Patrick Heckler was also known as Paddy Mae – especially when he donned wig, makeup and costume as a drag queen. He was a hair dresser, a bartender, a leader in Albuquerque’s gay community, and he was a Catholic. After a Memorial Mass at Risen Savior Catholic Community, he was remembered at an upbeat Celebration of Life reception.
The Mass featured the singing of “Amazing Grace” and a responsive singing of the 23rd Psalm “The Lord is my shepherd, there is nothing I shall want” and “Allelujah.” The scriptures were Romans (nothing can separate us from the love of God) and John 11:17-43, the story of Jesus and how Lazarus rose from the dead.
Father Tim Martinez knew Patrick and went to him for haircuts. Even though Pat had lung cancer and was on oxygen, he’d still go outside to smoke, holding the canula as far away from the lit cigarette as his arms would reach. He was smoking in spite of everything. “A year and a half ago, we talked about this day. He wanted it to be something everyone remembered and no one would be sad,” said Father Tim. “He had the gift of hospitality and stage presence. That’s how I remember him.”
“Patrick dared to believe this wasn’t the end. We will get to see others we love again. Patrick’s wish was that we not be sad. Even death cannot take away the bonds of love we establish in this life,” he said. “Patrick’s got a stage in heaven and has recruited angels to be his backup singers. As Jesus said of Lazarus, ‘Untie him and let him go,’ we untie Patrick and let him go to God who will take away pain and let him breathe deeply. We look forward to the day we’ll meet again in the fullness of the Kingdom of God.”
The Mass was prepared and those who wished to participate came forward. Afterward there was a moment of silent meditation.
Then the priest did a unique farewell ceremony with the family. A white cloth-wrapped box that held Pat’s cremated remains was on a table near the front of the church. The family gathered and put their hands on the box and/or upon each other, so everyone had a physical connection. “And now the time has come to say goodbye for now, but not forever,” said Father Tim. “We’ll meet again in the Kingdom of God. Now say a prayer in your heart of goodbye.”
A prayer, with the response “Receive his soul, receive him to God most high” and a closing prayer ended the Funeral Mass. The family picked up the box of cremated remains and the flowers and led everyone over to the social hall for the celebration of life.
Many funeral services offer prayer cards for the deceased and some have programs. At the Mass, there was a lovely white dove image on a prayer card. When you got over to the celebration of life in the social hall, Pat’s friends in the Rainbow Roadrunners Car Club had made up a full color program with pictures of Paddy Mae in her full glory. Pat’s cremated remains were set up on a table with a rainbow backdrop of feather boas and heart-shaped candelabras festooned with purple flowers.
Everyone was invited to share the buffet luncheon. As pictures of Pat/Paddy Mae were projected on a screen, show tunes played over the sound system. Paddy Mae was renowned for her lip sync as Kate Smith singing “God Bless America.” See for yourself on this YouTube video:
Here’s what the obituary and program said about Pat:
HECKLER — PATRICK AUGUST (PADDY MAE) Age 70, was born July 21, 1942 in Clayton, NM and passed away August 15, 2012 in Albuquerque, NM. Patrick is survived by his brother, Donald Heckler; nephews, Joe and Chris Heckler; great-niece, Cierra; great-nephew, Sam; and numerous aunts and uncles. Patrick was preceded in death by his parents, Donald J. and Mary A. Heckler; sister-in-law, Eileen Green-Heckler; and long time partner, Peter H. Thomas.
Patrick was raised in Albuquerque and graduated from Valley High School in 1960, graduated from DeWolf Beauty School in 1963, and graduated from UNM in 1965. Patrick had a long and blessed career in Travel, Beauty and the Bar industry. He visited many places around the country and world. He met many new friends and clients through his travels.
He loved being with friends and loved to socialize. He adored and loved all his pets. Their love for him was unconditional. Patrick was a leader in the Gay Community by bartending in local clubs, performing in female impersonator shows for fund raising events, and by always helping friends.
The program also had these quotes: “He has departed from our midst, full of years, indeed, and of glory.” “A great man who was also one Hell of a Drag Queen.” He lived life his way. We will miss you Paddy, but we will never forget you.
Jim Wiley acted as the master of ceremonies for the sharing of memories. He noted Paddy Mae’s great sense of humor and wise advice dispensed while tending bar or curling the hair of blue-haired ladies. “He was a brother to me… or maybe a sister. He would give me advice that I didn’t want to hear, and I have yet to prove him wrong on any advice he gave,” he said. “I hope to be half the man he was and challenge anyone in this room to be half the woman he was.”
Cousin Jimmy Hemphill, five years younger than Pat, said, “He was my North Star. He believed in me. He encouraged me to be my true self and he challenged me to be my best self… Paddy Mae was effervescent. He embodied a contagious joyfulness that touched the hearts of nearly everyone who knew him.”
“I pray – to paraphrase Shakespeare – that God will take Patrick, and cut him out into little stars, and he will make the face of heaven so fine that all the world will be in love with the evening sky.”
His friend James who worked with him at the Ultimate Changes salon talked with him every single day and was with Paddy Mae when he died. He spoke about an incident that happened three nights before he passed. They were watching TV together, and Pat said he saw three people in the room with them. James couldn’t see these people, and he asked, “What are they doing?” Pat said, “They’re drawing a diagram so I can find my way to heaven.” James, Manny and Paul were recognized for their support of Paddy Mae in his final months.
A few other comments: Paddy Mae would tell it like it is. He loved to shop. His zest for life is inspirational He embodied what it means to be a proud gay man. He was called up yonder because heaven needed a little more fabulous. Now we all know where he is, we just have to wait until we see him again. Move over Gabriel, a new Star has arrived…
If you’d like to add a memory or story, feel free to use the comment box below.