I recently had an especially memorable and quite perfect lunch with Katie Nachod. Although Katie is a long-time reference librarian with a career’s worth of experience at Tulane University and the Louisiana Supreme Court Law Library, and although I serve as President of the LGBT+ Archives Project of Louisiana, and although we both have degrees in English, and although we have several mutual friends, we did not meet to discuss anything regarding library sciences, the glories of literature, or mutual-friend gossip. Rather, our luncheon meeting was all about the late, great George Dureau.
While Friends of Dorothy and Quarterites of a certain age will surely remember Dureau, young readers may not be familiar with him. Dureau died in 2014 after a battle with Alzheimer’s Disease. Born in 1930 and raised in New Orleans, Dureau was a classically-trained artist and photographer who enjoyed international acclaim. He was also a bona fide French Quarter character—an eccentric, larger than life, gay man whose personality radiated charm and quirkiness. He threw fabulous parties. Katie met George near the end of his life. The two became fast friends and ultimately Katie became his caretaker, of sorts.
On a beautiful day, over a leisurely lunch at Café Degas (appropriately enough), Katie regaled me with the enchanting tale of how she became a part of George’s life. It is a case study in serendipity.
The lunch was a long time coming. We had met via email over a year earlier through a mutual friend, Peta Mni, who had taken one of my Rainbow Fleur de Lis walking tours on the city’s queer history. After the tour, Peta asked a few questions about George Dureau, whom I had mentioned on the tour, and then told me he had a friend I just had to meet—Katie. The plan was for all three of us to have lunch and listen to Katie reminisce about George. Despite several attempts, our schedules never aligned and Peta, to the surprise of all who knew him, died suddenly not long after our failed attempts to get together.
Fast forward to this summer. Theater critic extraordinaire Brian Sands was having a few people over to watch the fireworks on the Fourth of July and Chris & I graciously accepted his invitation. Among the eclectic assemblage of guests was Katie, who had brought along George Dureau’s half-brother, Don. At the conclusion of a brilliant conversation, Katie and I resurrected our lunch plans.
After twenty-something years of working at the Howard-Tilton Memorial Library at Tulane University, Katie took a job at the law library at the Louisiana Supreme Court building in the French Quarter. Each morning, after parking in a lot adjacent to the river, she would walk up Bienville Street before turning on Chartres Street on her way to the courthouse. Each morning, as she walked up Bienville, she noticed George Dureau’s studio/residence. Eventually, George introduced himself and the two developed a morning ritual. She would stop at the studio where George would serve her a pastry. The two would chat for a bit and then, stepping out onto the sidewalk, George would extend his elbow and escort Katie on her one-and-a-half block walk to work. He did the same in the evening when she finished work.
It was the beginning of a beautiful friendship. George’s health gradually declined as he slowly succumbed to Alzheimer’s Disease. In the beginning stages, he could still function although he would sometimes get confused or forget to bathe. Katie accompanied him on his wanderings around the Quarter and on regular visits to La Boucherie, one of many French Quarter coffee shops that are no more. Sometimes they would wave toward Canal Street and say hello to Miss Clara, George’s mother. And when the police kept giving George tickets for riding his bicycle the wrong way down Royal Street, Katie went to the 8th District Police Precinct and explained to them who George was and that he didn’t understand why he was getting citations and they should stop harassing him. They did.
When his dementia worsened, Katie organized a group called the “Friends of George,” which consisted of over a 100 people whose lives George had touched. When George was no longer able to live by himself, Katie and the “Friends” raised money and had him placed in an assisted living facility, where he lived until his death on April 7, 2014.
After lunch, Katie drove me back to the Quarter. Before she dropped me off, she left me with one last anecdote that seems to sum up George’s life. She told me that even at the end, in the days before he died, George would occasionally burst forth into song. His musical selection? Nina Simone’s I Want a Little Sugar in My Bowl.