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Funny, generous, kind. Those are the words friends use to describe Niam Marcus Slyman — better known simply as Marc — who died Monday, Feb. 12.
Friends say the 46-year-old, gay co-founder of Metro Weekly, who was born and raised in Bethesda, kept a positive outlook on life, and always had something nice to say — even during his four-and-a-half-year battle with progressive multi-focal leukoencephalopathy (PML), a rare viral disease that damages multiple areas of the brain. In Slyman’s case this led to short-term memory loss and impaired motor skills.
Slyman was HIV-positive, and PML usually occurs among people with severe immune deficiencies. Slyman had been in hospice care in Palmetto, Fla., where he died of pneumonia, according to Jamie Davis, a friend of Slyman’s for the past 21 years.
(Photo courtesy Jamie Davis)
”He did not have an easy life, but he never complained about it,” Davis says, recalling Slyman’s friendly manner with his hospice caretaker, even when he knew his death was imminent.
”He was going to be dead in a month, and he said [to her], ‘I like your earrings,”’ remembers Davis. ”No matter how shitty his life was, he always had something nice to say.”
Slyman’s former partner, Jeff Mace, a manager at Trader Joe’s in Fairfax, describes Slyman as the ”life of the party.”
”He could make you feel like you were the only person in the world,” says Mace. ”He was very interested in who you were and what you were doing.”
Before being diagnosed with PML, Slyman worked at Miss Pixie’s Furnishings and Whatnot in Adams Morgan, and lived in Silver Spring with his partner, John Smith, a developmental biologist at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda.
When PML began affecting his motor skills 18 months ago, Slyman relocated to the hospice in Florida to be near his mother and sister. Slyman’s illness proved difficult for everyone who knew him, including Davis, who frequently visited Slyman in Florida.
”We knew when we were sending him away that we were sending him away to die,” says Davis. ”There was no one to take care of him here… John took care of him for three years, but he couldn’t be with him all day long.”
Davis and Slyman became close friends more than two decades ago after meeting in the crew lounge at Dulles International Airport, while working for the now-defunct Presidential Airways. Employees were discussing the airline’s rule that they have their uniforms dry-cleaned.
”He goes, ‘Dry-clean that uniform on $14,000 a year? They’re lucky I put it in the washer,”’ Davis laughs. ”When I heard him say that, I thought, that guy [is] hilarious, and I have to know him.”
Slyman attended Evangel University, a private Christian college in Missouri, where he studied journalism and graduated in 1983. During his life, Slyman worked in retail, as a flight attendant and as an interior designer.
”He used to say that he had all the ‘pink-collar’ jobs,” Davis says.
In the early ’90s, Slyman accepted an ad sales position at Michael’s, a gay weekly magazine, where he met the publication’s editor, Randy Shulman.
”He was brought in as the new sales person for ads, and three weeks later the publication closed and left both of us stranded without jobs,” Shulman says, adding that it was just a couple of hours later that the two decided to start their own magazine.
Three weeks later, they launched Metro Arts & Entertainment Weekly, which was later shortened to Metro Weekly. Shulman says that at the time he handled the editorial end of the magazine while Slyman managed the business.
Mace was present during those early days and was in charge of distributing the magazine throughout Washington from the back of his own truck.
”It was really a small operation with Marc, myself and Randy,” he says, adding that Slyman was the driving force behind getting the magazine ”up and running.”
”Marc borrowed $25,000 from his grandparents for the initial investment and he and I built the offices,” says Mace. ”It was a tremendous labor of love.”
Shulman describes Slyman as a ”warm, loving and kind human being who was always laughing.”
”He loved all facets of the gay community, but he particularly enjoyed the drag scene,” Shulman says. ”He was actually sought after as a judge for many of the local drag pageants because he had a very good, very discriminating eye for talent.”
Today Metro Weekly is read by more than 55,000 people in metropolitan Washington and is available free at more than 550 distribution points.
”If it wasn’t for Marc and his efforts, [Metro Weekly] would not exist,” Mace says.
After leaving Metro Weekly in 1998, Slyman moved to Charlottesville, Va., where he managed Club 216. It was in Charlottesville that Slyman met John Smith. He later returned to Washington and started an interior design business called Marcus Allen, according to Davis.
”His big love in life was interior designing,” he says.
Family and friends gathered in Ellenton, Fla., this past weekend for a memorial service honoring Slyman, who was cremated.
A memorial to be held April 29, Slyman’s birthday, is currently being planned in Washington. For more information e-mail email@example.com.