This month the Pittsburgh AIDS Task Force (PATF) is memorializing the 20th anniversary of the death of Kerry Stoner, one of the founding members of PATF and longtime ally of the Pitt Men’s Study. From PATF:
June 2nd 2013 marks the 20th anniversary of the death of Kerry Stoner, one of the founding members of the Pittsburgh AIDS Task Force. The oldest son of Dick and Marjorie, Stoner grew up on a dairy farm in Westmoreland County. After graduating from Washington and Jefferson University and coming out to his parents, he decided against his earlier dream of becoming an English teacher. Stoner moved to Pittsburgh and became the manager at the Crossover, a local gay night club.
Kerry became very active in the gay community, facilitating the communication between local bar owners and researchers at the Pitt Men’s Study at the University of Pittsburgh. When the community advisory board of that study suggested the creation of a service organization for people suffering and dying from this mysterious disease, Stoner volunteered his services.
In March of 1985, the first public meeting of the Pittsburgh AIDS Task Force was held. The all-volunteer organization was formed by Stoner and four fellow members of the Pitt Men’s Study Community Advisory Board due to the lack of social support services and information available about the deadly disease named by the Centers for Disease Control as Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome–AIDS.
People were dying at an alarming rate, and there were little to no services available to them, with misinformation running rampant about the disease and how it was contracted. The founding members of PATF decided the organization should help all people affected by AIDS, regardless of race, religion, ethnicity, or sexual orientation. Eighteen volunteers, including doctors, nurses, therapists, clergy, laborers, artists and students formed the committees necessary to provide these necessary services and to form the front line in the battle to educate the community on the nature of the disease and how to prevent the spread of infection.
In 1987, Stoner was hired as the first executive director and led PATF’s first benefit, titled “Here’s What Friend Are For,” encapsulating the humble yet powerful spirit that drove the work of PATF’s earliest efforts. The offering of case management, testing and counseling soon followed. A food pantry was added in 1992 and later that year Stoner released a statement that he had been diagnosed with AIDS two years earlier and was stepping down from his position.
Kerry had become the face and the voice of the epidemic in the Pittsburgh region and he worked tirelessly talking to anyone who would listen about the disease and its effects on the community. After his departure from PATF, Stoner was honored for his dedication and passion when the Pittsburgh City Council declared March 30, 1992 as “Kerry Stoner Day”.
In 1993, Kerry Stoner died from complications related to AIDS at his home in Highland Park surrounded by his family and friends. Stoner was only 39-years-old.
His legacy of caring lives on today through the many individuals that carry on the work of PATF, from individual staff and volunteers to partner organizations and the communities we serve. The spirit of Kerry Stoner’s passion and commitment to supporting and empowering those living with HIV/AIDS permeates all that we do and will until we have won the fight, once and for all, against this disease.
Those interested in supporting PATF can learn more here.