Paul Kirby and The Paul Kirby Fund
During roughly two decades of AIDS in Austin, hundreds of ASA clients have received emergency financial assistance from The Paul Kirby Fund. Contributions to the Fund pay for prescription co-pays, rent, utilities and other critical necessities, when restricted funds, such as government grants, cannot be used. But except for early clients and volunteers with ASA and its predecessor, the Austin AIDS Project (AAP), very few people remember the inspiring man for whom this program was named following his death in 1987.
In the beginning, ca. 1985, AAP an all-volunteer program at Waterloo Counseling Center, Austin's fledgling gay & lesbian community organization. AAP largely consisted of a phone number, a pink message pad and a handful of people working to start a Buddy Program, establish an information hot-line and otherwise meet the AIDS challenge in Austin. One way new volunteers were recruited was to invite them to a monthly pot-luck picnic which AAP held for already-active volunteers. Paul Kirby came to one of those picnics and said, "What can I do to help?" The enthusiastic answer was, "A lot!"
Paul had recently quit his job in education administration to care for his partner Brad, who had been diagnosed with Kaposi's Sarcoma, a disfiguring AIDS-related cancer. Somewhere, Paul found time to help start the first PWA support group in Austin and arranged for the use of meeting rooms at First Unitarian Church, not only for PWA's, but also for their loved ones and Buddies. After Brad's death in 1986, Paul became a full-time volunteer, spending hours on the phone with newly-diagnosed persons, visiting hospital rooms, driving people to medical or Social Security appointments, etc. He seemed to be everywhere.
Shortly thereafter, Paul took an education consulting job in Washington state. While there, he himself was hospitalized with pneumocystis pneumonia (PCP). He later said that he could have kicked himself for not recognizing the symptoms sooner, but he had just assumed his cough was due to the wet weather. After his diagnosis, Paul read every report he could find about new treatments for AIDS and its opportunistic infections from which he and others were suffering. Although the hottest "action" was in San Francisco, New York and Paris, Paul became a source of information for dozens of people and was the first PWA representative on Waterloo's Board of Directors.
Back in Austin, Paul started the first newsletter for AAP volunteers, which evolved into the ASA Messenger, an internally-focused publication alongside the more outreaching Update. Those first issues, on bright blue paper, were written and typed almost single-handedly by Paul Kirby. Paul was among the first Central Texas PWA's to "go public" and was frequently interviewed by the local media. His visibility and his eloquence in sharing his experiences with AIDS were critical in the effort to dispel the hysteria so prevalent in the epidemic's early years. Paul was also one of ASA's founding board members when AAP separated from Waterloo Counseling Center to become AIDS Services of Austin in 1987.
In 1987, though, the virus began to catch up with Paul, and he was often bed-ridden in his final months. His ex-wife and children were very supportive, and they still occasionally come to ASA events. The Unitarian congregation rallied for him, and his parents came from Indiana to become caregivers. Paul's father, Woody, spoke of Paul's childhood bout with polio. Like AIDS, polio caused a lot of panic and prejudice. At age 11, Paul was placed in a sanitarium in another city, and his family found itself shunned by former friends. Paul often remarked on the irony of history repeating itself. But, he also felt that, as with polio, AIDS would be defeated.
Paul didn't live to see effective treatment with today's "drug cocktails," or even AZT. He left us physically on May 7, 1987, but Paul's example challenges us still. Your contributions to The Paul Kirby Fund help to carry on the work of this beautiful, dedicated man.