PINE BLUFF, AR—Pine Bluff Middle School band teacher Walter Moreland was "so clearly, obviously" gay in retrospect, former student Gary Dolan, 32, realized Monday.
"Me and a bunch of people at work were reminiscing about middle-school band class," Dolan said. "I was just about to say something about how my old teacher Mr. Moreland used to be obsessed with The Music Man when it suddenly hit me. How in the world could I have not seen that he was gay? I mean, he was so gay."
Though the unmarried, childless Moreland never discussed his romantic life, Dolan is "99.999 percent sure" he was homosexual.
"I figured he acted flamboyant because he was artistic," said Dolan, who attended the middle school from 1982 to 1985. "Mr. Moreland played, like, 20 instruments. He had this little Lhasa Apso named Trixie that he'd bring to class sometimes. And he'd tell us about taking tropical vacations and driving to Little Rock to see art exhibits and musicals. Basically, he did all this stuff that no one else in town ever did."
Added Dolan: "I knew he was different, but as a 12-year-old, my understanding of gay culture was limited to Three's Company. I had no idea they actually walked among us in Pine Bluff."
Ever since coming to the realization, Dolan has remembered more details about Moreland that seem to affirm his gayness. Among them are the sack lunches of yogurt and carrots he ate on field trips, his excessive attention to detail when ordering new band uniforms, and his elaborate decorations for the holiday concerts.
Dolan said he also remembers the effeminate way Moreland kept his classes under control.
"Mr. Moreland was a fun teacher, but he could be moody," Dolan said. "If we were talking during class, he would yell, 'People!' and bang his conducting wand. If he got really mad, he'd stomp into his office and slam the door, leaving us all sitting there, holding our instruments. Basically, he'd throw a hissy fit."
"Thinking back, he even looked gay," Dolan continued. "His hair was always perfect and he had a well-trimmed little mustache. He dressed better than any of the other teachers, in these crisp button-down shirts and nice shoes and..."
"Oh my God," said Dolan, interrupting himself. "I just remembered. On concert days, he wore an ascot. An ascot. How clueless was I?"
On a spring day in 1984, Dolan got a glimpse of his teacher's secret life when he was given a ride home by Moreland in his immaculately clean teal-blue Plymouth Reliant. Dolan recalled noticing the Broadway cast recording of Godspell in the car's cassette deck and two scented candles laying on the Navajo-blanket-covered back seat.
Another time, while at the grocery store with his mother, Dolan spotted Moreland with another man.
"It never occurred to me that the guy might be Moreland's lover, even though they were standing there picking out vegetables together," Dolan said. "I remember thinking, 'That guy acts like Mr. Moreland. He must be a band teacher from another town.'"
Though Dolan recalled hearing jokes about Moreland's homosexuality back then, he said they were indistinguishable from the deluge of similar accusations levied at every male in school.
"Back when we were kids, we called everybody—and everything—'gay,'" Dolan said. "It didn't occur to me that Mr. Moreland actually was gay."
While the children in Moreland's class were oblivious to his sexuality, Dolan said his fellow teachers must have known the truth.
"I just hope the other teachers weren't dicks to him about it," Dolan said. "I don't think he hung out with any of his colleagues much, except for Mrs. Pickens, the art teacher, and occasionally Ms. Sarnofski, the gym teacher. Holy shit—Ms. Sarnofski."