Keith Groom

Keith Rigby Groom (KRG) was a personal friend who died too soon. As part of a Stoke Pride Fringe event in 2016 Proud To Be Me organised by Quin and his partner Mark, the North Staffs LGBT older people’s group staged an exhibition as a tribute to an LGBT activist ahead of his time.

This page is a record of the contributions made for the exhibition by people who knew and loved Keith.

 

Portrait Linda Cairns

Portrait of Keith by Linda Cairnes

After returning to Australia in 2006 I lost touch with Keith. At one time in the 1990’s we used to talk every day. A wonderful man. This is a portrait I painted in 1998 as he stood at his front door in Wolstanton

A Personal Tribute by Maurice Greenham

I can’t recall when I first met Keith…we got on so well, it seemed as if we had always known each other. We shared common interests in the arts, especially literature and theatre, as well as strong views on human rights issues. We both believed passionately in LGBT equality, and vehemently denounced HIV stigma and discrimination.

Keith never needed to ‘come out’ because he never hid his sexuality; indeed he fought for gay rights when it was not only unfashionable to do so, but when homosexual relations between men were criminal offences.

A member of both the Campaign for Homosexual Equality (CHE) and the Gay Liberation Front (GLF), Keith was proactive at a national level; he was equally involved in setting up LGBT support at a local level. For example he helped in the foundation and running of   North Staffordshire Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual Switchboard which ran for 32 years; he was also member of the steering committee of the North Staffordshire LGB Forum, and assisted in the production of The Rainbow Charter which helped to change attitudes amongst statutory, voluntary and commercial enterprises in the region.

Keith regularly contributed to ‘Bona Varda’ the LGB Forum’s newsletter. No doubt he was as disappointed as was I, that Stoke’s first Gay Pride March planned for 10th May 2003 was cancelled because of fears of a homophobic reaction that might endanger the safety of participants. However, Keith did have the satisfaction of witnessing two successful LGBT Big Pink Car Park events in Hanley even if the one in 2007 was seen from a wheelchair, which I took a turn in pushing him around. He was had the pleasure of to seeing two gay mayors elected into office for Stoke on Trent.

Queer Stuff (QS) and Staffordshire Buddies were the two organisations that brought Keith and I into a close working relationship. QS was Keith’s invention; it brought together LGBT people and their friends who were interested in reading and performing poetry, prose and plays. Along with the Third Sunday Luncheon Club, it made a welcome, valuable contribution to the cultural and social life of the LGBT community in Stoke and North Staffordshire. In 1999 Queer Stuff was invited to perform at The Greenroom in Manchester to coincide with Mardi Gras.

QS Mardi Gras 99

In the case of Staffordshire Buddies, not only did Keith become chair of this county-wide HIV support charity, but he was also a hands-on buddy, enabling many people living with HIV to lead fuller lives. For several years he took on the responsibility of compiling readings for the World AIDS Day Vigil, which in 2005 toured to Lichfield, Stafford, and Hanley before ending as part of a joint production with the New Vic Borderlines in the Stephen Joseph Studio at the New Vic Theatre.

One of my most endearing memories of Keith was at the turn of the Millennium when he invited me to accompany him to perform cabaret to let in the New Year at the home of one of his more affluent friends somewhere in the depths of the Derbyshire countryside. He added his inimitable sparkle of wit and humour to my ‘straight’ renditions of items such as Poisoning Pigeons in the Park, A Christmas Carol and the Masochism Tango by Tom Lehrer. Unforgettable!

I was one of the group of friends that were with Keith on the day of his death at Bradwell Hospital. We read poems, told stories and listened to music that he loved. It was a great privilege to have known Keith and to be counted as part of his close circle of friends.  He is greatly missed.

WAD 2003 Stafford

Personal Tribute by Maureen Cuell

Keith: you were such good company. All those hours spent over coffee, round the market in Newcastle, careering around the countryside in your car to some training event or other, always “the scenic route” home.

Miss you… Maureen

KRG MOW COP

Sentinel Article written by Mike Wolfe

A leading campaigner for gay equality in North Staffordshire has died at the age of 69.  Keith Rigby Groom was born in Kidsgrove into a family of devout Methodists. After National service he became a lay preacher on the Kidsgrove circuit for many years.  He studied English to become a teacher and taught in a number of Staffordshire schools retiring early from Brown Hills High School in 1993.He was well known in local amateur dramatic circles performing with a number of local companies including Newcastle Operatic Society and Studio One.

During the 1970s he was one of the early members of the Campaign for Homosexual Equality and helped form a branch in North Staffordshire.  He went on to have a long involvement in organisations which championed equality for gay people including the Rainbow Forum of which she was also a founder member. The Chair of The North staffs lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered network Mike Wolfe said today “Keith was an incredibly energetic and creative man who dedicated his life to the service of the community. He supported gay causes long before it was fashionable or even acceptable.  His courage and commitment is an example to us all and he will be hugely missed by the many and diverse people whose lives he touched”.  Mary Hollinshead Secretary of North Staffs Lesbian and gay switchboard said “he was a past volunteer and a member of our Executive committee, but most of all he was a good man who paved the way for many of us to live a comfortable life.”

Until his last illness he was a committee member of Staffordshire Buddies whose Director Andrew Colclough said “Keith worked tirelessly to support the Charity’s work for over 11 years. He supported many local people living with HIV/AIDS and as a trustee helped Staffordshire Buddies to become the respected Charity it is today.  He will be fondly remembered by staff, volunteers and service users for his energy, compassion, wit and enthusiasm. His willingness to confront prejudice and discrimination has been an inspiration to many who have since followed in his footsteps and has helped to shape the diverse community that we now enjoy”.

Keith’s work for gay rights did not reduce his Faith and tribute was also paid by Richard Kirker, the National Chief Executive of the Lesbian and Gay Christian movement. Rev Kirker said “He was one of our earliest members and because he was at ease with his own sexuality he saw the need to offer help to many who had yet to come to terms with their God given nature. His values were those of the LGCM and we were very much indebted to his vibrant faith and generous nature”.

Keith died of a brain tumour surrounded by friends and in receipt of wonderful care from the staff of Bennion Ward at Bradwell hospital. His funeral was held at Holy Trinity Church, Hamil Road, Burslem on Friday 12th October 2007.

Vigil 2004 Keith Mike W

Ian Francis personal tribute to Keith Groom

For me he was one of the first people who I knew when I took my first tentative steps towards the gay world and to me he was a rock. A reassurance at a time when I needed it. I was there when he was dying and able to whisper a few words to him before passing. A great man and to me an inspiration at a time when things were much less open.

 

Keith Groom Tribute by Sandie Hope Forest

Keith Groom was undoubtedly an erudite man. He was a devout Methodist but despite the problems this might have caused him he created a pathway through life which allowed him to maintain his faith and be an activist on behalf of gay rights long before 1967 when gay sex between men was legalised for the first time. He was also an entertaining, generous and sometimes a stubborn and cantankerous and somewhat eccentric man who was loved by so many who had the privilege to know him. I was lucky and Keith became my friend when we met over twenty years ago to work together with others on the establishment of the Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual Community Forum of North Staffordshire and Surrounding Areas [1]and he remained my much loved and valued friend until his death.

With so many aspects of Keith’s life worthy of discussion I have found it difficult to contemplate covering all of them. That being the case and being sure that others will discuss other aspects of his life, I have chosen to write about the sweet, generous and funny side of Keith as I knew him (with maybe some of his eccentricities thrown in).

Keith and my daughter Aphra were great mates. He often bought her gifts at Christmas and for her birthdays. I was out with Keith one Friday evening when I mentioned that Aphra, then about 6 or 7 years old, had been saddened by the death of the one sea creature[2] she had managed to raise. I had been asked to create a coffin and it was to be laid to rest on a bed of cotton wool in an old cigar tin. The funeral was to be the following day in order that school friends could attend the event. Without warning minutes before the funeral was due to take place the doorbell rang. I opened it to find Keith dressed from head to toe in black and carrying a bouquet of flowers for the bereaved and a carrier bags full of Sainsbury’s best goodies for the wake. He stood in all seriousness by edge of the pond where a small grave had been dug. He led prayers at the graveside and encouraged Aphra to speak about her pet before solemnly placing on top of the grave the house brick on which Aphra had written RIP in felt tip. She was thrilled to be given flowers; to have her friend lead the service and, most of all she enjoyed the tea and cakes at the wake. He understood children and what made them tick. I was never surprised that he was a school master and was held in great affection by many of his students.

One night Keith and I went to a ‘tarts and vicars’ event. We both took the dressing up very seriously and as we sat together with our drinks we were admiring each other’s efforts. ‘Sandie’, he said ‘if I weren’t such a queer and you weren’t a lesbian, and I was looking for the services of a tart, I’d certainly choose you’.  That was the closest to a complement I got that night and I loved it. He really made me laugh. Keith could be very dapper when he wanted to be and when he didn’t, he turned up to events in his old knee length combat shorts and tatty checked shirt worn with very old trainers.

Keith was a ‘foodie’ and it was one thing that he and I, along with some other friends, had in common. We would often go out for meals and I fed him often at my home. However, Keith did not believe in housework and no-one who visited his home would want to eat there even if he was an excellent cook. He was invited into my home and that of other friends to cook with us and he was an excellent cook. However, his house was unbelievably messy and visitors had to wait while Keith moved around piles of papers and clothing that adorned every seat in the house before they could sit down. I chose not to go in if I was picking him up to go out anywhere because I simply couldn’t cope with the cobwebs, let alone their inhabitants, that were draped over all surfaces. More than that, early on in our friendship, Keith told me about his habit of walking around his house naked. Spiders coupled with a naked Keith were bad enough but when he also disclosed that he had dyed his pubic hair fluorescent pink … I couldn’t cope and stayed in the car and sounded my horn instead.

Keith Groom was a wonderful man who became more cantankerous as he got older and could sulk like any teenager though these moods were short lived. If I were to pick his worst and best attributes I would say that the worst was that when he spoke on the phone her would go on and on and on and on and… The best that Keith cared. He cared dearly about LGBT people and as long as he was able to he worked hard toward full equality for his community.

I loved Keith and think of him often and still he makes me laugh.

keith picnic 2 cropped

Memories of Keith Groom by Stephen Griffiths

Keith Rigby Groom (1938-2007) was always someone who reminded me of the need for gay openness and visibility.  He was a ‘living history’ of the struggles and challenges of the post 1967 decriminalisation period.  As a pioneer of ‘gay rights’ he knew the importance of standing up against the prejudice and hostility and spoke out at a time when it was unpopular to be gay.  I first met Keith in the late 1990s at the NHS GMHAP (Gay Men’s Health Alliance Project) in Hanley when I first moved to the area to go to University – we’d later work together for the same organisation as Sessional Workers.  I was immediately struck by his eccentricity and outrageous critical comments (which didn’t always go down too well with others).  He was certainly not afraid to speak his mind and certainly didn’t suffer fools gladly.

Around 1998 he set up the gay drama group Queerstuff and I became involved as a reader and performer, which involved taking gay theatre and poetry to the pubs and venues around Stoke-on-Trent.  These were special times.  Keith delighted in choosing the pieces from his huge library of books (some of which have been passed on to me – all complete with his beautiful signature and a detailed record of where, when and with whom he bought the book).

As a constant supporter for those who were living with HIV, he worked as a volunteer for Staffordshire Buddies and we performed many pieces which reflected the crisis of the 1980s/90s, like Larry Kramer’s The Normal Heart.  We also performed at charity fundraisers, like the Red Ribbon Riots Show at The Club for World AIDS Day, performing a ‘Julian and Sandy’ extract from the BBC radio comedy Round The Horne.  I was Kenneth Williams/Sandy and Keith was the ‘straight’ Mr. Horne.  Julian and Sandy were openly gay at a time when it was illegal and performing this sketch some thirty years later alongside Keith reminded me the importance of celebrating being gay.

Had it not been for people like Keith – things could have been so very different.  We should not forget the millions of gay men and women who battled the discrimination in the 1960s-1990s who gave us the freedom that we take for granted today.  I am so lucky that I got to know Keith and will always treasure the memories of the times that we worked together.

IMG_5421_edited_edited

 

Gallery

 

[1] The Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual Community Forum of North Staffordshire and Surrounding Areas subsequently became the LGBT Community Forum and then The Rainbow Forum.

[2] These ‘sea creatures’ come in kit form and appear to be a mixture of sand and grit. A few days after they have been put into water small creatures appear and these live for about six weeks ending up measuring about 1 centimetre and looking like a small soft bodied aquatic louse.

 

 

 

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