By Dawn Wolfe Gutterman
FERNDALE – How do you keep a candle lit on a windy evening? You protect it with great care and attention, moving your hand to shield that small, gentle light from the impersonal force that might put it out.
It was perhaps fitting, therefore, that the evening of June 13 was a windy night, and that the 40-plus people who came to commemorate the light that had been Jamie Phillips-Fox were forced to pay attention to those candles, which represented the light she had been in the LGBT community.
Reverend Mark Bidwell, senior pastor at Metropolitan Community Church of Detroit, told the people who had come to mark her passing, “Lights are a tradition found in most faith groups.”
“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hid,” Bidwell read from the Book of Matthew. “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”
“Jamie was someone whose light and smile and warmth shined on all of us,” Bidwell said. “She embraced us all — and that’s a light we all need to carry into the community.”
Speakers during the candlelight vigil, which took place on Affirmations Lesbian and Gay Community Center’s patio, included Bidwell, Carrie Copeland of Affirmations, Rachel Crandall of TransGender Michigan, and several other community members. Stephanie Loveless of Transgender Detroit performed two songs during the service before candles were lit in Phillips-Fox’s memory.
Without exception, those who chose to spoke talked about Phillips-Fox’s loving nature.
“When Jamie was in the room you felt like you were welcome there — and I still don’t understand how she did that,” said Crandall, TransGender Michigan’s executive director. “It was a regular part of me, having Jamie there to do that.”
“Jamie showed me immediate love and made me comfortable,” said a tall brunette man who did not give his name. “One of the greatest things she has taught us is to accept and love regardless — as long as we can do that, Jamie will never be gone.”
A woman in a black cowboy hat said that it was appropriate that Phillips-Fox had collected lighthouses.
“She was a lighthouse,” the woman said. “She guided the rest of us into the community and made us a family.”
Peter Cooper, an intake specialist with AIDS Partnership Michigan, told the mourners about Phillips-Fox’s dedication to working with AIDS service organizations, “to make sure that that ‘T’ is real, and not just a politically-correct inclusion.”
One blond woman said that she had only known Phillips-Fox for a year, “but it was a wonderful year.”
“She didn’t have to say a lot to convey the love and caring that she was so full of — that’s a wonderful trait for a human being to have,” the woman said. “Even though I knew her only for a short time, she will be with me until the day I die.”
Michelle Fox-Phillips, Jamie’s widow, expressed her appreciation for the community’s support. Fox-Phillips said that she had met her wife at Affirmations about eight years ago, and “she loved everybody here.”
Fox-Phillips also had some advice for her community.
“Hug [your partner or spouse] all the time,” she said. “Tell them constantly that you love them. Don’t let a day go by without doing that.”
When the speakers were finished everyone reluctantly blew out the candles that they had been guarding so carefully. However, as Crandall had said just a few minutes before, the light that was Jamie Phillips-Fox need not go out in the LGBT community.
“We’re all going to pick up the pieces of her life,” Crandall said. “We all have a piece of her now – and I know I will be the better for it.”
The family of Jamie Phillips-Fox has requested that those wishing to make a donation in her name make the donation to Transgender Detroit and send it to Transgender Detroit at 25630 Santina Lane, Warren, MI, 48089.