Patrick Bova was born in Erie, Pennsylvania in 1938. His grandparents had come to America from Italy in the late 19th century. Patrick had three “wild” older brothers, but he was quiet and introspective. Patrick’s mother was a bit of a rebel herself, defying her own mother in order to become a teacher.
From early on, Patrick experienced crushes on other boys. Just as early, he learned that such feelings were unacceptable. His mom used to say, “Watch out for Father So-and-So, he’s a bit happy.” Patrick knew what ‘happy’ meant. Through high school and into college, Patrick went on Catholic retreats and wrote in journals, trying to ‘pray away the gay.’
After graduating from Georgetown University in Washington D.C., Patrick moved to Chicago for grad school but he quickly dropped out, realizing he wasn’t in Chicago to be a student—he was seeking wholeness as a gay man. A cousin warned him that Chicago was “hot”—meaning, a dangerous place to be gay. The local police raided queer bars with impunity; the local newspapers published the names of those arrested; gay men lost their careers and in some cases ended up killing themselves. Patrick was not a risk taker. He steered clear. Then lightning struck. On a summer day in 1963, walking across the University of Chicago campus where he worked, a guy whistled at him. Patrick kept walking, his nose buried in a book, but later that night the two men re-encountered each other. The guy’s name was Jim Darby. Jim was everything Patrick wasn’t: free-spirited, brash, and unafraid to love. Patrick and Jim have been together ever since.
Patrick worked as a librarian at the National Opinion Research Center until his retirement in 1998. Meantime, he and Jim built a rich, active life together, devoting capacious amounts of time and energy to battling the AIDS epidemic, fighting for military inclusion of LGBTQ service members, and fighting for the right of same-sex couples to get married. At the 2014 bill-signing ceremony that made Illinois the 16th U.S. state to endorse marriage equality, Patrick took to the podium alongside Jim, a military veteran, and celebrated that the new law would allow the two of them to be buried side by side at the Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery in Elwood, Illinois. Patrick and Jim got legally married the next day.