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Feb. 15, 1934 – Jan. 27, 2020
Nancy Ann Unwin, the founder of such groups as OUTSkirts and Women OUT & About, was a revered member of and activist for the Southeast Michigan LGBTQ community. She died Jan. 27. She was 85.
Unwin graduated from the University of Detroit with a master’s degree in clinical psychology. She went on to work as a school psychologist for the next 25 years with the Detroit, Clawson and Lapeer school districts.
Unwin never married and had no children. She had 11 nieces and nephews, 26 great nieces and nephews and seven great-great nieces and nephews. Friends say she adored them all.
Nancy came to accept her sexual orientation after retiring, though she is not known to have ever come out to any of her biological family.
“Once she was willing to allow herself to be who she had always been, she dove headfirst into working in and for her newfound community,” said longtime friend Marguerite Walker. “She worked tirelessly on projects that supported and benefitted the LGBT community with great enthusiasm and inventiveness and saw the isolation of women from one another as a primary problem.
“The number of hours she spent weekly in pursuit of LGBT interests would overwhelm most people,” Walker continued. “However, Nancy never appeared publicly in a manner that might get back to her family. They were, to the best of my recollection, religious folk with a conservative bent.”
Still, her contributions to Metro Detroit’s LGBTQ community are inarguable. She started OUTSkirts, a potluck/discussion group modeled on Women Together with outreach aimed at the older adult lesbian community, in 2001.
The group was “especially for those like Nancy who had not been part of the LGBT community in their younger days,” said friend Alice McKeage. “Nancy and Paula Knight met with Affirmations and as a result, OUTSkirts was affiliated with Affirmations. OUTSkirts met on Sunday afternoons for a potluck and discussion. The group lasted 10 years and eventually when Nancy retired, was merged into Women Together.”
Unwin also started the group Women OUT & About, which was a group oriented toward social activities for lesbians.
“Through WOA, Nancy and others sponsored picnics, dances and other social activities,” McKeage said. “WOA was turned over to Linda Brincat was is included in her GOAL activities to this day.”
Unwin was a card player and loved bridge, achieving the level of bronze life master. She was also known as a lover of animals and a genealogy buff.
“She had a quiet, sly sense of humor and loved any music with a serious thumping beat,” Walker said. “This would come as a surprise to many of her acquaintances.”
According to Walker, “Nancy did not have a wife or partner at the time of her death and had not had either for many years. She did have very private relationships in the past, but those women have all passed on. She and I were very close for several years up until the early 2000s. After turning over control of her groups to others, she slowly withdrew from the LGBT community.”
A Memorial Mass for Unwin will take place March 28 at 11 a.m. at Catholic Church of the Holy Family, located at 24505 Meadowbrook Road in Novi with a reception following at Fox Run Retirement Community.