Irwin Phelps (26 September 1935 - 25 September 1992)
Irwin Phelps (1935-1992)
About the Irwin Phelps Conference
By Henry Miller
Source: Affinity, October 1992, pp. 1-2.
Irwin Phelps, our friend and national leader, passed away September 25, 1992, less than one week after the 1992 conference concluded.
"I'm numb, I don't know what to think," said Bob., a close friend of Irwin and member of the Phoenix chapter. "We were planning a trip to the symphony next week."
Members of Affirmation will remember Irwin most for his inspirational messages presented at our annual conferences. Paul Mortensen, co-founder of Affirmation, said of Irwin at the 1992 conference, "Irwin is one of Affirmation's great souls. I will always love him and be grateful for his wonderful loving and compassionate spirit that he has brought to this organization."
This past conference was Irwin's 6th that he attended. His concluding remarks at the conference reveal some of the significance of this great man:
Yesterday I saw the sign on the marquee of the Cocoanut Grove: "Affirmation: Gay and Lesbian Mormons," and I was out by the marquee later in the afternoon trying to find the women for their caucus, and I was standing there trying to get a door open two young men walked by and one of them says to the other, "How can you be Mormon and gay?" Then a moment later he went on, "How can you be Mormon?!"
National Board members will also miss his devotion and leadership skills at annual meetings. Ricky Gilbert said the thing he would most remember about Irwin is
It's not easy for us. Being Lesbian or Gay is a big enough job all by itself, but we're Mormon and Lesbian of Gay and we ought to be awfully proud of it. I'm proud of you. I wish you the best in all your endeavors; your goals for life.
Think good of yourself. Think highly of yourself in everything that you do. Believe in yourself. I teach college. I teach interpersonal communication and that's the most important thing I can teach my students: believe in yourself. It's not just as simple as it sounds, it's very hard. Self-esteem is something that has a lot of peaks and a lot of valleys. One thing to remember about it is that it never stays the same. Just because you may be on a plateau right now, doesn't mean that there's not going to be a valley sometime soon.
I have seen so many peaks and so many valleys in my life (some of you know me and know about them); [I've come] to realize that we have to pick ourselves up by the bootstraps and say, "I'm an OK person in spite of…, and I'm going to succeed, darn it. I'm going to be the best person I can be. And I love myself." And I love you. We'll close with this thought: Leo di Crescenzo said this, "We are each of us Angels with only one wing, and we only fly embracing each other. Let's unitedly go forward. I love you all. Good-bye.
his calm steady logic. He was very thoughtful and thorough in everything he did. He brought that essence to everything that he did within the leadership of the organization. It showed mostly this past year with the great turnover of Affirmation leadership. In spite of everything that went on behind scenes and in public, there wasn't an appearance of rash in his thoughts, dealings, and actions. He tried to bring a sense of calm, to delve deeply into the matter, to thoroughly investigate the perimeters and ramifications of any actions that should be taken. He was sort of like a grandfather. He reminded me a lot of my own grandfather. He always had a welcome hug. It illustrated that he really cared for you.
Rick Fernández also spoke of the tremendous loss that all of us in Affirmation have suffered. Rick remembered Irwin for the invaluable assistance and support he received from Irwin while Rick was director of the Phoenix chapter.
I don't know how to express the loss that I feel. Irwin was one of my best friends, my confidant, my trusted advisor, my right-hand man. He was the person that initially prompted me to serve as director of the Phoenix chapter at a time when leadership was needed. I owe to him my commitment to Affirmation. From him I learned what it meant to be a leader who listens, who shows compassion and understanding, who is dedicated to a worthy cause despite all obstacles. Affirmation is a much better organization because of what Irwin gave to us. I hope that his outstanding example will continue to motivate and inspire each of us to value the work that Affirmation does, and to value each other.
The first of two services held on September 29 was sponsored by his family, who, unfortunately, did not know of his involvement in Affirmation. The packed meetinghouse in Tempe bore witness to the outpouring of love that many in the LDS community had for Irwin. Irwin's other "family," the Phoenix chapter, sponsored an evening service that was attended by 8 women and 15 men, who used the occasion to express their heartfelt feelings for Irwin.
"It was one of the most moving meetings I ever attended," said one member, "I'm sorry his family will probably never know just how great a man he was." Other members shared fond memories and humorous stories that reveled the strengths and qualities that made Irwin so valued by all.
Irwin Phelps was born on September 26, 1935 in mesa, AZ. Like many gay men at that time, he married and subsequently had three children. Though later divorced, Irwin always loved his family. He held many jobs growing up, from manager of a grocery store, to polygraph operator, to usher at his parent's movie theater, to his final occupation as a communications professor at Mesa Community College.
Irwin loved teaching and, in turn, was loved by students and faculty alike. One of his colleagues said of Irwin: "He is truly a gentle loving man… I have never known a teacher more loved by his students."
Irwin was gifted with many creative talents and was involved in a number of well-known church projects. Most noted of theses was the writing and direction of the Mesa Temple Easter Pageant, an event that initially drew 1,500 people but now draws audiences of over 70,000. The pageant is now a major religious event in the Phoenix area.
(From the Los Angeles Chapter newsletter, October 1992, p.1)
We are deeply saddened to announce the death of Affirmation's Executive Director Irwin Phelps on September 25, 1992 in Phoenix, Arizona. Irwin has served as Executive Director for the past several months and has donated countless hours in a multitude of positions since he joined the organization several years ago.
Irwin was often called the "heart" of the Phoenix chapter as he lovingly guided it to prominence. Recently he had become the "heart" of the national organization as he gave unselfishly to us all with his incredible love, compassion, and gentle spirit. He brought to the position of Executive director a new level of love and commitment that moved people to do better.
A giant among us is gone and we will not soon recover. God bless Irwin on his new journey and may we always remember his spirit and commitment to us.