Father Tony

Rodger McFarlane

Filed By Father Tony | May 19, 2009 8:00 AM | comments

Filed in: Living
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Statement by Friends & Family of Rodger McFarlane on his Death

It is with deep sadness that we announce the death of our
friend, colleague, and hero, Rodger McFarlane. A pioneer and legend in
the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) civil rights and
HIV/AIDS movements, Rodger took his own life in Truth or Consequences,
New Mexico last Friday. In a letter found with his remains, Rodger
explained that he was unwilling to allow compounding heart and back
problems to become even worse and result in total debilitation. We
know that Rodger was in a great deal of pain. Already disabled in his
own mind, he could no longer work out or do all the outdoor activities
he so loved. He was also now faced with the realization that he could
literally not travel, making employment increasingly difficult. As his
friends and family, we thought it was important that we communicate to
the world that it has lost an amazingly wonderful individual who
contributed so mightily to our humanity.

Rodger approached every aspect of his life with boundless
passion and vigor. While many people go their entire lives wanting to
be good at just one thing, Rodger excelled at virtually everything he
did. Brilliant activist and strategist, decorated veteran,
accomplished athlete, best-selling author, and humanitarian are just a
few of the accolades that could be used to describe our friend. To
know Rodger was to love an irreverent, wise-cracking Southerner who
hardly completed a sentence that didn't include some kind of
four-letter expletive. He fought the right fight every day, was
intolerant of silence, and organized whole communities of people to
advocate for justice. These were traits that endeared him to us and
are traits that make his legacy incredibly rich and powerful.

The power of Rodger's many personal and professional
accomplishments cannot be denied. He was on the forefront of
responding to the AIDS epidemic that ravaged our country - and
specifically the gay community - in the 1980's. Before HIV even had a
name, in 1981, Rodger set up the very first hotline anywhere; he just
set it up on his own phone. That was the Rodger we knew. A born
strategist and leader, Rodger took three organizations in their
infancy and grew each into a powerhouse in its own way, empowered to
tackle this national tragedy.

One of the original volunteers and the first paid executive
director of Gay Men's Health Crisis, the nation's first and largest
provider of AIDS client services and public education programs, Rodger
increased the organization's fundraising from a few thousand dollars
to the $25 million agency it is today. Until his death, he was the
president emeritus of Bailey House, the nation's first and largest
provider of supportive housing for homeless people with HIV.

From 1989 to 1994, he was executive director of Broadway
Cares/Equity Fights AIDS (BC/EFA), merging two small industry-based
fundraising groups into one of America's most successful and
influential AIDS fundraising and grant-making organizations. During
his tenure at BC/EFA, annual revenue increased from less than $1
million to more than $5 million, while also leveraging an additional
$40 million annually through strategic alliances with other funders
and corporate partnerships. Rodger was also a founding member of ACT
UP - NY, the now legendary protest group responsible for sweeping
changes to public policy as well as drug treatment and delivery

Most recently, Rodger served as the executive director of the
Gill Foundation, one of the nation's largest funders of programs
advocating for LGBT equality. He transformed the Foundation by
sharpening its strategic purpose. He focused its philanthropy in the
states, aligned its investment with political imperatives and forged
relationships with straight allies that helped to further both the
LGBT movement as well as the greater progressive movement. Rodger was
instrumental in the creation of the Gill Foundation's sister
organization, Gill Action. The brilliance of Rodger's vision is being
seen today as important protections for LGBT people become a reality
in more and more states.

No one will ever doubt that our friend Rodger lived a rich and
complete life. A proud U.S. Navy veteran, Rodger was a licensed
nuclear engineer who conducted strategic missions in the North
Atlantic and far Arctic regions aboard a fast attack submarine. A
gifted athlete, he was a veteran of seven over-ice expeditions to the
North Pole. He also competed internationally for many years as an
elite tri-athlete, and in 1998 and 2002, competed in the
Eco-Challenges in Morocco and Fiji, where he captained an all-gay
female-majority team.

In spite of the fact that Rodger never completed college, he was
an accomplished and best-selling author and the producer of works for
the stage. Rodger was the co-author of several books, including The
Complete Bedside Companion: No Nonsense Advice on Caring for the
Seriously Ill (Simon & Schuster, 1998), and most recently, Larry
Kramer's The Tragedy of Today's Gays (Penguin, 2005). In 1993, he
co-produced the Pulitzer Prize-nominated production of Larry Kramer's
The Destiny of Me, the sequel to The Normal Heart.

Rodger had a reputation as a hard-ass. That reputation didn't do
him justice. Many of us will remember Rodger as a caregiver, a man who
nursed countless friends and family members battling cancer and AIDS.
He was the most compassionate and giving of friends, especially to
those in physical or emotional distress.

His many achievements were recognized throughout his life. Most
recently, he had received the Patient Advocacy Award from the American
Psychiatric Association. Other honors included the New York City
Distinguished Service Award, the Presidential Voluntary Action Award,
the Eleanor Roosevelt Award, and the Emery Award from the Hetrick
Martin Institute, as well as Tony and Drama Desk honors.

How do you sum up someone's life in just a few words? It's
impossible and you can't. To commemorate Rodger's life, his friends
will organize celebrations of his, the details of which are still in
the planning stages. If Rodger was anything, he was a character
through and through; there are, quite literally, thousands of "Rodger
stories." That's part of what made him such a special person. During
our celebrations, we'll share some of these stories and reflect on the
many legacies left by our friend for life, Rodger McFarlane.

Information on donations in memorial will also be forthcoming.

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