A Tribute to Philanthropist Henry van Ameringen

Henry van Ameringen has died, at the age of 90. Henry was a caring friend to me and especially to the young people of the Ali Forney Center.

In April of 2002, I had lunch with Henry at his favorite cafe on 6th Avenue and 12th Street. At the time I had a dream of opening the Ali Forney Center, but had not yet raised any funds. I spoke to Henry about Ali Forney and the other youths I knew who’d been murdered in the streets, and described the violence and degradation they endured in mainstream shelters. When our meal ended, Henry pulled out his checkbook and wrote me a check for $35,000! That donation allowed us to open, and got us through our first six months.

A year later, Henry and his partner Eric Galloway had dinner with our young people and me at one of the residential apartments where we provided shelter, just below 125th Street in Harlem. My husband, Raymond, cooked up a feast, and I had prepared the youths for the momentous visit, letting them know how Henry’s gift made the Ali Forney Center possible. When it was time for Henry and Eric to depart the young people spontaneously followed them down the stairs and lined up to thank Henry, several even hugging him. I wanted to publicly honor Henry for his pivotal role in creating the Ali Forney Center, but he was always shy about calling attention to his immense contributions to so many LGBTQ organizations. Nonetheless, I think of the sweetness of that moment when the youths expressed their heart-felt gratitude as the best honor of all.

Henry was our most steadfast and consistent supporter. Not one year has passed since 2002 without Henry making a generous gift to the Ali Forney Center. Frankly, there were several times when we were on the ropes after funding losses, and Henry always came through with extra gifts during our hard times. Many times over the years we reconvened at his favorite cafe and he listened with the most alert attention to the news of our challenges and progress. It makes me very sad to realize there will be no more lunches with Henry.

A particularly joyful memory is the afternoon we spent together in 2007. I met him at our little drop-in center in Chelsea and drove him out to visit all four of our recently-opened apartments in Brooklyn. It was obvious that Henry took great pride in our growth as he examined every space where we offered housing and support to our young people. I could see he was particularly moved by the little stuffed animals some of the youths had placed on their beds. After our visits were done, before getting back in my car to return to Manhattan, Henry grabbed my arm, looked me in the eye, said how proud he was of what we had accomplished, and hugged me. Henry was a very warm man in his way, but I had never experienced him to be physically demonstrative. That hug was a big deal to me.

I will miss Henry very much. He was a good, kind, caring, thoughtful, piercingly engaged man who has spent decades supporting LGBTQ people. Our LGBTQ community owes him much gratitude. I, for one, will be grateful to Henry until the day I die for his love and support, and for how he allowed us to bring our homeless youths in from the cold.

Henry, 90, died at home on September 9, 2020. He worked for International Flavors and Fragrances for many years and also served on the Board of Directors. Henry devoted his life to supporting HIV/AIDS, LGBT, and mental health issues. He is survived by his spouse, T. Eric Galloway, and six nieces and nephews. Donations can be made in Henry’s honor to Fountain House or LAMBDA Legal Defense Fund.

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