I first met Wilder at church on Easter Day 2005. He was wearing an all-white suit and dancing to the Hallelujah Chorus. We are Episcopalians. We do not dance, and we do not wear white before Memorial Day. But that was the least of Wilder’s unconventional zeal. Later over brunch he donned his Easter bonnet and made the rounds, talking to and revving up each person in the room. He was like that yellow roman candle in On the Road, mad to live, made to talk, desiring everything at the same time. Our conversation was brief and furious, and I was a breathless by the end. I’d never met anyone so over the top.
Don Wilder Plett died on April 30, 2014 in Spokane, Washington. Yesterday I took a few moments to remember all that he did. I wrote a few words and sent them to his family, gathering today for a memorial service. Nine years later, I am still breathless at the way he impacted me and others.
- Wilder gave my friend, Ryan, a place to stay when he had nowhere to live. He put up a Chinese screen in front of the couch in that tiny one bedroom apartment so that Ryan had some sense of privacy.
- Wilder cut my hair for years, sometimes on credit when I had no cash. For a half hour each month, I was the center of the universe. And I was treated to some tall tales that graciously reminded me I was the one orbiting him.
- Wilder loaned out his car, his apartment, his time, his things, and I’m sure his money, to countless young people learning to make it in DC. He was generous to a fault.
- Wilder always had a project, an idea, a brainstorm, or someone new that he wanted you to meet. For all his fabulous stories of the past, he was incessantly peering around the corner and yelling at everyone to come along.
I met Wilder in my mid-20’s, during a delayed adolescence after coming out and moving to the city. I was trying to find my way, and myself, failing spectacularly at both. Wilder was not someone who helped me grow up. He helped me stay young, while I was stumbling toward adulthood.
My favorite Wilder memory must be from 2006 when he marched with my church in the Gay Pride parade. He carried a flag and handed out his business cards, calling out to the crowd: “God loves you, and he wants me to do your hair!” I thank God for the flamboyant, inappropriate, delightful, and generous of spirit person he was.
In this world there are people you remember. And then there are people you can’t forget. Rest in peace, Wilder.