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Murdered Lou Rispoli: a heartfelt tribute by Tim Page

The murder in New York City of Virgil Thomson’s former secretary – to all appearances a random homophobic crime – has shocked many within the music community who worked with this gentle, generous facilitator. The Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Tim Page got to know Lou while editing Virgil’s correspondence. Here is his moving tribute to Lou, written specially for Slipped Disc:

One of the funniest, gentlest, most brilliant men I knew

by Tim Page

Early in the morning of October 21, a 62-year old music educator named Lou Rispoli was set upon by three feral punks as he took a walk through the New York City neighborhood where he had lived for more than 30 years.   According to a witness, Rispoli was clubbed over the head with a blunt object, hit with such force that those who heard the sound from their homes thought there had been a gunshot.    The SUV sped off, Rispoli was taken to a hospital, he was removed from life support on Thursday and he died shortly thereafter.    No suspects have yet been identified.

Hardly a day goes by without another report of horror in an American city.  And yet this one is especially galling, for Lou Rispoli – known and loved by an unusually wide-ranging group of friends and colleagues – was one of the funniest, gentlest, most brilliant, most patient people I knew.   It is almost impossible for me to imagine him dead; it is more than impossible, for the moment, to accept the fact that he was slaughtered in such a brutal and stupid manner.
Lou was a long-time gay activist and a survivor of what now seems a genuine “lost generation” of the 1980s and 1990s, when thousands upon thousands of gay men died from a mysterious virus eventually known as AIDS.   At a time when nobody knew what caused the disease and even hospital workers were terrified (in 1982, one of my dying friends received most of his food slipped under his door – the staff was afraid to come any closer) Lou, by all accounts a magnificent chef, involved himself in making nutritious, home-cooked meals for people with AIDS, delivering them to their door himself, and talking with the exhausted shut-ins for a while if they could muster the strength.
Such compassion was typical of Lou.    So was his decision to adopt and raise two daughters with his longtime companion, the pianist Danyal Lawson, whom he married in 2011 on their 31st anniversary.
So was his devotion to the elderly Virgil Thomson –composer of two of the finest American operas and unquestionably the leading New York music critic of the mid-20th century – as the grand old legend continued to command a legendary apartment in New York’s Chelsea Hotel, where he lived for almost half a century.
Virgil was undeniably a genius, often lovable, and invariably difficult.   When my wife, Vanessa Weeks Page, and I agreed to edit Thomson’s letters in 1985, we spent a great deal of time in the Chelsea apartment, where we were always greeted cheerily by Lou, who would let us know what Virgil’s “weather” was that day, and just how carefully to tread with our questions.    Without his careful stewardship, I don’t think the book would ever have come to completion.    To understand his importance, it should be noted that “Lou Rispoli” is the very first of hundreds of names in Anthony Tommasini’s magnificent biography of the composer; he comes on stage before even Virgil does.   In later years, Lou worked as an administrator for the Greenwich House Music School.
Lou’s murder has not yet been classified as a “hate crime”; nobody knows why he was targeted for such a cowardly attack.    My guess is that the killers will be found and we will learn just what was in their “minds” when they butchered Lou Rispoli.    The numbers are against them: one psychopath can get away with anything; two may have a sporting chance. But three?   Most likely, one will brag to a friend about his “accomplishment” or not be able to live with what he has done, and the story will be out.    But I’ll never understand.
 (c) Tim Page/Slipped Disc
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  1. Charles Fussell says:

    Tim, just read your comments about Lou’s Rispoli’s murder. It’s an ongoing horror for this entire neighborhood.
    I moved here at Lou’s recommendation about 13 yrs ago, and this was/is a middle class, very safe area.
    But drugs and thugs are everywhere, and I presume Lou thought he could walk at night safely, as he had always
    done. Alas!

    all best to you,

    C Fussell.

  2. Rebecca Jay says:

    I have only just learned of Lou’s death this morning. I am in deep shock. I can but echo all your comments above. I have known Lou since the age of 19, almost 40 years ago, when he lived in a tiny apartment in Greenwich Village. One of my most cherished friends and one whom I will miss dreadfully. We lived so far apart but every timer we met time slipped away and no time had passed at all. True friendship. I only hope the perpetrators of this heinous crime are caught and brought to justice. And that Danyal can eventually come to terms with this awful awful thing that has happened.

    RIP Lou. My love eternally.


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