The LGBTQ+ community lost a local legend when George Jonte-Crane passed away after a short battle with esophageal cancer on Aug. 3 at age 72.
"We were called half the Beatles because we were George and Paul," says his husband Paul Jonte-Crane, reflecting on the life of his late husband.
"He romanced me, and I laugh about it," Paul remembers. "He has always been consistent about saying it was love at first sight for him, and we always laugh at the fact that I say it wasn't for me."
George and Paul met through a mutual friend in 1999 when they lived in Houston. George definitely took the lead.
"I had just very recently come out, so I was getting my feet into living my truth," he continues. "And the age difference was almost 13 years. I wasn't interested in dating someone older than me. So, I made him work a little hard for it. I didn't make him work very hard, though, I will admit."
For three months, the two dated casually — not committing to one another. "When we actually started dating, I was very open about not wanting to settle down," says Paul.
George was persistent during their wooing phase, Paul says, but one particular moment sealed the deal.
"Valentine's Day came within months of dating, and that Valentine's Day started us moving onto the next step," he says. "When I opened up the door, I saw him standing there. He had a single red rose in one hand and a little teddy bear in the other hand. I had already started calling him 'teddy bear,' so that was kind of his nickname from me. Basically, that night I already knew."
A few weeks later, the couple made the commitment official, and, almost 22 years later, they were still together.
"He showed me what true love is, and he never stopped that, and that's what makes it the hardest. I've lost everything important to me," he reflects. "I've lost my best friend, I've lost my husband, I've lost the person that taught me to be."
A few years after meeting, George and Paul moved to Michigan. Paul, a Michigan native, moved back in 2000, and George followed in 2002.
George, who held a degree in organ, piano and choral conducting from the University of Texas, was heavily involved in churches and their choirs in both Texas and Michigan. Before his passing, he was active in First United Methodist Church of Ann Arbor , Temple Emanu-El and First United Methodist Church of Troy, where he played piano and directed choir.
Both Paul and George had a love for music, and it was this love that persuaded them to join PRISM Men's Chorus.
"We heard about PRISM on the day of their concert," Paul says. "We wanted to participate in something important, and an all-male chorus was important to us. So, George contacted the chorus and we started going to rehearsal [in the second season]. We sang in the second concert, and we've been singing there ever since. We've come to love all those guys."
According to Brad Foucher, PRISM's vice-chairman, the feelings are mutual.
"George and Paul were the epitome of the couple you want to see," says Foucher. "They were great together."
Foucher is more than a PRISM member; he is a longtime friend of the couple. He even created a GoFundMe page to help Paul with any expenses after George's passing.
"They were genuine towards each other," he says. "They were supportive of each other, too. I wrote in the GoFundMe, 'George loved music as much as he loved Paul.'"
A true Michigan power couple, George and Paul also inspired those within the LGBTQ+ community without a positive gay influence in their lives.
"The Jonte-Cranes showed us we can be together for a long time, be madly in love with each other and be happy," reflects Ian Jazefowicz, PRISM member and friend. "There are some of us who are younger, who may not have had the best upbringing with regards to the LGBT community, so seeing this really perfect couple was very comforting to me."
While George's loss is felt throughout a community, he and his husband leave behind a loving legacy.
Paul says he will go on, too, comforted by memories of his time with George: "Like any relationship, you have your ups and downs, but our ups were so much more."