Growing Together

Richard Kilmer and Tim Spires show how respect, care, and commitment can create a relationship rich with love and quality time spent together

Tim Spires unknowingly walked into a Monday night Dairyland Cowboys & Cowgirls dance on Richard Kilmer’s birthday in 2003. Richard came up to him and said, “Hi, I’m Richard Kilmer and you can’t dance in sandals.”

A graphic designer and marketing professional, Tim offered to help with marketing and advertising for Dairyland. “We have a website now, we never had one before,” says Richard, who was impressed with the flyers, website, and other promotional materials that Tim created.

Tim asked Richard to teach him Chill Factor, a challenging Dairyland dance. Richard still feels guilty, “I taught it to him wrong, and when we got out on the dance floor, we turned one way, he turned the other. He still has trouble with that dance.” Needless to say, Tim enjoyed Richard’s company and eventually asked him out.

Tim says, “Richard brought chaperones.”

Richard responds, “Well, I already had plans with friends. We had our real first date the next night.” They watched A Girl with a Pearl Earring, and Richard still had to ask if they were officially on a date.

The couple now lives together in Madison, not far from Lake Monona,
with their young English Bulldog, Winnie. They also divide their time between there and a second home—a hobby farm they escape to in Wonewoc, Wisconsin.

Both men grew up on Midwestern farms—Tim, a pig farm in Illinois and Richard, a Wisconsin dairy farm—with several siblings. Richard attended college at the University of Wisconsin, then explored New York, Mexico, and San Francisco before returning to his home state. He came out in 1978. Eventually settling in Madison, Richard has been working as Chief Pharmacist at Community Pharmacy for 23 years. His story about growing up on a Wisconsin farm can be found in the book Farm Boys: Lives of Gay Men from the Rural Midwest by William D. Fellows.

Tim grew up in Shabona, Illinois, near Rockford. He moved to Madison in 1993. “It took me 10 years in Madison to meet Richard. It’s funny, you resign yourself to being single, and then, boom, you meet the right guy.” Tim worked for a variety of companies as a marketing professional but is now self-employed. Spires MarCom, his company, provides marketing support to Madison area organizations and businesses. He has enjoyed participating in musical theater since high school and is currently involved with StageQ, Madison’s community theater focusing on gay, lesbian, and queer productions. Tim credits one of his latest roles with StageQ with helping him better understand being gay and family dynamics. “We invited our therapist,” he says.

Both Richard and Tim come from large families and their parents have both accepted their sexual orientation and partners. But, that wasn’t always. Tim’s father enjoys Richard, but Tim’s first boyfriend was barred from the family home. Richard’s mother adores Tim. Their siblings have not been accepting across the board, but some are welcoming or merely tolerant. Tim let his family come around on their own, and allowed people to move at their own pace. “Some people will never come around, they’re stuck.” Both men caution others struggling for familial acceptance to remain open, but that if it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work. Tim’s role in Dutch Love, the Stage-Q production, reminded him “we’re all different, straight and gay, but we’re all a family.”

Richard calls himself an overachiever who is always on the go. “I joke that even though he’s older, I’ve never had as much energy,” says Tim, who enjoys taking time for himself and identifies as more of the “unassuming, wallflower type.” Both reference their experiences in high school when explaining their personalities. Richard says that he felt a sense of lower self-worth growing up, which made him into an overachiever. The other students knew that Tim was different, and as a result, he was picked on. He holds back and doesn’t over commit.

“Therapy helped us build a new template for a relationship,” says Richard. Tim adds, “Yeah, we’re a gay couple, but it was a normal thing [going into therapy].” Richard envisions Tim as an extension of himself—his right arm, and automatically assumes that he will participate in all of Richard’s interests. They speak easily about the struggles encountered in their relationship, pinpointing communication as a point of difficulty. “Therapy is effective when people are willing to work,” says Tim.

Richard and Tim explained that they find that gay couples lack the same supportive network that straight couples have. “In straight marriage, the legal hassles make people try to work things out. Without commitment to marriage, it’s easier for gay and lesbian couples to walk out the door.” “I learned to step back and say, ‘you don’t want to go dancing, fine,’” says Richard. “You have pulled me out [from being a wallflower]. He’s so well loved in the community,” replies Tim.