Carrillo is survived by his partner of 20 years, Brian Percival. The two met at a birthday party on New York’s Fire Island, became smitten with each other and were married in 2016.

“He was more than my husband,” Percival said. “He was my best friend, my calm in any chaos and the greatest man I have ever known. I will miss him deeply every day for the rest of my life.”

Police Chief Gary Blocker described Carrillo’s work as the definition of selflessness.

“He made everybody better human beings and was the definition of what it means to be a public servant,” Blocker said.

Longtime community activist Michael Rajner recalled Carrillo’s compassion in the face of a domestic violence incident and suggested an annual service award be given in his honor.

“He was one of the most amazing people the city has ever had,” Rajner said.

All courtesy photos or photos via Facebook.