Elmer Lokkins, Symbol of Same-Sex Marriage Cause, Dies at 94
Published: November 15, 2013
Elmer Lokkins and Gustavo Archilla kept their relationship private for nearly 60 years. Some knew; some just wondered. Most did not discuss the situation. Uncle Gus and Uncle Elmer, their family called them.
James Estrin/The New York Times
Then, when they were both in their 80s, after a lifetime of refraining from even holding hands in public, they embraced in front of their family for the first time. It was November 2003, and they had just married in Canada, having traveled there from their home in Manhattan.
Soon they were being sought out for interviews and appearances. They participated in gay rights parades, including New York’s annual Wedding March. As same-sex marriage gained momentum in the United States, they became powerful symbols for supporters: faces of commitment, of enduring love.
But they were also still Uncle Gus and Uncle Elmer.
“When they got married and started talking about it, it was a little strange,” Christina Dean, Mr. Archilla’s niece, said this week. “Because you’re used to them being one way, and then they became famous.”
Mr. Lokkins died on Oct. 12 in Marco Island, Fla., less than a year after Mr. Archilla. Mr. Lokkins was 94, Mr. Archilla 96. They moved to Florida to be close to Ms. Dean and other family members.
When Mr. Archilla died, they had been married for nine years. But they had been together since that September day in 1945 when they met by chance in Columbus Circle.
“I had never seen anything so handsome,” Mr. Lokkins told The New York Times in 2003.
Mr. Lokkins eventually moved into the house in Washington Heights that Mr. Archilla shared with his nine siblings. Mr. Archilla’s parents had died, and he and a sister were helping raise their brothers and sisters. Mr. Lokkins had his own room.
Even after Mr. Lokkins and Mr. Archilla bought their own apartment in Morningside Gardens, the large cooperative in Morningside Heights, they were careful in public. Mr. Lokkins, who had graduated from City College, became the registrar of the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. Mr. Archilla was hired as his assistant and helped plan public events. Again, some people knew, but few talked about it.
“They always said they had no problems in New York,” Ms. Dean said.
They retired in the 1970s, traveling frequently and doting on their nieces and nephews. A few family members never accepted their relationship. But most adored them.
Elmer Theodore Lokkins was born on May 20, 1919, in Sunnyside, Wash., halfway between Seattle and Spokane. His father died when he was young, prompting his mother, Charlotte, to move with him and his three siblings to Chicago to be near her mother. When his mother remarried and moved to California, she left her children in the care of family members. The plan was for them to join her, but that never happened. Mr. Lokkins spent much of his childhood in an orphanage.
His survivors include a half-brother, Jerry Mullen, and dozens of nieces and nephews.
He served in the Army during World War II, saw combat in the South Pacific and was discharged in June 1945. Three months later he met his match, and they began their quiet life together.
“Living a lie,” he told The Times, “was the hardest part.”