The irrepressible and indefatigable Renaissance man Larry Wisch, born on February 6, 1953, died on May 5 after a long battle against AIDS. He was 59. Co-founder of the Choral Majority and of Three Stone Hearth, gay activist, JewBu, entrepreneur, horticulturalist, and Dolphin Club swimmer, Larry had his finger in many pies. To the end, he celebrated each moment, reveling in the closeness he shared with his lover and care-giver extraordinaire Giancarlo (John) Calabrese. Larry lived his life with gratitude for every kindness that came his way. Beloved by a wide circle of friends and family, his death leaves a huge hole in our hearts, but also gratitude for having shared so much with this remarkable man.
Larry was whip-smart, witty and interesting. He loved conversation, and was as good a listener as he was a talker. He was tender-hearted. He loved his friends and family and showed it. He was generous and took delight in building community, making friends easily. He had a tendency to be blunt, which could rankle, but his lack of pretense in always saying what he meant was refreshing. He lived very much in the moment.
Larry was born in the Amalgamated Co-ops in the Bronx, surrounded by four generations of his family. He was proud of his family’s history of community activism in the first housing co-op of its kind in New York City. When he was nine, his family moved to Cranford, New Jersey. Larry attended Johns Hopkins and Antioch College for his undergraduate degree in Urban Human Ecology and UC Davis for graduate work. He settled in San Francisco in the late ’70s, where he was a founding participant of the Central Page limited equity co-op, a not-for-profit venture that continues to provide affordable housing.
Like so many of his generation, Larry had an eclectic career history. He fondly remembered one of his first jobs, driving a Good Humor ice cream truck when he was in college in Baltimore. He studied horticulture at Davis and in Israel and at Chelsea Physic and Kew Gardens in England. He taught Plant ID at City College of San Francisco and at Berkeley for years.
Larry had a remarkable talent for seizing opportunity and making the most of it. In the mid-’80s, he was recruited on the street for a focus group, which morphed into a job with the market research firm. Within a couple of years, he quit to start his own firm, Larry Wisch & Associates, which rapidly grew to employ dozens. A financial kerfuffle forced him to file for bankruptcy, about which he was philosophical. He scaled back and was proud that within several years, all of his creditors were paid in full and the business was in the black again.
In the late ’70s, Larry and four friends, in mockery of the so-called Moral Majority, created the popular Choral Majority, an a cappella group that sang irreverent song parodies celebrating queer love, using the music of familiar Christian hymns. Larry wrote many of the songs. He had previously sung and played guitar with Carry It On, a ragtag band providing music at rallies and marches, such as demos against the infamous Briggs Initiative targeting LGBT teachers.
More recently, his interest in nutrition—he was a leader in the local Weston A. Price community—led him to be a founding member of the very successful and innovative Berkeley-based Three Stone Hearth, which makes and delivers nutritionally dense meals throughout the Bay Area. He was a fan of the Bioneer conferences.
He took great pride in his Glen Park home of many years, which featured the address written as “104 Wonderful Laidley.” Larry did much of the remodeling himself, including creating a celebrated terraced garden out of a steep, neglected hillside that included a koi pond, exotic chicken run, and hot tub at the top with a breathtaking view of downtown. His garden was included in tours of unique gardens in San Francisco. His vintage 1969 VW convertible bug would lead the charming Laidley Street Fourth of July parade.
Larry was an athlete. As a member of San Francisco’s iconic Dolphin Club, he would swim early mornings in San Francisco Bay year round. He was a basketball player, an avid cyclist and roller blader.
He was fortunate to be able to indulge his love of travel and visit many far off places from Namibia to Thailand to New Zealand, to name just a few. Larry committed himself fully to whatever interested him. In 2005, he took up country western dancing and West Coast Swing, becoming, as his partner says, "my favorite lead." He played the accordion until an arm fracture caused him to stop. He enjoyed being a member of the Gay Buddhist Fellowship and Gay Men’s Spiritual Retreat.
Larry was fortunate to remain a non-progressor for decades after becoming HIV-positive. In 2000, he contracted lymphoma, for which he was treated successfully, after a challenging ordeal. He subsequently enjoyed several years of fair health until he was diagnosed with MAC in 2009. Notwithstanding significant struggles and declining health, Larry continued to put up a valiant fight and celebrate life, an inspiration for his forbearance and gratitude.
In addition to his loving partner Giancarlo (John) Calabrese, Larry is survived by his mother and stepfather Harriette and Sol Koved, brothers Alec and Andy Wisch and Lance Koved, their families, and a host of loving friends.