Leroy Aarons

Journo-author-librettist

Activist journo-author-librettist Leroy Aarons, whose book “Prayers for Bobby” was optioned for a telepic, died Sunday in Santa Rosa, from a heart attack after a long battle with cancer. He was 70.

A co-founder and board member of the Maynard Institute for Journalism Education, which trains mid-career journalists (particularly those of color), the Sebastapol resident was also founder and founding president of the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Assn. and was a former executive editor of the Oakland Tribune (where he had also worked as a reporter).

Bronx-reared Navy vet and Brown U./Columbia U. alum previously worked at the Washington Post for 14 years as a national correspondent and an editor; New Haven (Conn.) Journal-Courier, where he became city editor; Time magazine; and People magazine.

During his retirement, he penned the libretto for the 2000 opera “Monticello,” about the affair between Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings, and more recently wrote “Sarah’s Diary,” an opera about a fictional woman who lost her husband in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. At the time of his death, Aarons was working on a play about South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, for which he and his partner of 24 years Joshua Boneh spent a month researching in South Africa early this year.

In addition, he co-wrote and produced the docudrama “Top Secret: The Battle for the Pentagon Papers,” performed by L.A. Theater Works and starring Ed Asner, Hector Elizondo, Stacy Keach, Marsha Mason, Ed Begley Jr. and James Whitmore.

His 1996 book “Prayers for Bobby: A Mother’s Coming to Terms With the Suicide of Her Gay Son” (HarperCollins) was optioned for a telepic that is in development.

Aarons is survived by Boneh and a brother.

A memorial service is scheduled for Saturday at 2 p.m. at the Center for Spiritual Living in Santa Rosa.

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