Real life

TV director opens up about being widowed twice and surviving grief

Norman Buckley and Timothy Scott, 1983 (Photo: Supplied)

One gay man’s tribute to his first partner has touched many after appearing online. Norman Buckley, 63, is a successful TV producer and director, best known for directing Pretty Little Liars and Gossip Girl. He’s the younger brother of the performer, Betty Buckley.

Instagram account The AIDS Memorial shared an entry by Buckley this week to coincide with the birthday of his first major love.

The AIDS Memorial publishes photos and stories from friends, families and partners of those lost to HIV-related illness.


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“Timothy Scott (September 15, 1955 – February 24, 1988) was an extraordinary dancer, having performed in the first international company of A Chorus Line and in Bob Fosse’s Dancin’,” begins Buckley.

“I met him when he played Mr. Mistoffelees in the original Broadway production of Cats. My sister Betty Buckley was also in the show and I would frequently visit her backstage at the Winter Garden.

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“One night I went up into the catwalk to watch the last part of the show and Tim was about to make his entrance from the same catwalk. I turned and looked at him and he looked back at me. It sounds corny but I fell instantly in love with him.

“We were together for five years. For all intents and purposes he was my husband, but his obituary called me his ‘longtime companion.’

“In the last four weeks of Tim’s life, as his condition worsened, I barely left his side. Several days before he died, I woke in the middle of the night and he was sitting up, very alert. I asked him why he wasn’t sleeping. He said, ‘I am trying to measure where we are relative to that space out there.’

“Then he turned to me and said, ‘Are you ready for your big test?’ I said I didn’t know what he meant, but I would try to be ready. He patted me on the arm and said, ‘Go back to sleep.’ It was the last thing he ever said to me. The next morning he’d fallen into a coma from which he’d never awake.

“I loved him so much and still do, 31 years later. It is the love that endures. I learned from Tim that love is not something measured in quantity. It’s instead a state of being. I believe there is a place where it is no longer about being ‘in love,’ but simply feeling the presence of love. It transcends death.

“You’re either there or you’re not. And in Tim Scott I knew and have continued to know love. And I will always be grateful for that.”

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Following Scott’s death, Buckley went on to love again. He eventually married an artist named Davyd Whaley. They wed September 19, 2008, prior to Proposition 8 coming into effect in California.

Davyd Whaley and Norman Buckley, 2011 (Photo: Supplied)

Buckley and Whaley were together for ten years, during which time Whaley saw his career as a visual artist take off. However, he struggled with mental health problems throughout his life. In October 2014, Whaley took his own life.

It was a devastating blow for Buckley.

Coming to terms with a partner’s suicide is an ongoing, painful process. Buckley says he has benefitted from attending survivors groups and therapy.

He has written eloquently about Whaley’s death and the insights it has given him into how mental illness can distort a person’s thinking.

Although widowed twice over, Buckley does not see his pain as particularly unique.

“I recognize that I am not the only one who has suffered loss. No one is immune from pain. We rail against that which we cannot control, but there are so very many things we can’t control.

“Life seems to be about learning to be at peace with that, to accept that maybe it’s not our job to control it, but to just be with it. And to simply carry on, just putting one foot in front of the other.”

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Last year, as a guest on the podcast, I, Survivor, Buckley talked on the subject of grief. He said that he believes it’s essential not to run away from pain.

“A lot of people, when they anesthetize themselves against the difficulty of grief, they want to shut down against it, they want to drink it away or only have frivolous experiences, and I think the exact opposite is the solution.

“The solution is to let your experience become deeper, and to let you ability to feel things become deeper, even if it hurts. It’s essential to my own healing that I really felt the pain.”

He reminds himself others suffer more than he does and has learned never to take life for granted. Instead, he tries to live in the moment.

“Everybody at some point will have to deal with loss. I’ve dealt with it early in my life … the AIDS crisis, there are not many gay men my age because they all died in that first wave. I was talking to one friend one night, 15-16 years ago, and I said, ‘Where’s all the guys my age?’ because I wasn’t seeing anybody at the time, and he said, ‘Norman, they all died. They’re all gone.’

“Having lost so many people to that horrible disease, I knew loss early, whereas a lot of people don’t know it until a lot later in their lives, and that was hard. But I think has made me a stronger person and more courageous.”