What About Mario’s Ashes?

This query is noted in the closing papers of 1994 for the G.H. United Methodist Church on SW 81st. As best remembered, Mario Honoré was the Choir Director for the church in the late 1980s and early 1991. He had applied for the Director’s position that was advertised. The committee was amazed that someone so talented would choose to come to this small church.

Mario’s obvious talents vocally and on the piano were outstanding. He said he had come from the Negro Opera League in the East.* He had returned to Portland to be near his family. He was a small black man with a big heart and talent to match and was loved by the choir and the parishioners. One choir member recalls that he taught them to do music that they didn’t think they could.

But after a year or so, Mario suddenly stopped coming to choir practice and everyone was puzzled. He finally called the minister Gary Ross to confess that he was dying from AIDS. The minister visited him and assured him that the church would take care of him in death and his ashes were buried in the church yard “in a cardboard box in a velvet bag.”

AIDS was a very frightening word in the 1980s. It was just beginning to be diagnosed and the fear and stigma surrounded every aspect for both the patient and the populace. The school boy Ryan White died of AIDS in 1990 brought on by blood transfusions for his hemophilia. In 1991 Magic Johnson confessed that it was not limited to gay people and affected him.

After Mario’s death, a parishioner donated all of their medical supplies and equipment to Our House where they understood that Mario had received care.

*The Library of Congress has records on The National Negro Opera Company Collections.

By Elaine Shreve, July 2012

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