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On the Passing of Jacques Chambers, HIV Legal Expert

By Myles Helfand

January 29, 2016

Jacques Chambers

Jacques Chambers

We learned earlier this week that Jacques Chambers passed away on Jan. 11. Even if that name doesn't ring a bell for you, it's likely that if you're part of the HIV community, you've been touched in some way by his efforts.

Jacques was an unfathomably vast tree of legal knowledge regarding HIV in the U.S. One of his many branches reached directly into TheBody.com, where he volunteered in our "Ask the Experts" forum on workplace and insurance issues since 2012. There, he answered hundreds of questions with empathy, energy and insight -- 928 questions, to be exact, including hundreds from HIV-positive people in immediate need of nuanced legal information and advice. Yet as this beautiful tribute from AIDS Project Los Angeles makes clear, Jacques' role in our forums represented just a small segment of the services he provided to the HIV community throughout a long (but not long enough) career.

Here are a few words on Jacques from Olivia Ford, who is currently a contributing editor for TheBody.com but for years served as our executive editor:

"It's funny how life works. After a long time out of touch, this week I was poised to reach out to Jacques to say hello and seek his counsel on a project. I was preparing to send an email to him -- had just found his email address, in fact -- when I happened upon an article commemorating his life, and announcing his passing on Jan. 11.

"I worked with Jacques as a workplace forum expert on TheBody.com from his very first day in the role. We never had the pleasure of meeting in person, but our email and phone communications were always warm, Jacques' dedication to informing and supporting our community always apparent.

"Jacques' forum, like all TheBody.com's "Ask the Experts" forums, was beset by hysterical inquiries about unlikely HIV transmission events, in addition to the sprinkling of questions relevant to his expertise. While answering questions of this kind was not part of his role, he would occasionally answer a few -- with the same empathy, tact, skill and attention to facts that he employed in his responses to the workplace and insurance concerns of people living with HIV.

"I was always impressed and inspired by the thoughtfulness and quality of Jacques' counsel on his forum, and I took a number of opportunities to tell him so during the two years that I was his staff support contact -- though of course, at a time like this, I wish I'd said it more. His workplace forum expert role was an at-will volunteer position, yet Jacques never seemed to falter from approaching it as an opportunity to engage and to sharpen his own expertise -- a learning experience as well as a labor of love. With Jacques' passing, our community has lost not just a key resource, but a kind, quietly passionate, irreplaceable soul."

At TheBody.com, we'll honor Jacques the best way we know how: By embracing his legacy and renewing our commitment to keep people with HIV informed, supported and empowered. If you knew him or were touched by his work, we welcome and encourage you to share your thoughts in the comments.


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