By Rich Arenschieldt
On January 24 Montrose became just a bit dimmer—Harold Bekker, longtime proprietor of the perpetually luminescent “Light Bulbs Unlimited,” died of complications from esophageal cancer.
Bekker’s locally famous cherry-hued shop has been at its 1203 Westheimer location for almost a generation. Known for its unique and varied lighting solutions, it mirrored the colorful life of its proprietor. His family, especially his twin brother, David, knew of Harold’s enduring connection to Houston’s LGBT community, one that provided advice and support for thousands of customers, many friends, and numerous coworkers during the last 25 years.
“Our entire family emigrated from Cape Town, South Africa,” David remembers. “Our sister arrived first, and the rest of us followed in due course, over a period of years. I arrived in the late ’80s, and Harold came to Houston several years later.
“I had worked in the lighting business overseas and continued that endeavor here,” David continues. “Harold worked with me for a time, moved to California, and eventually returned to Houston. The shop opened in 1987, and we ran it together. Subsequently, our business expanded to include additional stores throughout Houston. I moved to another, newer location while Harold stayed in Montrose.
“He built up the store, increased its visibility, and, as the result of his ease with people, broadened our customer base significantly. We became known as the ‘place to go’ for lighting solutions. If you had a question or a problem, Harold knew how to get you what you needed.
“Last year he was diagnosed with stage-four cancer. He didn’t share that information with many people, but simply went through all the treatments and continued, as much as possible, to work here—he was very brave about the entire situation. He had always possessed a healthy, upbeat outlook about life, and I think this helped him throughout his illness.”
According to his brother, Harold Bekker’s family was crucial to him. Typically, relatives who emigrate together remain unusually tight-knit, as was the case here. “Since we came to Texas, each of us essentially starting life anew, we were especially close and have remained so. We were aware that Harold was homosexual, but none of us made a big deal of it, even 30 years ago,” David recalls. “Harold was single throughout his life, but he knew that we would gladly accept anyone who was important to him, if the opportunity arose.
“He had many friends and was very popular in the Camden Post Oak apartments where he lived for a long time. Harold was a regular at the Houstonian Club, well-known by the clients and staff as the result of his 5 a.m. workout schedule; this was a testament to his energy level and indicative of how he approached life in general, working out daily until shortly before his death. He was very social, knowing almost everyone in the neighborhood and was well connected, personally and professionally.”
At that time it was common knowledge that the shop catered to a LGBT clientele. Given its locale and Harold’s persona, there was no shortage of business. Customers had a high degree of loyalty toward neighborhood merchants, spending their money with those who were gay or who supported causes important to the LGBT community. Harold fit easily into both categories.
As an identical twin, David Bekker was acutely attuned to Harold’s situation. Prior to his brother’s initial diagnosis, David confronted an unnervingly similar constellation of symptoms. “I was having some issues with my wrist and went to see my physician,” David remembers. “During the exam I passed out and was transported to the emergency room. Over the next two months I underwent several tests, and at one point they suspected I might have problems with my esophagus, something that, thankfully, did not occur. However, throughout this period, I experienced the exact symptoms that my brother would eventually confront.
“Harold was always meeting people. It didn’t matter where he was—at the store, working out, at his apartment complex, or traveling—he was constantly involved with something. Throughout his lifetime he attended and contributed to numerous events, especially those focused on animal welfare, much of which he accomplished quietly.”
Many who attended his funeral shared how well they had known and enjoyed working with Harold. “We were struck by the diversity of those he knew and cared about,” David says. “The people within his sphere of influence crossed all social and economic boundaries, confirming what we had already known—that he was a true friend, regardless of someone’s status or circumstance.”
At the end of his life, Harold was thankful for many things: his family, siblings, and especially his nieces. He valued his close friends, customers, and coworkers (especially those who kept the business operating during his illness).
By all accounts, Harold Bekker didn’t just encounter individuals, he connected with people, nurtured relationships, and sought to know people in a truly substantive way—a man who didn’t take his friendships “lightly.”