There are many unsung heroes in our midst — Angels, you might say.
Steve Bing, who died on Monday at the young age of 55, was one of them.
While serving as Executive Director of Project Angel Food, I came to know Steve as a profoundly generous man, quietly sending major contributions to the organization every year.
He did so like clockwork, yet from a distance. And it certainly seemed odd that we never met him as I would normally meet with any donor who provided the organization with significant funding, in Steve’s case well more than half a million dollars in a few short years.
Steve, it turned out was shy and didn’t like going to events, but he was deeply invested in our meal program and specifically interested in helping people with AIDS.
Steve, a sports fanatic, told me over the years he had met gay male athletes and came to despise the discrimination they suffered and the isolation people with AIDS surely endured. He simply could not imagine anyone home alone suffering.
I thought of that when I read that one of the reasons given for his suicide was that he was lonely for human interaction, traumatized by Covid-19 social distancing measures and isolation.
Steve really wanted to help Project Angel Food’s mission and he wanted to do as much as he could.
Eventually, I had an opportunity to meet him and thank him in person at his office in Century City.
I was as struck by his imposing height and his totally focused presence during our meeting as I was by his seemingly endless generosity.
Days after our meeting, Steve called and informed me he wanted to make a PSA for Project Angel Food. I asked him how I could help and he said “don’t worry we will pull it all together.”
And he was indeed a man of his word.
He put me in touch with Dave Wirtschafter and Jill Smoller, two very influential sports agents at William Morris Agency and the team recruited LA Laker star Rick Fox to serve as the Project Angel Food’s spokesperson.
They covered all the costs of a major PSA production; dozens of crew members converted the Project Angel Food parking lot on Sunset Boulevard into an urban basketball court and Rick Fox made a beautiful appeal for volunteers and financial support.
It was the first time an active NBA player or any nationally known professional athlete (post Magic Johnson’s retirement) had done any kind of public relations work on behalf of an AIDS organization.
It resulted in bringing new volunteers and donors to Project Angel Food.
How could I possibly thank Steve for all that he did, for always taking my calls, saying yes to most every request?
Steve was someone to whom you could not say “Thank you.” He would simply say ”John, really you don’t need to thank me. The volunteers are doing the work!”
He kept an open door to Project Angel Food and was a very honest donor who rarely but quickly gave me the courtesy of saying no if I pitched a project he didn’t want to support, immediately explaining why.
Yet he would always make it up somehow.
More than 20 years later, Steve remains one of Project Angel Food’s most significant individual donors. He eventually expanded his giving to be LGBT inclusive, donating more than two million dollars to the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) and American Foundation for Equal Rights (AFER) at events in Los Angeles, New York and Washington. He was a key donor to the Proposition 8 efforts which led to the legalization of gay marriage nationwide. And he also donated heavily to the Democratic party
Often friends would say “I never knew he was gay!”
Well, he wasn’t. He was a straight ally drawn to help at this critical time. He simply despised injustice and discrimination and understood our plight as a people.
I last saw him at Brian Pendleton’s always legendary Super Bowl Party, this one after Trump took office in 2017.
Brian told me recently that Steve was one of the most important donors to the RESIST MARCH in 2017, one of the first and helped further by helping refine the protest march’s mission statement.
At my last meeting we shared our sense of dismay and he remarked, ”these are strange and troubled times.”
We’ve lost an incredible champion.
Let’s be kind and move forward together.