By Sharon Gittleman
BIRMINGHAM – Funeral services for Brian Killian, 57, held in Detroit last Saturday, brought together hundreds of family members, friends, business associates and clients from Michigan, New York, Florida and beyond. Killian was president of his own interior design firm, Brian Killian & Co. in Birmingham.
Killian died on March 9, two days after he was trapped in the fire that set his Birmingham home ablaze. His 911 call, replayed on television following the tragedy, brought firefighters to the scene, but Killian had already collapsed from the effects of smoke and extreme heat. Killian did not have a smoke detector in his home.
Richard Chizmadia, a fellow Governor Emeritus of the Human Rights Campaign with Killian, said he learned of his friend and colleague’s death when he saw it reported on the news.
“I was in the dentist chair and I saw his house on TV. I didn’t hear the sound, but I knew his house,” said Chizmadia, who first met Killian 13 years ago. “Then I started making a few phone calls. A friend told me it was Brian.”
Chizmadia said he was devastated over Killian’s death, a man he described as a “visionary.”
“It was part of his vision to build a coalition of the straight and GLBT communities,” he said.
Killian is well-known in the gay community for his work as a co-chair on one of the HRC’s annual events, Chizmadia said.
“The 1993 dinner was the largest the GLBT community had ever seen,” he said.
Many members of the Michigan HRC were meeting with their colleagues at the group’s national offices shortly after Killian’s death.
“In Washington, they said it was a big loss to the community and they were grateful for all the work he’s done and they were deeply, deeply sorry,” he said.
Killian was an articulate and generous man and a talented interior designer, said Chizmadia.
“A guy like Brian will never be replaced,” he said. “We will deeply miss him.”
HRC Governor Emeritus Brian Kutinsky attended Killian’s funeral, a traditional Catholic ceremony held at Saints Peter and Paul Jesuit Church in Detroit.
“It was a beautiful service,” he said. “There were hundreds of people at the funeral. There were a lot of his clients, people who knew him from New York and Key West – people came in from all over.”
Friends, colleagues and family members gathered at the home of one of Killian’s close friends after the service – a house Killian had helped decorate, said Kutinsky.
“Beside his wonderful eye and aesthetic, he exemplified some of the best things about our community,” Kutinsky said. “He was smart, visible and creative.”
“He was equally comfortable in the gay community and the straight high society world in Detroit and New York. He was just reaching the peak of his career,” he continued. “People like that don’t come around very often.”
Assistant Birmingham Fire Chief Charles Monti said the fire that set Killian’s house ablaze was believed to be accidental. He said it started in the east wall of a breezeway near an electrical plug. Several devices were plugged into the wall and a space heater was found in the room.
Firefighters arrived just two minutes after they were dispatched to the scene, Monti said. Killian was found on the floor next to his bed.
“He was unconscious and found to be in cardiac arrest,” said Monti. “The firefighters initiated CPR and they intubated him.”
Monti said firefighters didn’t hear any activated smoke detectors, and they didn’t see any mounted on the wall at the scene.
Gary Baglio, manager of Chosen Books in Royal Oak, said he learned about the fire that killed Killian – a man he first met 15 years ago – when he saw the reports on TV.
“Brian was one of the most creative people I met in my life,” he said. “The dinner he was chair of was the most elegant, perfectly put together events I attended in my life.”
Killian was the unofficial social leader of the LGBT community, said Baglio.
“There’s a huge void now,” he said. “It was a tragic, tragic loss.”
Killian is survived by his sister, Florine Phillips of Clinton Township, and his brother, Martin Killian of Livonia.