A True Steel Magnolia: Remembering Elaine Sullivan

Elaine Sullivan was a beloved member of the LGBT community in Burlington County, and her passing will be marked by those whose lives she touched.

The GLBT community lost one of its greatest supporters and allies recently, and humanity lost one of the most compassionate and generous women to have ever walked this planet.

Elaine Sullivan was a remarkable woman who touched many lives and hearts over the eight decades that she lived. Her warmth and hospitality impressed people, her wisdom counseled those in need, her strength inspired many.

Eric and I met Elaine in the late 1990s through the now defunct Burlington County Gay and Lesbian Alliance. She was a constant presence at every meeting and at the weekly get-togethers at Panera in Moorestown.

In the years since the Alliance folded, Elaine continued to be a steady presence in the GLBT community: at group dinners; at Philadelphia Gay Men’s Chorus concerts; as a member of PFLAG Collingswood; as a benefactor for AIDS charities; at the Red Ribbon Bingo fundraisers in Atlantic City; and at outings to theatrical productions in Philadelphia, South and Central Jersey, and New York.

Elaine was the epitome of compassion. It was clear that she cared about other people. Her actions proved that. One of Elaine’s sons, Russell, succumbed to AIDS in the early 1990s. After his death, Elaine started Our Place, an outreach program through Saint Luke Lutheran Church in Willingboro.

Week after week, for twelve years, Our Place made a difference in the lives of individuals living with HIV and AIDS by hosting weekly luncheons where people gathered for food, fellowship, and fun. And it was because of Elaine’s passion, drive, and leadership that Our Place thrived and helped so many.

At Elaine’s memorial service, along with photographs of her over the years, was a tribute to Our Place. Photographs and names of the dozens of people who had passed away were listed. And at the very top, in the most fitting way imaginable, was Elaine’s name. Elaine’s love and compassion touched all of those individuals and countless more. Elaine Sullivan truly changed the world.

As I mentioned above, Elaine was a regular at Red Ribbon Bingo in Atlantic City for many years. Many of us made the trek to Atlantic City for bingo. We’d have dinner beforehand and then head in for a rousing night of fun. And it was fun! We always sat in the front of the theater, proudly calling ourselves “The Sullivan Table.”

Let me share something about bingo. Whenever O-69 was called, music would blast through the theater and everyone would get out of their seats and shake their groove things, Elaine included.

When I got word of Elaine’s passing, I sent messages to Sandy Beach and HRH Mortimer, the fabulous drag queens who reigned supreme over Red Ribbon Bingo. They, like so many others, were saddened to hear of Elaine’s death. Sandy sent me a private message that brought a smile to my face and tears to my eyes:

“So sorry to hear this. She was a delight. Hopefully she and her son are dancing to O-69 in the heavens above us!”

I have a feeling they are.

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