Thirty years ago, Francine’s closest friend was diagnosed with AIDS and lived about only 30 months longer. As Francine and her husband visited her during those painful months, they saw how GMHC – Gay Men’s Health Crisis organization – was the one source of help. She promised her friend to do everything possible, so no one else would have to suffer that way, and ever since then Francine’s kept her promise.
AIDS WALK NEW YORK is famously the world’s biggest single-day fundraiser for AIDS, and over the years our family has known Francine, I’ve seen first hand it’s always the right month, the right day, the right time and place for her to ask someone to sponsor her. She’s seriously dedicated to raise funds to help – through GMHC’s prevention, care and advocacy programs – thousands of people affected by the disease in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut.
A quarter century ago, AIDS touched my family. Touched? It slammed, smashed and destroyed someone I grew up with and loved and wordlessly expected would be around – would BE – for so many more days and decades. It’s a big reason I’ve joined countless others cheering Francine on.
May 20th, the day of the walk, is a couple of weeks away, and Francine’s about $15,000 away from raising $600,000. For 30 years and counting, she’s been running a marathon, and her white and red race shirt says: “AIDS WALK NEW YORK • GMHC END AIDS. LIVE LIFE.”
UPDATE May 13, 2018: Francine’s about $9,600 away from her goal, and AIDS WALK 2018 is a week away.
Last Sunday, while entering the snowy grounds of Old Westbury Gardens with my friend Bob, I thought back to 2007, when I visited the Gold Coast estate during a biting, heavy snowfall.
That day 10 Decembers ago, I stayed outside capturing photos until I absolutely had to go to Westbury House, beg mercy from staff in the Entrance Hall, take off my gloves and boots, and stand toasty close to the fireplace.
Slowly defrosting in the impressively elegant wood and marble hall, I imagined myself back outside the mansion, but during the Great Blizzard of 1947, when the John and Margarita Phipps family lived there….
I was a trespasser with a noble mission – wielding my Kodak in the snowstorm to capture ghostlike images of trees – and, alas, flirting with hypothermia.
Without warning, a tall stranger swept me off my numb feet and whisked me to the mansion. As we took off our coats, I noticed he, too, had a camera strapped around his neck.
We sat in front a fireplace surrounded by books, and he put his hand to his chest. “Victor, Victor Hasselblad – a… a husgäst of Phipps,” he said softly and with a melodic accent. “And you, lilla frusen lövsångare?”
“Oh my,” “I said, “You’re THE Victor Hasselblad!” The genius nodded. “You’ve just GOT to develop a Hasselblad camera for civilians!” I said, then started to tell him why….
Now I’m at times better about coming in from the cold before losing feeling in my extremities.
But I always do my best to protect my camera. So last weekend when Bob and I arrived at Old Westbury Gardens and stepped out of the car on to slippery icy snow-covered grounds, we headed straight to Westbury House.
Once inside, we heard what sounded like live music coming from the Ballroom just ahead. We were right, for in a far corner of the vast room, pianist ANGELINA FUSCO was playing traditional Christmas music on a Steinway grand piano, backlit by large windows. Capturing the atmospheric scene was a fun challenge.
The Main Hall was not to be missed, especially for families with children, since that’s where Santa sat surrounded by a Christmas tree, fireplace that was a great setting for holiday photos, and stairway strewn with stuffed animals looking as if they’d spilled out of Santa’s bag as he made his way up to the Children’s Quarters on the Third floor.