This eulogy was delivered June 8, 2019 in Sandy, Utah at his funeral service. I wrote it this week after Roy’s passing and it is posted with permission from Roy’s family and those who knew him best. We grappled with posting it publicly for several reasons- one is that Roy’s story has been picked up by nearly every news outlet around and it hurts us to see a story perpetuated out there that we knew would have hurt Roy. Second, Roy was constantly at risk for being exploited for the agenda’s of all who encountered him and we personally witnessed the pain he experienced as a result of this. Third, it was very important to Roy to tell his story, but in a way where he was allowed to claim a complicated identity. Because of this, posting about him is a delicate balance of telling his story for him and allowing a different narrative of his life to be introduced to the world. Mostly, we landed on posting it so that those who loved Roy like we do could have access to it. Should others use these words to endorse a position, an agenda, or a version of Roy is disappointingly beyond our control now, but we want to hold Roy and honor him how those who loved him best saw him.
A Tribute to Roy:
Dedicate to Mother Gloria.
Before I begin, I just hope that we won’t waste any time or energy on this day concerning ourselves with the humanity of the different communities that are gathered here together. I’m mostly talking to my own people and the gentiles in the room who have preconceived notions of who or what they think Roy’s community was or is. But also it can apply to anyone who wants to bring the politics of our grandfathers in this space. I don’t even want to mention it and I wish I didn’t, but because we are a group of diverse folks in the room, I want to remind you that today we are here to do only one thing. Honor Roy. In this we will be united in purpose and of one heart and one mind.
We all come to this service from different perspectives. If I were to lay out our lives and relationship with Roy on a collective map, and unroll and unfold it on this table, each of us would position ourselves on different parts of the map.
Some of you knew Roy as a child. As an annoying brother who tried to get out of his chores. Or maybe you saw Roy as the reckless brother that fell out of a loader and nearly got himself killed. You probably rolled your eyes at his behavior when he clung to the skirts of his mother or maybe you teased him in the yard or on a work mission and maybe he teased you back. Some of you saw Roy at his worst, as he was struggling, whether he be a child or an adult. Maybe you witnessed Roy as he did things like so many of us do, as he was surviving. Like me, it’s possible you were with Roy as we was learning the lessons life was teaching him and he didn’t always respond a way that you would have. Perhaps you didn’t know Roy as well as others and you could only know him from the stories you heard about him.
I’ve come to find that Roy Jeffs has become a Rorschach test for those of us who knew him. We often saw things reflected back in him that sometimes say more about us than him. I know that sounds strange to say, but I’ll tell you how I position on this relationship map with Roy. To me, he was a pure soul, which is to say- he had a sincere innocence about him and a deep desire to do good. Because of that, because there was such a purity about him, it was so easy for him to reflect back to us judgments that were never his to carry.
But innocence aside, that isn’t to say Roy was perfect.
Anyone that could see the boy dance knew he had far to go. He was a terrible dancer. Just atrocious. But boy, when he’d dance his heart would open up to the great big sky and his smile would swallow the stars. Roy was a light reflecting out always, and maybe that’s why he had trouble. Because his light was always shone out towards others and rarely did he allow himself to see it.
Roy was someone plagued by obedience and the desire to do right that as he navigated adulthood, he couldn’t quite find an anchor to his own light. I saw him wrestle with confusion at where he fit. He was just beginning to learn his own mind. What a brave and courageous thing to begin to learn your own mind!
And that is how I see Roy first and always. Pure and courageous. He not only risked the ire and judgment of his family and his community to go in search for his own truth, he risked the entire world. He was willing to go to hell to be kind to himself.
It’s so strange to think and to read these last few days about all the “news coverage” of Roy. The man that on the cover of People Magazine- how is that the same kid that I have witnessed shove four hundred marshmallows at once into his mouth? How is that name in the New York Post even talking about the same person, one that they allowed to say was taken because of his father’s abuse. Because the person I know, was trying his best to survive. No, Roy wasn’t taken by his father’s abuse, he survived it. Instead he battled with how to reconcile where he came from and what the world tried to allow him to be. Every single day we had Roy, was a battle for him as he fought for himself. Can the Salt Lake Tribune even know this? Can they know that Roy had the own courage each day to fight for himself, to experiment with his own happiness. To learn who he was?
Of course, if they’d spent too much time with him they’d also see that Roy learned to make the most delicious guacamole (after a few unfortunate mishaps). They might see him with a goofy grin and a fistful of sparklers as he dangerously celebrated his first 4th of July with fireworks. Or him snuggling up to Honey or Athena, two dogs that he nurtured like babies.
You guys, I got to see Roy watch Snow White for the first time. You can’t even know how precious that was. I’ve seen the thing hundreds of times and I didn’t think the show was comical and I look over at Roy and he’s laughing until tears come. I’m thinking what are you even laughing at? And you know what he’s laughing at? The cute little animated turtle as it rolls down the stairs. Do you even remember that scene? Roy did, and he said it was his favorite and I thought how beautiful- how beautiful to see a human derive such joy from something so sweet. How many adults got to see that world that way? With such optimism and hope? What a gift. I’m so happy for him, even if his innocence came at a cost.
Roy loved animals and he loved people. I saw him welcome anyone into his heart that would have him. All Roy ever wanted in this hard world was to love and be loved back. He just wanted to belong.
Much of his life was spent separated from belonging. Anything that Roy found that made him happy would be removed from him. I can’t imagine how anyone could ever get a footing when change was never allowed to unfold to him but forced on him like a punishment. And yet, there was light enough in Roy for Roy, because he did wrestle to claim it.
That’s the part of Roy I got to witness. The man who rumbled with his own survival. Who wanted to be so much more than his past. I saw so many people around him, trying to make Roy be a reflection of what they needed him to be. They wanted to put him on a pedestal or a pyre, all because of his name.
For those of us that got to know the Roy behind LeRoy Jeffs, we saw a childlike innocence and love that will never be matched. Roy was always, always there for me. There was never a question if I needed something he would be there. He loved everyone he held close with unconditional agreement and acceptance.
He was always adventurous. To his detriment he would try anything. Like dipping his bare hands into a deep fryer to retrieve an avocado or stacking two ladders on top of one another to reach some wallpaper near my ceiling. I mean, frankly it’s a wonder he survived this long. But isn’t it a beautiful thing to know that there is this person, this lovely human who was so frightened all the time, who still tried? Who still had enough faith and love in himself somewhere buried inside that he tried at his own happiness?
That is how I will remember Roy. As a man that was experimenting with his happiness. A person ready to step out of victim and survivor and learn to thrive. I’m sad, yes that Roy wasn’t able to feel and remember all the love that showed up for him here today. I’m sad that he was so lonely and forgetful of the light we all saw in him. That makes me sad, only because I am his friend and to see him suffering was hard.
Roy carried a shame that he mostly inherited. He was unforgiving of the lessons he had learned for himself. And I will be sad about that. But I can’t see it as a failure or deficiency or anything of that sort since I think if all of us here were honest with ourselves, we all have similar wounds we could argue get the better of us. It will hurt me more if you judge him for it, because you miss the point. Roy was always trying and that’s all we could ask him to do. He never stopped trying, it’s just that he forgot he didn’t have to run anymore, and I can’t begrudge him that.
But I can honor him by not letting his story stay stagnant, and rather live and unfold into each of our road maps as it will and how it should be. So this means we grieve as an extension of the gratitude we felt for knowing Roy.
I have found that grief comes in like an old friend disguised as a stranger and meets us wherever we are at, and we have absolutely no control over it. Because life is just the Long Death and when we love we are just rehearsing our goodbyes.
For myself, grief has showed up in the form of waking up each morning since he’s been gone at 4am. No matter how I try to distract myself or work it away, there it is. It knocks at those early morning hours and I know that I have to contend with the loss I feel. That has been the most unexpected part for me, the great heavy knot in my chest that is really just love masked as loss. May the joyful curiosity and vulnerability Roy always showed in his own grief be contagious.
And now I need to be honest for a minute. I hope you’ll allow me to tell this truth, however hard it may be. But I ask for your grace and forgiveness if I say something that offends and I hope you can understand that I only ever loved Roy. He was so dear to my spirit and one of the few people in this world that loved me unconditionally.
I want to say that as I wrote this eulogy I constantly tried to consider that every person in this room represents a separate and unique relationship to Roy. You all come to know Roy in different ways and in different perspectives. And that is sacred. And because of this, I wanted to write words that would honor each of those relationships. But I recognized that many of you, if I were to put an exam in front of you and ask you where you stood on different things like politics, and religion, and social issues, and cultural ones- that we would all score so wildly different. I fretted how could I possibly honor all those different viewpoints.
When I close my eyes and picture Roy, I see him pulled in all those different directions by all those different identities. His old life and his new, his developing life and his past choices. His mistakes, his triumphs, his fears, his opinions- his ever changing opinions! He wanted so much to be so true to all of you. He wanted to honor every single one of those relationships and I honestly think that’s what took him.
He was pulled apart when all he wanted was to be held together. Roy just wanted to hold all those complicated parts of himself- to mend all those broken pieces and claim himself. I don’t know that there is anything to be done about that, except to remember and hold that Roy was torn apart by the judgments and shame we inherited. And you know what? I saw him agonize over this. I held his sobbing body as he cried for his mamma, more than once. He couldn’t make sense of it. And why should he? There’s no sense to be made. He just couldn’t parse out why we sometimes call our hate tradition and our shame love. And it tore him up.
But what a strange thing Roy. What a funny, queer thing that you in your life would bring together such a room of people. People that otherwise wouldn’t speak or listen to one another. You did that Roy, you couldn’t know it, but you were whole all along. Because each of us today holds those different pieces of who Roy is and was and will be. We are the artifacts to that. We are the witnesses to his wholeness. May we always, always carry our piece for him with a remembrance of the cost.
I love of all you Roy, so very sincerely.
The last thing I want to say is that I want you to feel close to your mom so I’ll give you the stanza from a hymn you both loved:
The night is gone.
And with the morn those angel faces smile…
…Lead, kindly Light, amid th’encircling gloom;
Lead thou me on!
With love and absolute fidelity to your memory,
Lindsay Hansen Park
You can read our obituary for Roy here.