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Michael Aaron

Dennis Rowley Gwyther was an unsung community dreamer who got things done

Written by Michael Aaron

While actors and directors are showered in applause, the unsung stars of the theater are behind the curtain — the stage crew. So it is with my friend Dennis Rowley Gwyther, who was taken from us last week in what appears to be a random act of senseless violence.

They say a person with big ideas but who never follows through on them is called a dreamer. Those who follow through are doers. The doers are those who make things happen, who make change.


Dennis was a person with big ideas, even some that just seemed too big. But what set Dennis apart was that he also very often did the work necessary to make those big ideas and dreams come to life.

Dennis worked behind the curtain of our community for decades. I think I first met him in the 80s when our big ideas were to find ways to make a stage for our fledgling prides. But Dennis always wanted them bigger, grander, and better, and he followed through.

I have three favorite times that Dennis took something to the next level in our community — times that few would have known about, nor known who made them happen or how. The results, however, were something everyone around noticed.

A small, but humorous one for me is the aftermath of the Salt Lake Tornado of 1999. I remember being in my office on the 9th floor of the Triad Center and seeing the tornado hit the Sun Tavern, bounce off the bar that was once the Axis, and fly over the Delta Center, stripping it of its roof liner. The streets were immediately closed off and my car was stuck in the parking lot. I donned an orange safety vest that I had for a photo shoot and started walking around, surveying the damage, unfettered by police who thought I must be someone official. The power was out in the area and as far as I could see. I got a call that Channel 4 News political reporter Chris Vanocur was serving drinks at the Trapp. What? How the hell? I walked over and laughed to see a truck parked alongside the building with a generator going and jumper cables attached to the electrical panel. I walked in and there was Dennis with his omnipresent shit-eating grin.

Then, when Judge Robert Shelby turned Utah’s marriage laws on their ear and people, including Dennis and Matt Gwyther, ran to the county clerk’s offices to marry, Dennis called me with an idea of a mass wedding reception. I thought ‘No way in hell. That sounds like a TON of work.’ He explained that it could raise funds tor Restore Our Humanity, which had incurred tons of debt making the ruling happen against all odds. Long story short, we put together an event, along with dozens of community partners, that drew 2,500 people and raised over $25,000 for Restore. In 11 days. The day of the event, Dennis, Matt and I were running around town picking up sound equipment from the many places Dennis had contacted over that time. The three of us schlepped it all into the hall, placed it, hooked it all together, tested it and made it sing and dance in time for the party to start. I know of no other person in this community who could have pulled that off.

When the Orlando Pulse massacre happened, Dennis called me, asking about a rumored rally at the Salt Lake City-County Building the next night. “You know it’s going to rain, right?” he said. I said yeah, I think they plan on using the steps for the speakers. “I can get one of those covered, mobile stages with light and sound.” Wow, I thought. That’s kind of overkill, but it would certainly be cool. I showed up at the rally the next day, and there it was. This massive stage on a trailer as the rain came down. And there was Dennis, as I’d seen him at many an event, scurrying around with cables, getting it set up.

Many organizations in our community have Dennis to thank for such support at events over these many years. People may never know who the guy was climbing in, around, under and on top of boxes and massive speakers. There are thousands of things he has done for our community.

That is what a man driving by and shooting him has taken from our community, his family, and his husband. We will never know, going forward, how great some of our events could have been if he weren’t senselessly gunned down.

But for me, I will miss that shit-eating grin. The sarcastic wit. The needling that bordered on abuse, but was said in love. The blow-up movie screen and sound system and best coffee at the Utah Bears campout — Jam-BEAR-Ee. And I’ll miss the phone calls of what is possible for our community when you have a dreamer who knows how to get things done.

Rest in power, Dennis Rowley Gwyther, knowing you made a difference in people’s lives and in your community.

On Monday night, at Club Try-Angles, 251 W 900 South, Dennis’ family will hold an Irish Wake starting at 7pm. The community is invited. A Facebook Event is here for more details.

About the author

Michael Aaron

Michael Aaron is the editor and publisher of QSaltLake. He has been active in Utah's gay and lesbian community since the early 80s and published two publications then and in the 90s.

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