By David A. Wohl, MD – January 18, 2012

The well-lived life is one worth not only recognizing but also emulating. This month we lost two people who lived lives that were filled with smiles and laughter, determination, altruism and love. Lives that were grand, not now in reflection, but were clearly spectacular while they were being lived. Lives we should want to live.

Close to home, Gretchen Durham, the beloved matriarch of our local HIV service community, died at age 71. There were few degrees of separation, if any, between Gretchen and most any of you reading this tribute. Gretchen was the small but radiant jewel of a person who made things happen when all seemed hopeless. She contributed to progress in HIV work in countless big and small ways — establishing an HIV teen hotline where many newbies to HIV service cut their teeth, organizing workshops on condoms, creating a safe haven for persons with HIV to live — she advocated for those living in poverty selflessly and persistently.

There is a big hole left where Gretchen stood and we can only hope to continue to do the good work she dedicated herself to. For those who can, contributions to her beloved AIDS Community Residence Association (ACRA) can be sent to P. O. Box 25265, Durham, NC 27702. This would be a small thank you to a tough woman who made life so much easier for so many.

Probably not as well know to you was my friend Bonnie Goldman. If you have ever gone to or to look for a post-conference report or a review of a research article, you know Bonnie, if not personally then through these sites, which she conceived and molded as its Executive Editor. One of the most interesting persons I have met, she was utterly indefatigable in her commitment to get HIV-related information to those living with the virus and the professionals who cared for them. But, this was no sixties era radical or HIV+ activist. She was raised in an orthodox Jewish community in New York and looked more the part of a slightly unintentionally Goth writer than one of the leaders of the HIV information media. The death of her younger brother from AIDS set her on a crusade, which she pursued from conference to conference and story to story, in a constant battle against ignorance.

Like most heroes, Bonnie could be tough. I would write an article for her about some new discovery or clinical trial and she would reply back that it did not tell the reader why this mattered or she would complain that I did not share enough of my own thoughts about the finding. For her, everything had to matter and everything had to be personal. Bonnie made me a better writer. She made me a better doctor.

Bonnie died at age 55, right after New Year’s Day, of breast cancer, a diagnosis she hid from almost everyone for over five years. Who can even begin to count the number of people she helped, even saved, by literally making knowledge into power. One day, I hope her young daughter, Hillary, whom she loved so dearly, searches her mother’s name and reads just how special Bonnie was to so many.