In Memoriam: Bonnie Goldman
January 3, 2012
TheBody.com's staff created this page to commemorate the life and work of Bonnie Goldman. We feature here a collection of perspectives and remembrances from our staff, our experts, our bloggers and other members of the HIV/AIDS community. Please feel free to add your own thoughts in the comments section below.
I am deeply saddened to share the news that Bonnie Goldman, TheBody.com's former editorial director, passed away due to breast cancer on Saturday, Dec. 31, 2011. She was 55 years old. Bonnie worked on the site from its earliest days in 1995 through early 2010. Her vision helped shape the site you see today and her dedication to the HIV community knew no bounds.
No one word sums up Bonnie better than "passionate." She was passionate in everything she did and said -- from fighting for the rights of people living with HIV to raising awareness of HIV in underserved communities. I worked with Bonnie for more than a decade and witnessed her passion on a daily basis. She never backed down from her beliefs and had a unique ability to make others see things her way. Her efforts online and off helped countless people.
She leaves behind a tremendous body of work on TheBody.com and TheBodyPRO.com. You can read her numerous articles and interviews in our archives, but I would encourage you to start with her final blog entry as our editorial director, which she posted in January 2010, to understand just how much her work meant to her.
May she rest in peace and may her family take solace in knowing that she spent her time on earth wisely.
-- Aryeh Lebeau, general manager of TheBody.com and TheBodyPRO.com
From Myles Helfand, editorial director of TheBody.com and TheBodyPRO.com:
It's hard to believe that you can work closely with people for years and still feel like you hardly knew them. Yet here I am, looking back over seven years as Bonnie's #2, and realizing that I still have scarcely an idea of who she truly was. As Aryeh noted above, Bonnie's passion defined so much of her work life: She held (and stated) her views passionately, set our priorities passionately, executed projects passionately, and managed her team passionately. It was with that same passion that she cleaved her personal life from her work life; most of us never really knew the side of Bonnie Goldman that did not revolve around her fervent AIDS activism or her tenure as this site's editorial director for more than a decade. Her death two years after she left TheBody.com came as a complete surprise.Show More
But the side of Bonnie we did know was almost an archetype. The commitment with which she approached her work was unyielding; it was awe-inspiring; and at times, for those of us who worked for her, it was overwhelming. She set a stunningly high bar for those who worked on her editorial team, and I'm not sure we ever truly reached it in her eyes. I don't think we ever could have; the fire that burned within her was so much larger than any of us. Since she left TheBody.com in early 2010, we have worked our asses (and fingertips) off to maintain that legacy of dedication, and to serve the same community that she served with such steadfast fervor. But I can't help feeling there's always more we could have done, always more Bonnie would have pushed us to do.
Bonnie and I didn't always see eye to eye. But even when we disagreed, I knew that she cared, and I deeply respected her for that. She pushed all of us very hard, including herself, but it wasn't to be cruel -- it was because she considered the work we all did to be more important than just about anything else. She was constantly challenging me to be a better journalist, a better editor, a better manager, a better member of the HIV community. Her passion, strength and dedication ultimately made me more passionate, stronger and more dedicated. I wouldn't be who or where I am now without Bonnie Goldman; for that, I hope her legacy burns brightly into the future, and is a constant source of pride and warmth for her family and friends.
From Olivia Ford, community manager at TheBody.com and TheBodyPRO.com:
Picture it: Mexico City, August 2008. Eight months into my time at TheBody.com, it's my first day in the city that will host my first-ever International AIDS Conference -- and be the venue for my first experience traveling as part of TheBody.com's team. The 16-plus-hour days and sleep deprivation began before we arrived in Mexico, and the pace picked up exponentially once we landed. I was immersed in some aspect of conference preparation -- heart racing, already behind on what I had to complete, probably close to a panic attack -- when my new international cell phone rang. It was my boss, Bonnie Goldman, a notorious and usually unyielding hard-ass. "I found this great store just a few blocks from the hotel! They sell ice cream cones at a counter in back! Come on over!" Was this a joke? A test? A trap?? "What about all this work?" was my strained reply. "Do it later!" This was probably the first time I'd heard the word "later" from Bonnie regarding work.Show More
For Bonnie, every waking moment seemed an opportunity to work hard -- but in that moment in Mexico, I discovered that Bonnie relished a hard-earned break almost as much as the marathon stretches of intense labor that warranted it. Her enthusiasm about life's small pleasures nearly matched the zeal with which she railed against its injustices. She loved sharing meals with people she found fascinating; she loved spreading the word about something interesting or ironic or outrageous she'd happened upon. She could deliver scathing critique and in almost the same breath describe the headdress of the drag-queen waitress at a restaurant to which she'd taken her little daughter the previous weekend.
Bonnie's compassion for people living with HIV/AIDS -- for anyone living under the elbow of some form of oppression -- was a staggering force. She wanted to help, in any way she could; and she encouraged others to use whatever skills they had to be helpful. She gave me ample opportunities to learn by working closely with one of the lions of a field that has become my home. If I am in any way a useful member of the HIV community, it is due in large part to the many layers of lessons I learned by Bonnie's examples. Her voice is rarely very far from my head.
I was never completely at ease in her presence. She was my employer, after all, not my friend; and I worked for her every day for two years, so I got to experience, for better and worse, the full range of her character. I won't sugar-coat the fact that working with her was a tremendous challenge, in every possible sense of the word. I won't hold back from saying these things because these were essential parts of her personality about which, I believe, she was often quite proud.
I also know that she truly cared about her employees, and about me. Her ways of showing it were varied -- from encouraging me to step far outside comfort zones in all aspects of my work; to demanding that I take vitamin D supplements to replace the essential nutrients my dark skin blocked the sun from providing; to on one or two occasions dispensing unprovoked yet surprisingly tender and prescient counsel regarding my personal life. I wholly appreciated every effort. I believe she knew that I cared for her very much as well -- and for her daughter, the brilliant and charming Ms. Hilary, who also spent a great deal of time in our office and who, when I was lucky, would do me the favor of reading to me when I took a mid-evening break.
It speaks to the complexity of Bonnie's personality and of our relationship that when I heard of her passing, only the funniest, richest, most affecting memories came tumbling back, as vividly as though they'd happened last week, reaffirming my immense sense of gratitude for having worked under, and sometimes even beside, this great force. It doesn't yet make sense that such a massive presence could be gone from this world -- at least the immediately discernible layer of this world. But Bonnie leaves her imprint on all of us whose lives she touched, informed, transformed, challenged and inspired.
From Terri Wilder, M.S.W., HIV education and training director; TheBody.com's 2007 summer intern and blogger from August 2007 to July 2009:
I have probably not talked with Bonnie in more than a year, but I thought about her often. I tried to call her several times but I guess life circumstances got in the way of us connecting and for that I am very sad. I would have liked to have told her how much I appreciate the opportunities she gave to me. She allowed me to spend a whole summer interning at the website, helping to create content that people literally all over the world would be reading ... and most of all, she taught me to be even more passionate about the HIV community than I was before. Her passion for the HIV community was never-ending ... it consumed her Ö and for that I would have liked to have told her that her life made a difference to the millions of people around the world who visit TheBody.com every day. I would have liked to have told her that her life's work in memory of her brother who died of AIDS was inspirational, courageous and moving.
From Mark S. King, blogger on TheBody.com since September 2008:
Bonnie had the notion that I might have some fun documenting my life as a gay man living with HIV. Immediately, I bought editing software online and started to learn it. But I had my doubts.
There wasn't anything particularly special about my life, I complained to her in a phone call to her New York office. And a lot of it, like my ongoing struggle with drug addiction, was downright seedy.
"Tell the truth," she said. "The more honest you are, the better it will be."
From David Alain Wohl, M.D., associate professor of medicine in the Division of Infectious Diseases at the University of North Carolina:
Many of us, particularly HIV clinicians, compartmentalize death. Like those Russian dolls, nested within one another, we have spaces for the different types of death we encounter. There is a big one for our patients for whom we know time is short, and a somewhat smaller space for those in our care whose passing came earlier than anticipated. These patients die and we sigh, maybe say a prayer. It happens. But, such a system to failsafe our emotional sanity falls apart when one of our own is lost. That is not supposed to happen.Show More
Bonnie Goldman was one of us. She was on that front line of souls dedicated to the elimination of HIV and she was fierce. Relentlessly, she pushed to get more information to more people as soon as possible so that someone could be saved, or at least helped -- and countless were. Truly remarkable was her powerful and urgent desire to have things make sense where all was confused. A virus killing beautiful young men? Madness. New drugs to stall HIV but with toxic effects? Unacceptable. Bonnie wanted us to sort this all out and help us grab the pieces of this huge puzzle and fit them together so we could be in a world where the young do not die because of love.
I learned much from our Bonnie. As an editor she reined me in. As an advocate she led me to see the pressing need for those of us in the fields of discovery to get to work and find the answers. As a visionary she saw the power of the web to be an unparalleled resource for those with HIV and those, like me, who cared for them. She was inspiring and often imitated and made our world, my world, a much better place. I miss her already and am grateful for all she did for others and me. Her work endures in the space she embraced and within me.
From Keith Henry, M.D., professor of medicine at the University of Minnesota School of Medicine, and the resident expert in TheBody.com's "Ask the Experts" forum on Managing Side Effects of HIV Treatment:
News of Bonnie's death was incredibly saddening. When I think of Bonnie, I think of someone who was unbelievably committed to a mission that involved pushing for better treatment for HIV-infected people and protecting their rights and dignity. Bonnie could be a tough taskmaster. Her questions about research findings at meetings in the pre-HAART era reflected deep knowledge about the topics and a fierce desire to pressure and impact the effort toward better treatment. I often felt challenged by Bonnie's energy, drive and insight.Show More
I have no doubt that she positively influenced scores of clinicians and researchers, and helped thousands of patients who knew that Bonnie was a tireless advocate on their behalf. That is an impressive legacy. Reading her last blog on TheBody.com underscored her devotion to that venue and her selflessness, since many of the points she emphasized could have been turned toward her own battle with cancer, for which progress seems to go at a snail's pace compared to what has been accomplished in HIV therapeutics.
Bonnie: I propose a virtual toast to you and your accomplishments. May you continue to inspire others to work hard to find the truth and help others. You will be greatly missed. My thoughts and prayers go out to your family and large circle of friends.
From Justin B. Terry-Smith, blogger on TheBody.com since November 2009:
When I heard the news I was so shocked in disbelief. My heart goes out to Bonnie's family and especially her daughter. She is at least in a space where there is no more pain. She did so much for us bloggers at TheBody.com. I remember when I first met Bonnie Goldman, I had emailed her and expressed interest in talking with her about being a video blogger for TheBody.com. She said, "No problem." She even let me keep the name for my blog that was very personal to me. She was such a beautiful person and she had such a good energy and light that anyone would love. She gave me such positive energy, even when an entry that I wrote did not go over well with audiences. She made me feel a part of TheBody.com family.Show More
I will truly miss you, Bonnie. You did so much for the HIV community. Your spirit will live forever in my mind and heart.
We have truly lost a soldier, a sister and a friend. GOD BLESS BONNIE GOLDMAN.
From Heidi Nass, HIV/AIDS community advocate and educator:
When Bonnie took time off after leaving The Body and tried her hand at growing tomatoes that summer, she seemed flummoxed, offended and even a little tormented by the rodent thieves that were making off with her goods. When she got interested in something, which was always, she would talk about it in excited detail and inevitably end with, "Isn't that fascinating?" or, more often, "What do you think of that?" When she traveled to impoverished places she would bring an extra suitcase of things to donate to the nearest orphanage or AIDS organization. When her brother got sick with AIDS she came home to care for him and, when he died, she committed herself to making it easier and better for others trying to find good information and make difficult decisions in difficult times.Show More
When I first met Bonnie Goldman, it all made sense to me -- how The Body so many years ago offered so much to me as a frightened, overwhelmed woman newly diagnosed with HIV infection and how it did it so expertly and compassionately. It was obvious Bonnie was brilliant and determined, but her passion was the thing that rang the loudest -- it made most others in the same work seem half-asleep. She had a keen eye -- or really a keen heart, I think -- for what were the important stories, especially for our community, and she told them so very well.
Bonnie was all about helping the community get the information she felt was important and needed to help people live well. I remember her asking me in an interview about rejections or humiliations that came from disclosing my HIV status. She pressed me a little when I said I really hadn't personally experienced any. When we were done, I asked if she maybe expected a different answer. "Oh, no," she said, "I just want others to know that it doesn't have to be horrible to disclose." I think, for Bonnie, if you weren't using your experience and voice to the benefit of others, what could you possibly be doing that was more important?
As a mother, Bonnie remained an educator and advocate. She was invested in teaching her daughter to look at the world with clear eyes and a full sense of self. She was determined that her little girl grow up certain that it wasn't just boys who could be superheroes. She wanted her to know the stories of women throughout history who surmounted the odds against them and made important contributions to the world, even though most people will never know their names.
For me, Bonnie is one of those women. She shaped the world in which I live and work and she took some hard roads to do it. I am deeply grateful to her and I am certainly better for everything she gave so generously to me and to my community of people living with HIV/AIDS. Along the way she was a kind friend who encouraged me, comforted me and inspired me.
For the pieces of her life she may have shielded from us, what she showed us was really, really something. May her spirit soar.
From Jeff Berry, editor and director of publications for Positively Aware:
There are very few people who come in and out of our existence who leave an indelible mark on our lives, and Bonnie Goldman, for me, was one of those people. I was very fortunate to have known and worked with Bonnie during my first six years as editor of Positively Aware magazine, and she was editor of The Body. Bonnie was always questioning, questioning, questioning -- her ability to get to the real heart of the story, knowing just the right questions to ask, was uncanny.Show More
As I grew to know and respect her as a journalist, a person, and as a friend, I also came to believe that, at least from my perspective, there were no incongruities with Bonnie. She would lay it all out from the get go, and tell it like it is, without holding back. She hardly seemed worried about stroking someone's ego or whose toes she might step on, and was never in the least bit ingratiating. She just wanted to know why. Her quest for knowledge was unrelenting, almost at times to the point of exhaustion for those around her, but never once did she appear to grandstand or let her ego get in the way. It was as if she didn't have time for that -- she definitely didn't have time for other people like that in her own life.
Bonnie was also extremely gracious and very giving in her willingness to share her knowledge and expertise with others, by taking them under her wing, so to speak. I felt as though she did that for me, in a lot of ways, and whether or not it was a conscious decision on her part I'll never know. But I'm guessing I was not the only one.
It was very apparent from conversations that I had with Bonnie that family was particularly important to her. When she spoke about her young daughter, I remember thinking to myself how lucky she must be to have such a cool mom like Bonnie. It was also very clear to me that the loss of Bonnie's brother to AIDS early in life had left a deep wound, one that never quite healed. But ultimately it propelled her to create one of the most informative, comprehensive and accessible HIV/AIDS resources on the Web, which continues to reach countless numbers of people around the world, year after year. She changed forever the way in which people accessed information about HIV and AIDS, and had a profound and lasting impact on the quality of their lives.
Many of us were surprised by her "sudden" departure from The Body a couple of years back. However she promised bigger and better things in the very near future, and it was clear that she had a plan, so I had no reason to doubt that she'd be back. But life inevitably throws us curveballs, and plans ultimately change. While we'll never know what was to have been her next big venture, knowing Bonnie, it would have been amazing. And I somehow have this feeling that, wherever she is now, she is still asking questions.
The answers are probably just much bigger now.
From Aless Piper, blogger on TheBody.com since October 2010:
I am endlessly grateful for the gift Bonnie gave me when she urged me to reconsider [blogging for TheBody.com]; of course I did. What I got in return was that elusive community Ned Weeks longed for in The Normal Heart, one of passionate, wonderful individuals committed to spreading the truth, and ending AIDS, and something I love to do with all my heart (blog for TheBody.com). And now I will not get to thank her. I thought, as so many do so often, that there would be more time.
From Loreen Willenberg, blogger on TheBody.com since July 2008:
Bonnie always encouraged me to write, something I love to do but have a hard time finding time for. My constant "north-star," she would remind me how important it was for at least one member of the HIV Controller community to share her story to the world. How on earth she found time to carefully edit the pieces I managed to produce is beyond me ... she was always on the road to another conference, another interview or a work-related task.
From Enrique Franco, blogger on TheBody.com since January 2010:
In a time in my life when I was thrown onto a raft in a sea of hopelessness and despair, Bonnie heard my voice. ... Bonnie was a beautiful person. Her memory will reflect that. Her actions and efforts will reflect that. She was compassionate and selfless. And so, here I am writing about a great friend that is gone. Although she has left us, EVERYTHING she has done will remain. EVERYONE she has touched will remember.
She never mentioned her illness, even while surrounded by people who had faced theirs in her presence. Maybe she wanted to always be the strong one for all of us. We will never know. This experience has taught me some things: I will never assume that I know why someone leaves my life without a reason. I will try to give these people the benefit of the doubt. I will try to reach out but respect their choices even if it is not pleasing to me. Bonnie, wherever you are, know that I am still pissed but missing you a lot. Not pissed at you, but at death for taking a hero of the community with her.
From Thomas DeLorenzo, blogger on TheBody.com since July 2009:
Bonnie knew that by writing and publishing, especially on such a powerful force like the web, we were all going to keep our loved ones alive -- and help others that were still dealing with the virus to not have the same fate. Now Bonnie is gone -- and I feel that a link to the chain of all of those people I was helping to keep alive is gone. And I don't know who is going to take that place. And I worry that all of those people who we were keeping in the forefronts of other people's minds and hearts, are not going to be there anymore. For if they go, then a part of us goes -- a part of our past. And when large chunks of your social circle just suddenly disappear from existence, you start to wonder if those experiences you shared together happened at all. You begin to doubt your own memory. At least when someone is alive from that time period, you can still talk to them and your history is validated. It existed, and more importantly, it exists within our hearts. Bonnie did nothing less than keep a part of my own heart alive.
This article was provided by TheBody.com.
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