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StoryCorps’ mission is to preserve and share humanity’s stories in order to build connections between people and create a more just and compassionate world.StoryCorps was started in New York City’s Grand Central Terminal in 2003. Since then, more than half a million people have recorded their stories. In July 2021, the StoryCorps Mobile Tour was in Rochester, NY, to record, preserve and share our stories.

Sarah O'Brien and Beverly Badger

In this edition of StoryCorps Rochester, Sarah O'Brien and her mother, Beverly Badger remember her father and his battle against HIV/AIDS when it was a stigmatized disease in the 1980s.

Recorded July 9, 2021
Rochester, NY


Hi, I'm Sarah, and I'm here with my mom from Rochester, New York. And Mom, how are you?


I'm Beverly, and I live in Honeoye, New York.


And we're going to talk today about my dad. So Where Where did you meet dad?


I met him up in the cascade. Well, actually, I met him in church when I was in seventh grade, and we didn't like each other. And after that, we remapped up in the Cascade Mountains. In Washington State, we both worked for camp when we were in high school for pre link quit majors. They were ages 10 to 13, from the inner city. And that's where I met him. And we started dating after camp. He lived up in Okanogan, Washington, and I lived 150 miles away, so we didn't see each other too often. But our first real day was the stampede and Oh, Mack. And other than that, we just kind of saw each other. You know? Yep. Yep. Um, he was very, he. He was a valedictorian of his high school class. And he was very smart. And he he wasn't a small town, little boy, he was smart. I mean, he needed to be living in a bigger area. And we found that we, right before high school graduation, I found that I was pregnant with you. We got married, and we went, we moved to Oregon, where he had a full scholarship. And I worked until he got his undergraduate studies in political science and economics, I think he started out with but he ended up with religious studies. And then four years later, we moved to Rochester, New York, and he went to Colgate Rochester Divinity School. And I said, you were three and a half when I moved across country. And that's yeah, I remember driving the U haul. When we were when because it was like a long trip. I mean, I was little, but I still remember like, all the white fluffy clouds and, you know, singing like nicknack paddywhack when we're driving down like mountain. And it was a long drive. But I remember when we first got to Rochester, there's the cinema theater that's like really old and we the the college wasn't far from there. So when we pulled onto that was the first thing I remember seeing was this, like neon marquee. Now, I've never seen anything like that before. That was pretty cool. That was just a couple blocks from this from the Highland Park and where the seminarians and I remember that seminary, you know, growing up there, you know, I was an only child and we'd sit, it sat on a hill, and you know, you could roll down the hill. And I remember, it had been around for Rockefeller built it. Yeah, in the 40s. Yeah, or 30s or somewhere, but it had trees that were like well over 100 years old. And I remember one day, and I was probably about five, I thought the wind was literally going to pick me up and blow me away. And one of the big I was out on the front lawn, and one of the big trees cracked and fell. And I think dad was working maintenance. It was a setup day for him. Yeah. And they were in the back on a break playing cards. And I remember like running as fast as I can to tell them the tree fell down. And I was such an imaginative kid. I don't think they believed me at first. Yes, they were kind of like, no, no, no. And I was like, No, really, it fell. You got to come see it. And finally I got one of his co workers to come out. And they were like, oh, and I think it took him like multiple days. No, well, months. Relative. You were bad. Yeah. It seemed like it was. It was a good project. Huge tree. Yeah. Yeah. And then. So we lived at the seminary for three years. And then in 1979. During that there was a lot of things going on. And your dad decided that he needed he wanted to. We decided to separate. He was…


I do remember like that. When he you telling me and then like when he left, you know, I didn't really understand the whole thing.


Well, we separated all of our belongings a year before we separated. After a fourth of July gathering, we decided, and we sat down and he, we decided everything that was Sarah's is Sarah's. And then he picked something, I picked something. And we were very civil people. We were very good friends, we just weren't made to be married. And he had some things he needed to work through. And so he decided to he was there was questionable. Not really questionable anymore. But at that time, he had decided that he was gay. And he was going to go for a Ph. D. program at Union Theological Seminary, and he wanted me us to move down, but we wouldn't live together. And I was in nursing school here. And we had already moved 3000 miles. And so I decided, we were, I was staying here. And you had friends and you were settled here. You were six years old when he moved to Manhattan. In 1979, it was, I think, about August 16, or 20th, that he moved. And we we made it that you were still he was a really good dad, and he really wanted you in his life. And so you flew down, and tickets were really cheap, which is a good thing, because neither of us had money. You flew Manhattan with it, that time they had children could fly and a stewardess would take care of unaccompanied minor, right. And they would meet you and make sure you were getting picked up by the right person. So it was pretty comfortable. And I think he did that just about once a month or so. Yeah, for quite a while. And turn on the months that he wasn't there that I he was either traveling or whatever else. He I remember him flying up here, especially when I was in school in elementary school, and he would actually go to talk to my teachers to review the curriculum to ensure that I was getting a proper education.


Yeah. Yeah. And you know, yep, he was he, he cared about you deeply. He loved you very much. Yeah. And you were able to meet his friends. And, but, you know, I would say like, Manhattan in the 1980s was a very different place than it is today, which is, you know, 2021 I remember like, you know, he lived in a, in a place in Greenwich Village. And, you know, there were, there was a glass store at the bottom of our five story walk up. And at night, you could hear the bells of, of all the transvestites check in their makeup in the mirror downstairs, and they were all part of like our community and the things that we knew. And we walk around and we'd go to all these really like eclectic little stores. And we didn't have money, but I never knew that. Like, I think dad really saved a lot so that when I was down there, we could do things. I do remember, you know, he he took me to the Metropolitan Museum of Art for the first time when I was six. And I walked in, and unlike the second floor balcony, there was this picture, there's a statue, Perseus holding Medusas head with like a sword. And I was like, This is amazing. And then it had Gyptian Wang and I was like learning how to read Egyptian and, you know, had mommies. It was like, all the cool things. And I was like, so excited. And, you know, I know he really wanted me to experience culture differently than he did growing up in a very rural town in Washington. But um, I really like how, um, you know, he really did that. We'd go to the ballet, the Metropolitan Opera, you know, we did all kinds of things. There are ways to do that, that were that were inexpensive. I mean, I remember I was probably about eight. We went to the Metropolitan Museum of Art and you know, it was a it was a requested donation. It wasn't required. And I was No, I wasn't eight, I was 11. The problem was, I always looked so much older than I was. And so I remember saying, Well, Dad, why are you paying for me? You know, it's free for kids under 12. And the woman actually argued with me that I'm not that I wasn't that age. And, you know, my dad was never gonna allow anyone to, like talk down to me. But they so they started squabbling. And he started to go through like she was born on this day. And then it it, I didn't know the whole thing. And they were kind of going back and forth. And it just been learning some stuff in science about like tree rings and how he turned was the year and I basically looked at as like to just cut me open and count the rings. And they both just kind of stopped and looked at me. She's like, Oh, just let her go. Like, just let it go. You know, but it was just that kind of like fun, fun stuff. And you know, the city was, it wasn't clean. It wasn't like, homogenized like it feels now but it was there was such a kind of excitement and energy. And maybe that's because I was a kid. Or maybe it's because my dad was also a kid. But it was like us against the world. I mean, we'd walk down the street, we'd hold hands, because it's my dad. But like, because I looked so much older and he looked at his age people would be like this kind of confusing. But it's funny, because like around that age of eight. You know, he had had a roommate for a long time that, you know, I thought was normal for people that were single. And then we sat down at the dining room table. And that's when he told me he was gay. And my first like, internal reaction was like, I can't let anybody know. Which is weird. Like that was just kind of a default. And I didn't. I don't know why I felt that way. I mean, I remember it, you've got to remember, it wasn't a real common thing. Oh, no, there was no one else. And even on the stories on TV, early on, it wasn't really a subject talked about too much. But we were we were friends enough that he would come up and visit us here in Rochester sometimes. And even after I was dating Bill, who I later married. John was very supportive. And, and…


I know he sent you a Cuisinart for our wedding gift. Yes, he did. Well, I mean, I think I think, you know, I was young. I also remember a probably a year before that walking down Christopher Street. And on the other side of the street, two men started kissing. And I was really kind of like, taken aback by that. And so I remember dad asking me, he's like, why are you? Why is this upsetting you? And I was like, they shouldn't be kissing, you know? And he was like, Is it because they're men? Or is it because they're kissing. And I realized at that point, it was because they weren't kissing. It wasn't really about the fact that they were, they were men. I didn't like public display. I didn't care if you are a man or a woman. But it was interesting that he like, made I stopped. And I thought about that. And, you know, it's funny, because so many years later, like, and I know, my my, even though it wasn't discussed a lot. I grew up it from Aidan being aware of the gay community at a time when it wasn't mainstream media. It wasn't anything, you know. And at that point, I think, dad, by the, you know, mid 80s, Dad had taken a job that was internationally based, so he started traveling all around the world, you know, and he had this, like, really incredible experience, being in all these different countries, meeting all kinds of people helping to rebuild. I mean, it was a very like, and he was always very socially just, I mean, he, he was what he was working as Dr. Don was fishing ethics and social policies with a concentration in women's rights and politics. Yeah.


Yeah. So it's just kind of interesting to me, like when you think back on that timeframe, and what happened and you know, I know he was in Uganda and Kenya. He was he went to Mexico. He was in Europe a lot because the organization he worked for was based in Switzerland. He was all job. Yep, Egypt. You He went to the Philippines, when he, and I'm sure he went to other places I didn't even know because he was always traveling Canada all the time, Mexico. And it was just interesting because the 80s were such a politically charged time for a lot of reasons. But I remember, you know, we would, we would, even though, you know, I lived in Rochester, but I would stay for, you know, like my time every month, I'd go to Manhattan. But then we also spend our summers in Washington. And the one thing that he did do is he didn't want his family to know that he was gay.


Because they didn't understand that at all. That wasn't part of their, their abilities. Or yeah, no, that was that was really, that was hard for him. I mean, he thought he was gay. Before we got married when we were 18, but he didn't know. And he didn't know anybody gay. And we got married and had a baby and, and just played in normal life. And when we moved to Rochester, it was between two schools for grad school, one was down in Berkeley, and one was in Rochester, New York. And we figured that if we're going to move, we might as well move 3000 miles. And then we just have the time that we don't have other people pushing or being a part of that transition if there was one. I just know that when I grew up, when you made a commitment, like marriage, that was something that was like lifetime. But I also understood that there were things that it isn't really helpful for marriage, one person is gay and the other person is straight. And I think like, I think now looking back, like I was very fortunate, because you didn't find bill. And I, you know, you were lucky to marry two really great guys. I did a lot of people don't find one good guy in a lifetime. And you happen to find two. Yeah. You know, and then dad, and son were together. And, you know, he, I remember we all went camping in the Adirondacks.


And Dan slab had a for months after Bill and I got married. Yeah, all met up in the Adirondacks.


And Sam had a site next to our site, and I don't know whose site I was sleeping at. I do remember that you would quit smoking. And you went over and snuck cigarettes, because you didn't want it was, it was funny stuff. You know, but like I do remember, we took a picture of all of us on Iraq, and it was you and Bill and dad and said, and then I was kind of laying across everybody's feet. And I was like, This is my family. You know, and it was always that way. I mean, you know, Dan sub met probably a couple of years after he had been in New York, and he was from Italy, and his family lived in New Jersey. And they, we were family. I mean, that was just, there was kind of no question of that. Um, so it was just a different I was so I feel fortunate that like, I had the experience because, you know, you and Bill ended up having my sisters. And, you know, I had a different kind of network in New York have of really gay men that didn't have children, but had kind of like, adopted me. Because I was there a nice, yeah. Yeah. So it was it was, it was very interesting and cool. I mean, it's, you know, and I think some of that creative and quirkiness is kind of stayed with me throughout my lifetime, but you know, I do know that like when he was in Africa, he, he woke up in the middle of the night, and he realized something was wrong. And it wasn't long after when he came home that he was diagnosed with he was called ARP at the time AIDS related complex in that would have been 1987.


And it was a week after they had approved AZT. So he was one of the first people in the country To be on AZT, which was like 12 grand a month. But fortunately, you know, the Gay Men's Health Crisis and a lot of other organizations at that point had been playing together to like, to help manage a lot, all the people that were literally dying in the streets. And I mean, that was kind of the thing, New York had this energy, but there was also kind of a sea change, because people were really sick and really dying. And all of a sudden, no one was taking care of them, which was unheard of. I mean, I do remember, Dad had rented an office in the back of Washington Square Church. And he told me, he's like they hire people with AIDS so that they have a way to make an income. At the time employers were firing people, because there weren't any laws to protect.


Well, the other the other thing we have to understand is it was it only been around a couple of years. And it was it was just like the pandemic now that people don't understand. I mean, life sunlight, people don't seem to understand that you don't always have all the answers and things change. When aids or when this was just shown up. People were saying they weren't even sure initially how it was spread. They know it was a gay thing, or a drug thing, or a sex thing. And and people were, you know, what if I touch and one of I share the desk? What if I, you know, thinking it was that type of virus that you could catch that way in, which was not. But he was. He did get he did get AZT. And he was on it for a little bit for a while. Until he died? I know. I know. It helped him for a little while, right?


Oh, it stopped helping, right. But what he did was able to do, um, there were antivirals that were developed. And they were used in, in Europe, but they hadn't been proved here. And he was able to get an antiviral through his work it I'm not exactly sure how it happens, or how he got it. Well, there was always there was a connection. And so he was that, that may have helped him. But that was in a 1987. And he had 19.


But we don't have to get into like all the specific Yeah, but I would say this, you know, he lived relatively normally, I would say, until the summer of 88.


Maybe a little before he was in and out of the hospital a couple times. Not really that not really. The major one was Thanksgiving of 1988. Right. And that was right. I remember we he wanted us to have a family portrait done. And at that point, I was very rebellious. Like I had to have my hair like a little bigger and a little whatever. And he went to the portrait studio at oltmans. And he was pissed because I wouldn't comb my hair. So I had to like go down to like the makeup counter, find a brush, like put it on. And we were just fighting, fighting, fighting, and then all sudden, they're like smile. And we both like pose. Because even though we thought like teenagers, we loved each other. And it was always in this place of love, you know? And I look at that picture now because he literally we left there when we got home and he had a fever of like 104 He was sick. And I think I flew out that day and Sherry was there and she took him to the hospital.


His friend that he grew up with. Yeah.


Yeah, so that was like the first big. And, you know, I think you I don't think you flew down at that point.


No, no, not until the spring. And throughout from the spring on until the end. I think I probably flew down about four to six baby six times. You came with me the one time Well, I know in the beginning. We I didn't. I didn't want to see him in the hospital. Like I didn't want to have that image of him. Ill and I thought he would be better and actually, every eventually closer to like Christmas, you guys convinced me to go and I went and he went from like basically death's door to being like, significantly better. And that happened four or five times. Every time I would fly down. He would be like I was like I thought you were like what? I have to like you know, entertain you, you know And yes, he was. He was at death's door many times. And one of the times that I remember in our in July, well, actually in May, he was very lucid. And he actually I think, did a speech, he flew back home, he did, and visited family and was very good. And then when he got back after that it was more or less downhill. But I remember getting a phone call from him in July. And he was telling me all how we got out of the hospital and that God's love has helped him a lot and that he had to go to New Jersey, God's love, we deliver Yes, God's love, we deliver the the meal service for AIDS patients. But he had to help them out to so he had to drive a truck or a car or something to New Jersey. And he was confabulating, this wonderful story. He was very good at speech. And I said, Hey, John, just just a minute, let me let me call you right back. I just got to go stay right there. And I'll call him back. I call this doctor. So something's wrong. And it turned out that the people that were kind of coming and checking on him, he was at this time living at Union Theological Seminary, somebody would check on him and make sure he took his meds and had some food. He had, there was a mixup in the scheduling. And nobody had been there. And he was he probably hadn't had anything to eat or drink for a couple days. And he was hospitalized. And he was really sick. And his sister flew out, which I think was the first time. No, no, no, she'd been out she had been up. So in November, when he first got really sick. That's when he had to call the family to tell them that not only was he sick, but he was also gay. Right? And so my, both of his sisters immediately flew out to help, which was a wonderful. I don't know that his brother's really understood. I know that his father and his father's brother, basically, you know, nine, not denied. I mean, they they sent literature to him telling them that, you know, this is why you're dying because you're gay. This is God's way of punishing punishing you and you deserve it, essentially. And he refuse to communicate with them anymore. Not See, communicate, because they were 3000 miles away. He wasn't gonna see him anyway. Um, but, you know, Bev and Sandy came out multiple times. Sandy once Bev came out multiple times let me know. That was weird. Sorry about that. Anyway.


Oh, everything okay. Yeah.


Sorry, I got totally distracted. Okay. My phone's never made that noise before. So it was weird. Um, anyway. Yeah. So he was really sick. The bottom line is, and I remember like, he was at a hospital in Manhattan. And this was the AIDS crisis, right. But medical staff didn't understand it. So you know, that we would go into the I would go into the hospital room and there were dirty needles lying around. There. They weren't cleaning. People weren't taking care of them. And I think when you found out that's why you continued to go down. And at the time, you had two small children here in Rochester, with your husband was just just an amazing man. I would call and say I get a call from the doctor saying John's in a coma um, do you want you know let you know do you want to come down bring Sarah whatever I would call bill and say can you pick the kids up from daycare? I need to go to New York was there and he never complained ever the entire time. And and that happened multiple times. I used all my vacation time taking care of your dad. And he just did it took care of the kids whether it was there or not and he when you're when you're dead finally died. The only comment that he was about it. As far as he just he just said, so just, we don't need to do this again. Yeah, that was all. That was his only comment. Anyway, um, well, and you know, I think about like Sebastian had no rights at the time at all. And I actually had no rights because I was a minor. And my grandmother was considered next of kin. And so, because like his DNR that he had wasn't signed by everybody. Yeah, properly or whatever.


You're not what it was was, in fact, I was down in Manhattan at the time and got the forms in New York State. It was fairly new to get DNRs and that type of thing. They were talking about 1989 and summer of 89. And anyway, he and I talked, and we got the paperwork, and we talked to his mom, and we FedExed it to his mom. And it hadn't come back yet. But it was on its way. And I got a call. I was in his apartment. That from the hospital. Well, John was having problems breathing. And we asked him if he wanted help breathing. And he said, Yes. Which angered me, because anybody who is having oxygen starvation, wants to breathe. You can't not want to breathe. That's just a natural thing. So they intubated him. And that was not part of the DNR and we talked to the doctors, but we didn't have the forms. And that was okay. I got the forms down there. He was in the ICU. And he the stubborn Irishman he was he excavated himself that night.


Oh, oh, I remember. Like they told me I couldn't go in the room. And I snuck in. And I looked at him. I said, I heard the doctors come as wave and Adam, and he was fully conscious. And I was like, I'll be back in one minute. And they had him strapped down. He made one with his finger. And we, we, I left and I remember he did take it out. And the next morning I saw him I was like, Dad, why did you do that? And he's like the hell am I supposed to talk to you? Right?


This is answer. He did have some his brain. He was very creative. But his brain wasn't working quite as


Oh, he was in London. He was going to parties with Tracy Ullman. I was out shopping. He had a silver dress. You know, there were all these wonderful, like, beautiful little narratives. The president came and visited him while he was in ICU, that he didn't but like an SI, you know? Yep. And then, you know, it's funny, because, you know, then he he passed and it. I think this is even before they like start doing universal precautions. So like, you know, hospitals weren't really equipped to manage that. So when you have a parent who's dying, and they are that you have all of that wrapped in, but then you have someone who's dying of a disease that's so stigmatized, that no one really understands, culturally, at the time, and you know, it's, you know, he died on a Sunday and it was sunny. And I, I knew the night before. I was at a dinner with my boyfriend, and he introduced his, his sister introduced his boss, and she said, This is my dad. And I dropped my fork, like I knew. And I Wait, I didn't sleep that whole night, I kept waiting for the phone to ring and then it like, you know, seven in the morning, hadn't wrong. And I went to sleep and at 930 it rang, you know, and that's when I knew.


And I, you called me? Yeah, because you were at our house, but I was working at the hospital. And I was with a patient and who was on event and here in Rochester. And I got the call and I left work and asked you what you wanted to do. Do you want to go down to New York? You want to see, Dad? You want to? Yeah, I didn't want to see his body. I mean, I know that they tried to resuscitate him. And I hated the idea of them doing the maneuvers after he had been. I mean, there were ridiculous things that happened throughout that whole thing. I mean, the the mistakes that occurred were basic. No and they were right. I mean, he had no platelets and they tried to put something in an artery and he, no it was called a cut down. And what happened was is that he was in the ICU and they needed a line and he was couldn't Have this his vessel that couldn't get anything. And so they did cut down which goes down to the IRA to put a line in, but his platelets were so low, it wouldn't caught off. And so I actually the last day that I stayed with him and visited him, I stayed in ICU with gloves on. And a gown on and my hand on his grind to stop in his from bleeding. And it was a private room. And everybody was, you know, they put them on all sorts of different recording. He was on TV precautions, he was on this, he was on that. But the nurses didn't, we're not comfortable coming in. So I stayed until and they had a pressure bandage on. But with that I, I just that was August 16. Also, and he he passed away on September 3 in 1989.


And we had a funeral in Washington a week later. And we had one in Manhattan three weeks later, and they had one in Egypt somewhere in between. Yeah, yeah. So and it's funny, because you know, after that you kind of are in the aftermath and the haze.


But then seven, I became a team throughout all of us. I mean, my dad was such a force, we learned to like, have teamed up together when he was alive, because we figured the both of us would equal one of him. So we at least had a fighting chance. And you know, it's funny now, today, there are a lot of icons of people like Marcia Johnson, who was one of the people in the neighborhood who we knew and was regular, and has be in she was murdered in 1992. Not far from the apartment, and the police founder and the Hudson and said it was a suicide. And we knew it wasn't. I mean, because the amount of bashing that was going on in the neighborhood at that time was significant. I mean, we had dinner with a friend of ours, who laughed and said, Yep, seven I and last got bashed within five minutes. And they punched him so hard in the face that moved his cheekbone over an entire quarter of an inch. And, you know, so all of these these men, outside of my father, these uncles or, you know, that kind of I was their adopted daughter, not daughter or niece, because son and I were definitely family. But you know, the the extended group, you know, I would say by the mid 90s of the 12 men, there were really only three left. Yeah. That said was one of them and said lived all the way until 2010. And he died of cancer not evades even though he would have been HIV positive since the 80s, as well. And I'm just so lucky to have had like, such a unique and interesting family, because it's not unique to me, because it's mine. Everyone else in my world is like, Oh, it's so sad. And it's all these terrible things. But I've never looked at it that way. I've always thought about the fact that I'm just so lucky to have had love from all different places. And you can see the world differently. Oh, I, one of the things that people have had said to me, and I think this was kind of my philosophy. They'd said, Well, you know, you if you hadn't married John, and you hadn't done this, and that I said, if I had married John, I would would not have Sarah. And even if even when there is sadness, and there's reasons, and we just have to find, you have to find the good thing about it. And I think just knowing I mean, John suffered the last year, but he really loved you and he knew he was loved. And really that's all any of us can ask for. And he died when he was 35. He was just shy of turning 36 So he was still a young, young young man.


I'm older than he was now about quite a bit now. All right, well, I think that does it. We've pretty much run you out.

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  • StoryCorps’ mission is to preserve and share humanity’s stories in order to build connections between people and create a more just and compassionate world.StoryCorps was started in New York City’s Grand Central Terminal in 2003. Since then, more than half a million people have recorded their stories. In July 2021, the StoryCorps Mobile Tour was in Rochester, NY, to record, preserve and share our stories.