As Remembered by Ray Barreras
I did not know Peter Gomes man that well, but at one time we were colleagues--teachers together at Tuskegee Institute [now University], back in the sixties and early seventies. I was a chemist; he was the leader of a community-based program which took privileged students from the school out into the community to touch their roots. There they would meet others not ‘bright’ enough for college and interact with them enough to inspire them to do better--and to inspire the college kids to not forget that this is where they come from and this is where they need to place their emphasis, so that the future would be better for all concerned.
Peter Gomes came from privilege. Born and raised in the Massachusetts area, he came down south like a noreaster and made waves unlike any that the South had seen. He put emphasis on quality at all times. He would not take second best from anyone. He lived his life like he preached to others. He was a Renaissance Man for the ages. They did not fully appreciate the man down south. He was too full of himself and of his roots to be accepted fully by those around him. And yet, he was accepted, for they all realized that this was a man genuine to the core. Even if they did not understand the man they admired him for what he was.
When he left Tuskegee he went back home taking up residence back at Harvard, where he taught and very soon became the dean of the Chapel at Harvard College--where he became a man of some importance. He was responsible for being the ‘man’ that the college would turn to in times of trouble. Whenever there was unrest among the students, either white or black or any color in between, it was Peter who was able to speak to both sides snd to calm the troubled waters with ease. His secret was that he was a listener. But having heard both sides out, he was able then to sort out one side from the other and be a mediator that brought everyone around.
He was also known for his excellent preaching. He had skills that were able to talk to people without feeling they were being ‘preached’ at. His sermons were both intellectual and practical. He published several books that were well-received. For my money, his best work, however, was “The Good Book” in which he took all of the scholarship at his beck and call to explain the fallacies that others had placed Upon the literal words of the Bible to twist them to their own use or misuse. He was thus able to debunk the myths that: somehow the black man was inferior; that women should not be heard at all; that gays were somehow to be condemned. He posited that taking God’s holy word too literally would lead one down a path best not taken! Said paths would lead to utter folly; such paths would lead to utter shame!
We did not keep in touch after he left Tuskegee. Many years later I read that he would be in town delivering a talk or two and I felt it important for me to go and touch base with him again. It felt so good because he remembered me. We embraced and talked and had a good time. We reminisced about good old times--although not all times were "good" even if they were "old" by anyone else’s reckoning. I got him to autograph his books for me. It was good to have this short time with him. It made me feel important in knowing this man. It made us feel younger once more as we each thought Of the times we had been together in Alabama reliving our times and moments of witness. Going back is not always a bad thing at all for this is of what we each were made.
Just recently I heard that Peter Gomes had died. This world has lost a good man, a wise man, an intelligent man, a gay man, a holy man. This world has lost a man who made a difference. This world has lost a friend. May you rest in peace, dear Peter. I have a new saint in heaven with whom to pray!
February 29, 2012