Former Pink Triangle Press (PTP) board member Kary Rasmussen is described as a gentle and serene man with an unshakable sense of social justice.
Rasmussen died Nov 30 after a long and dignified battle with cancer. He was 62.
Malcolm MacFarlane, his partner of 33 years, says he anticipates that the upcoming holiday season will be very difficult. “Christmas was a really special time of year, and we enjoyed celebrating,” he says.
Rasmussen was a PTP board member from 1989 to 1999.
“That particular period for him was really a happy one,” MacFarlane says. “Kary was part of the founding board, and he thought that work was really exciting, to be able to contribute to the community — that was different and meaningful.”
Rasmussen was also a longtime volunteer at Casey House, where MacFarlane worked for 10 years. “Our family was pretty committed to the larger community and doing what we could to help,” he says.
Before joining the board, Rasmussen was involved in publishing The Body Politic, Xtra's predecessor, says Ken Popert, PTP president and CEO.
“I remember him as an unfailing source of common sense and a kind and quietly dignified man,” he says. “As we all grew older, he kept himself in good shape, and it's typical of him that, when I saw him at the YMCA a few months ago, he was cheerful and gave no sign that he was ill.”
During his more than 10 years with PTP, Rasmussen enjoyed watching the organization grow, MacFarlane says.
“He would come home from board meetings and talk about it with great enthusiasm. He would talk about great conversations with Ken, and he always spoke highly of Gerald [Hannon],” he says.
Throughout his life, Rasmussen dreamed of being a professional writer. MacFarlane says he’s now finding bits of unfinished writing as he goes through the home computer he shared with Rasmussen — short stories and possibly the beginnings of a book.
“Kary had a master's in English, so writing was always in his life. Early in his life he wrote for the Listowel Banner," he says.
Mostly, he used his writing skills for activism, MacFarlane says. “He would also contribute letters to newspapers and speak out. He had well-formed opinions on social justice issues.”
Rasmussen was born in Denmark, but his family moved to Burlington, Ontario, when he was five. He spent the first part of his life in the Hamilton/Burlington area until he met MacFarlane and fell in love. “I pulled him away 33 years ago, pulled him to Toronto, to start our life together,” MacFarlane says.
Rasmussen worked for Petro-Canada for 29 years, beginning in 1980. There, he had to “keep a low-key gay life,” MacFarlane says. “Petro-Canada was not so sensitive to gay people.”
But on the board at PTP, Rasmussen could be himself. Looking back, Hannon calls him “an unexpected activist.”
“He was a working-class guy when the rest of us were all snooty intellectual types,” he says. “But he had a fierce knowledge about what was right and politically astute. He had a great body, and I used to see him at the Y. He was a gay liberationist who happened to have a working-class job.”
At home, Rasmussen loved to work with his hands and make crafts; he was self-taught at woodworking, baking, sewing and staining glass. “He would see something he wanted to try, and he would end up mastering it,” MacFarlane says.
MacFarlane recalls the night they met at the St Charles Tavern and started dating. “We just had this really great relationship. We spent 33 years together. It was a long time. And he was a nice guy, and I loved him very much.”
Plans are being made for a celebration of Rasmussen's life on his birthday, Feb 6. MacFarlane says friends and family wishing to make a monetary donation on his behalf may contribute toward the purchase of a therapeutic chair that will be donated to the palliative care unit at Princess Margaret Hospital.
“Kary practically lived in this type of chair while he was at Princess Margaret,” he says. “The cost of the chair is approximately $7,000 . . . when Kary and I were planning this, we joked around that the chair could be called the Kary Chair.”