Mike Petty, husband of Philadelphia Gay News longtime office manager Don Pignolet, died April 26 from complications due to open-heart surgery. He was 73 years old.
Petty was born in Trenton, N.J., on May 27, 1944, to Mary and Michael Petty. The youngest of four children — and three sisters — Petty grew up in the South Jersey city and had a fondness for local Italian delicacies such as tomato pie.
Petty met Pignolet, each man’s first and last partner, at a bar in New Hope on Halloween 1975. A nearby patron spilled a bottle of beer, and the two men struck up a conversation. Pignolet said he knew at first sight that Petty was the one.
“He was the light of my life and I was his anchor,” Pignolet said. “We balanced each other out.”
A few years later, the pair moved to Philadelphia, living in an apartment off Bainbridge Street. Pignolet helped found the Philadelphia Gay News, and Petty worked as a hairdresser at Dino’s House of Beauty in Rittenhouse Square. Over the years, the two took up a host of hobbies together, such as kite-flying, traveling, gardening and caring for their eight rescued cats. “We saved 35 cats together” over the years, Pignolet said.
The couple traveled to New Jersey often, sometimes to the beach and sometimes to the casinos, where Petty took his good-luck charm — a tiny cat keychain. Just two months after the Garden State legalized gay marriage in 2012, the two married in Cape May.
Roseanne Williams, a hairdresser at Dino’s who referred to Petty as her “salon husband,” spoke of his warm nature. He was the person who refilled the coffee, changed the light bulbs and brought his fresh-baked raspberry cookies into the salon for everyone.
He cared about people, Williams said.
“When he approached the chair, he did it because he knew people were worth it,” she said.
Petty knew all the customers by name, greeting them as they came in, sometimes with the offering he most enjoyed baking — warm, soft, sweet-smelling bread. Ciabatta was his specialty.
Pignolet, however, favored his husband’s cakes, pies and especially his mushroom pierogies. Pignolet was the chef to complement Petty’s baker, and the two sat down to eat their creations together every night at their candlelit dinner table.
“Don was the love of his life, and everyone knew it,” Williams said.
When Williams met Petty over 26 years ago, she was working at the salon to support herself and her 2-year-old after she and her husband separated. She described how Petty helped her get through tough moments.
“It seems bad today,” Petty told Williams. “But you’re going where you want. And when you get there, it’ll be better tomorrow.”
PGN publisher Mark Segal recalls meeting Pignolet and Petty in the 1970s, noting that their chemistry was palpable. And it stayed that way: Segal recalls watching the two of them at a PGN event a few years ago, leaning into each other, knowing they were comfortable.
“They knew just what to say to each other,” he said. “They were just in sheer happiness.”
Jen Colletta, former PGN editor, still remembers how she felt when she heard of their marriage.
“Everyone at PGN was so happy and excited for Don and Mike when they finally got to legally tie the knot,” she said.
“When I was getting married, they got me a Christmas ornament with an inscription wishing me the same luck and love that they always had, and I treasure that. Theirs was an inspiring love story.”