Gaylord Adrian Birney, 77, a Washington DC resident for the past 42 years, died of cancer on July 13 at the Halquist Memorial Hospice Center in Arlington Virginia. He was retired from a 35-year career as a popular real estate broker, most recently with Coldwell Banker on
Adrian was born in Steubenville, Ohio, June 19, 1937, spent the next ten years in nearby Weirton, West Virginia, with parents and with two older sisters. Placed in Bowles Preparatory School in Jacksonville after his parents' divorce, he quickly became a leader and graduated as valedictorian. Although he was accepted at Harvard, Yale, Princeton and Brown, he chose Washington and Lee College in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. There he was an Independent in a heavily fraternity environment, majored in English, befriended gifted students such as the artist Sy Twombly, and was a busy actor in the drama group in Lexington. After a semester in New York City at the New School, where he studied with outstanding writers and critics, he returned to Lexington to graduate from W & L with honors in 1959.
His first position was as an actor in Paul Green's popular outdoor drama, The Common Glory, in Jamestown, where he performed with Linda Lavin in 1958. He then went to Italy for a year to spend a small legacy from his father, a Weirton Steel Factory manager. After a stint in New York City as a publicist on Broadway, he started graduate studies in English Literature at Ohio State University in Columbus. There in 1961 he met his future wife, Alice Lotvin, also a graduate student. Together they moved to California in 1963 as part of a mass migration of graduate students and professors who rebelled against a perceived repression of freedom of speech on the Columbus campus. The net result of this shift West was the enrichment of the new humanities college of the La Jolla campus of the University of California. The controversial philosopher Herbert Marcuse was the star professor there during the turbulent 1960s. Adrian finished his doctorate there in 1968 with a dissertation on American poetry. He subsequently taught high school and college courses in San Diego and Los Angeles and was employed as a social worker through 1972.
He married in 1964 and moved to Washington, DC in January, 1973 when his wife obtained a position at the Library of Congress. After teaching college in Baltimore and working as a Social Security writer/consultant, he turned to real estate. He worked as a broker in that field almost exclusively on Capitol Hill, where the family resides, until retirement in 2005.
Adrian is survived by his wife of 50 years, daughter Hannah Birney, and grandchildren Emma and Julia Sollini, all of Washington, DC, as well as by his sisters Lamonta Pierson of Los Angeles and Darlene Pierce of Daytona Beach, and many nieces, nephews and cousins on both coasts. He will be remembered for his unparalleled knowledge of history, literature, music and art, unforgettable stories, eccentric cooking and devotion to his wife, daughter and grandchildren.
A shiva is planned at the home July 17, and a memorial ceremony will be announced for mid-August near Rosehaven, Maryland. In lieu of flowers, friends are asked to consider donation to Congregation Beit Chavarim, P.O. Box 1867, Prince Frederick, Md. 20678.