Community passings

Media pioneers Robert Freese, Dean Gaskey and community leader Vickie Williford

October and November saw the passing of three Charlotte leaders. Each gave of their time, talent and energy in helping to make this community better. qnotes remembers them, their life and their service.

Robert J. Freese, Jr.

Robert Freese, who passed away at age 61 in October, is best remembered as publisher and editor of Charlotte Free Press, the first LGBT newspaper in Charlotte and thought to be the first such paper in North Carolina. Free Press, established in 1975, was published every other week and documented early and historic LGBT victories in North Carolina and nationally. Sustained news coverage included candidate and later-President Jimmy Carter’s promises to and interactions with the LGBT community.

In the late 1970s, Robert and his brother opened Josh’s, the city’s first gay restaurant, which operated for nearly 10 years on East Blvd. Robert later owned RJ Publishing and McGregors, a garden shop. Robert also served in the Army as a helicopter pilot during the Vietnam War.

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Friend Greg Brafford, owner of Woodshed Lounge, said Robert was a good person with a dry sense of humor.

“He helped out a lot of people who needed help over the years,” Brafford said. “He did a lot for Charlotte.”

A couple years ago, Brafford, who had a copy of each of Robert’s Free Press editions, donated all of his copies to the LGBT collections at Duke University’s library.

Vickie Booth Williford

On Nov. 5, 2010, community leader Vickie Williford lost a long battle with breast cancer. A nurse anesthetist and employee of Carolina Anesthesia Associates, Vickie was also involved in the LGBT community, including as a member of the Charlotte Business Guild and Circle Up Team for Race for the Cure. Vickie is survived by her partner, Sheryl Manning, and mother, Dr. Jane Knight. Vickie, a mother, had a son and a daughter.

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Dean Alan Gaskey

Dean Gaskey, 57, died Nov. 17, 2010, succumbing to a years-long battle with kidney cancer. A native of Kannapolis and former member of the National Press Photographers Association, Dean was a former employee of The Charlotte Observer and several Charlotte-area television stations.

During the late 1970s and most of the 1980s, Dean was a fixture in Charlotte’s gay bars, offering a willing ear to anyone who needed to share problems and joys ranging from parental rejection to budding romance.

In the 1980s, Dean became a part owner of qnotes. He served as the second editor of the publication from Jan. 1988-May 1989.

A celebration and scattering of ashes will be held on Dec. 5, 2 p.m. at Trinity Lutheran Church, 3747 Trinity Church Rd., in Concord.

— Don King contributed.

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