Reggie “Reg” Tyson, whose involvement as a bartender, manager, and part owner of the D.C. gay nightclub Tracks in the 1990s and his later role in other D.C. gay nightlife venues in which numerous friends and patrons say he influenced their lives for the better, died Feb. 15 at a hospital in Silver Spring, Md., from complications associated with kidney disease and diabetes. He was 62.
His brother, Herb Tyson, said Reggie Tyson was surrounded by loving family members at White Oak Adventist Healthcare Medical Center in Silver Spring at the time of his passing.
Herb Tyson said he and his brother came from a family in which their father was a U.S. Foreign Service officer. He said his brother Reggie attended Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service and had an interest in international affairs.
He began his career by “dabbling a little bit” in the import-export field, according to Herb Tyson. “But he always kind of ended up back in restaurants and nightclubs,” the brother said.
“He was an incredible host,” Herb Tyson recalls of his brother Reggie. “He loved to entertain people. And he wanted to make sure everybody got what they needed in life, whether it was food, drink, love or a roof over their head.”
Gay nightlife advocate Mark Lee, a longtime nightclub event producer and the current coordinator of the D.C. Nightlife Council, said Reggie Tyson was well-known and liked by customers and co-workers at the clubs where he worked.
“Throughout a two-decade career as part of the operational team and a bartender at Tracks and Velvet Nation, Reggie Tyson was one of the kindest souls and most welcoming personalities working in the local club scene, always with a broad smile and a big laugh who was everyone’s friend in a humbly gracious manner that few extend or achieve,” Lee said.
Herb Tyson said Reggie was born in Little Rock, Ark., on May 25, 1957, where the family lived until his father’s work as a Foreign Service officer eventually brought the family to the D.C. area in the mid-1960s. Reggie Tyson graduated from Wootton High School in Rockville, Md., before beginning college at Georgetown University, according to his brother.
One of Reggie Tyson’s ventures in the restaurant business, his brother said, brought him to St. John’s in the U.S. Virgin Islands, where Reggie lived from around 2001 to 2006 to operate a restaurant that catered to tourists arriving on large cruise ships.
D.C. gay businessman John Guggenmos, who has been a partner and operator of numerous D.C. gay bars and nightclubs for over 30 years, credits Reggie Tyson with playing an important role as a friend and business partner in Guggenmos’ successful business ventures, including Tracks and Velvet Nation nightclubs in Southeast D.C.
Guggenmos said he first met Tyson in 1989 at the 17th Street gay bar JR’s at a time when Guggenmos was searching for a place to live while getting ready to attend graduate school at George Washington University. He had just arrived in D.C. from his hometown of Laramie, Wyo.
He said Tyson offered to rent him a room in the Logan Circle House where Tyson was living at the time, and the two soon became friends and a short time later business partners when Guggenmos, Tyson and others took over the operation of Tracks.
“Many people didn’t know Reg was a business partner of mine in Tracks and a big part of his legacy will be the unassuming foundation he provided, how he connected people, played a role in shaping D.C. gay nightlife and for believing in me before I believed in myself,” Guggenmos told the Blade.
Guggenmos’ account of how Tyson had a positive impact on his life was repeated by others in an outpouring of Facebook postings by people who knew Tyson upon learning of his passing.
“Reggie was the first face to ever greet me at my first gay club before I was even out,” wrote Christopher Wiggins in a Facebook post. “Back in 2000 I walked into Nation terrified and he looked at me from behind the bar and smiled,” Wiggins continued. ‘Here … have a Reggie Special …’ and he handed me a drink,” Wiggins wrote, saying the gesture eased his tension and brightened his visit to the club.
“Reggie was such a presence and you always knew you were safe whenever you saw his smile or he gave you a loving hug,” wrote Scott Jimenez in another Facebook post. “R.I.P. Reg and heaven has most welcomed an Angel home.”
Reggie Tyson is survived by his mother, two brothers, a sister, “tons of nieces and nephews,” and countless friends, his brother Herb Tyson said. He is predeceased by his father, who passed away two months ago. A memorial service is being planned for the spring and an announcement of the details will be made at that time, Herb Tyson said.