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Spencer Cox, Iconic HIV Activist, Through the Eyes of His Mother and His Friend

A Conversation With Beverly Cox and Peter Staley

September 12, 2013

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Beverly Cox: That's the part that I was aware of with Spencer. I said, "I know, even if it wasn't AIDS, whatever it is; if you have people dying around you, it has to affect you mentally."

Terri Wilder: Right. Well, another thing that came out of the unfortunate death of Spencer was that the Center for Comprehensive Care [CCC] renamed their center the Spencer Cox Center for Health. Beverly, how was that name change brought to your attention?

Beverly Cox: It was brought up to Nick first. I think they didn't know how to reach me. Dr. Victoria Sharp [director of the Spencer Cox Center for Health] sent Nick an email. He forwarded it to me and called me. We discussed what an honor that was, and we were very excited about it. At that point, it was like: He really did do something that changed the world.

Terri Wilder: Peter, what did you think when Dr. Sharp said, "We want to rename our center and name it after Spencer?" And what were people saying in the community?


Peter Staley: Dr. Sharp had given me a heads up. It was a shock at first. It was, like, wow. And then it was: Yes, this is right. This is right.

I gave some remarks at the opening, about this being a pattern now. They're naming stuff after us. And they should. It's a good thing. It is good that Spencer will be remembered. It is good that all of us that did this work will be remembered and are not going to be some sort of forgotten generation, and forgotten movement.

I love the stories. Talking to the staff who have worked at CCC for years, who really didn't know of Spencer's story, and when Vicki started pushing this, they were like, "Really?" And the more and more they learned, and then, after the opening, the way patients have responded to it that come to the center, and the way that they're now using it in their work when they do public speaking, etc., to explain their mission, they're just absolutely thrilled at the renaming.

So you can really see how it's just right. It's a perfect fit.

Terri Wilder: At the name-changing event, on Tuesday, June 11, at which the Center for Comprehensive Care at St. Luke's-Roosevelt Hospital in New York City officially became the Spencer Cox Center for Health, one of the speakers mentioned that Spencer would probably roll his eyes about the whole thing.

Beverly Cox: He would. He would have!

Terri Wilder: Deep-down inside, do you think he would really roll his eyes -- or if he would be like, "Wow"?

Beverly Cox: You know what I think? I truly do not believe he understood the impact he made. Do you, Peter?

Peter Staley: I disagree with you on that. If you see the interview he did with David France, I think you see it there. I think he knew he was part of something great.

Terri Wilder: There's a whole community of people who are learning who Spencer Cox is, because they're now coming to get their HIV medical care, or their care for another chronic condition, from a clinic that bears his name. When you think about the name change, what would you want the clients who come to Spencer Cox Center for Health to think and know about your son and friend?

Beverly Cox: To know that he was kind and generous, and to know that what he did was unselfish.

Peter Staley: I would want them to know he was a fighter. He was an activist. And that they have the ability to live beautiful lives because of the work he did.

This transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.

Terri L. Wilder, M.S.W., is a director of HIV/AIDS education and training in New York City.

Beverly Cox

Born and educated in Georgia, Beverly Cox was the first and only female majoring in accounting at her university at the time, but she held her own -- a fact her sons would never have disputed.

She married, had two sons and later divorced when her sons were ages 1 and 5. These sons became her focus, especially since she was both physically and financially responsible for them. After gaining her required accounting experience and acquiring her CPA license, she started her own CPA private practice in 1983 and is still operating this firm today in addition to managing several rental properties she owns.

Beverly is exceptionally proud of the successes her two sons have attained. She lost her older son, Spencer, on Dec. 18, 2012.

She enjoys reading, hiking and traveling, has visited all the continents except Antarctica, and particularly enjoys her visits with her son Nick who lives in Africa.

Peter Staley

Peter Staley has been a long-term HIV and gay rights activist, first as a member of ACT UP New York, then as the founding director of TAG, the Treatment Action Group. He is a leading subject in the Oscar-nominated documentary How to Survive a Plague.

Copyright © 2013 Remedy Health Media, LLC. All rights reserved.
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This article was provided by TheBody.

Reader Comments:

Comment by: Wayne Stump (Toronto, Ontario, Canada) Wed., Sep. 18, 2013 at 8:35 pm UTC
So much to say about this. First of all, thank you to for publishing this conversation and story. Otherwise I would not have learned about this remarkable (and may I add as a gay man, very handsome) man! Even though I volunteered for the Canadian AIDS Treatment Information Exchange and learned "a fair bit" about HIV and antiretroviral treatment and the evolution of the same, I was not as aware as I should be about the role of the activist community in the development of these medicines that certainly saved my bacon for what that's worth. I was more aware of the doctors and scientists involved in the effort (such as say Dale Kempf at Abbott Laboratories who was among the first to determine the molecular structure of HIV protease in 1988/1989, leading to the development of the very important class of protease inhibitor drugs). So I very much appreciate knowing about the ACT-UP folks who did so much to advocate and bring about these life-saving medicines. Thank you! Yes, this man's death is very troubling, and causes me to wonder and reflect on many issues that are just too many to expand on here (I note that I am running out of characters as I compose this comment. I did some further research and found a good article in the New York Times:
I am indeed sad that anyone, especially anyone lucky enough to live in a privileged developed country with access to these expensive drugs and the very best health care infrastructure, should die of HIV-related causes. And then someone who indeed advocated for the development and availability of life-saving treatments. Certainly a great deal to think about, and I thank you for this. Please accept my best regards,

Wayne Stump
Toronto, Ontario, Canada
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Comment by: Douglas A. Houge (Rural Minnesota) Wed., Sep. 18, 2013 at 2:42 pm UTC
A small piece of me dies every time I hear of another passing. I was infected by 1983 and lived in DC during those awful years. At 53 years of age, I believe we all have contributed more than our share to the current progress of science. My psychiatrist wants to write off my militance as resulting from manic depression. I will not. There are miles to go before we sleep. I am so sorry for your loss.
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Comment by: John Magisano (NYC) Thu., Sep. 12, 2013 at 8:43 pm UTC
Great interview. And institutional memory is lost so easily, reflected by the major AIDS groups not "sitting across from each other." For nearly two decades the New York AIDS Coalition was that mechanism to work on state policy and funding issues, and there was also NYCOCCHA (the NYC Communities of Color HIV/AIDS Initiative) that successfully pushed the city council for funding. I don't know if NYCOCHA still exists, but NYAC died a silent death a couple of years ago. A lot of the fracturing of the AIDS community came from the early success of funding initiatives like the Ryan White Care Act. All of the groups were (are) very busy competing for gov't dollars. Many of them got really fat for a while, but it's nothing but one funding cut after another for many years now. The groups should be together on budget advocacy, but would need new mechanisms to do it. Maybe this Medius effort will restart them. How can one get involved in Medius?
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