A Memorial To A Friend: Roxy Ventola McGrath
Roxy Ventola McGrath died of complications due to aids on November 14, 1994. Survived by her husband Matthew McGrath, her parents Esther and Salvatore Abramo, her brother Jack and by merlin the beagle.
Me and Mary were so devastated by the deaths of our two closest girlfriends, Roxy and Lori, who died within two days of each other, that we were never able to write an "obit" for Roxy. We reprinted her article on year after her death in honor of her life and in her memory.
Roxy made us promise to keep fighting. She told Mary to continue to be loud and rude and in people's faces! She told her to keep doing AIDS activism and AIDS work in whatever capacity that she could be effective for as long as she is healthy enough.
She told me to keep writing, to tell the women's stories and give them information about the disease, and try to inspire women into action. She asked me to write about courage and foresight, and to keep trying to give women the incentive to fight back.
"You'll write the story, won't you, Nan?" Yeah, Rox, I'll write it. But, you gotta tell it, OK? "No" she says, "I lived it, you tell it."
She truly believed that people, especially people with HIV/AIDS working together could make a real difference in the lack of government leadership and response to the AIDS epidemic. She also believed that what PWAs needed the most was a cure and that the only way that science was even going to begin to look for a cure was if we, people facing HIV/AIDS, demanded it of them. As of today, no known plan has been implemented to start looking for a cure for AIDS.
Death & Dying
Roxy tried to comfort all her HIV positive friends by telling them not to worry, that science would find something that actually worked by the time it was their turn. Mary responded with: "Isn't that what you thought would happen in time for you?" Roxy, laughed "I was in my glorious denial. I thought the Calvary was coming to save us. (laughs) But we can't give up hope, it's all we have."
Roxy wanted all her friends with HIV/AIDS not to be afraid of dying. She said "It's not so bad, well.... it's bad, but it's not as bad as you think it's going to be. It's not as scary as you think it's going to be."
Roxy was a great advocate for peer counseling and peer support programs as you can see from her agency affiliations listed below. She would often remark about how she hated the "neggies" (a term she used to describe HIV negative people) trying to tell people with AIDS how they should feel or what they should do and how nice they should be to their care providers. She hated it when negative people would try to hone in on peer support groups to "observe" or offer "pity". "No neggies allowed!" she would say, "this is about us".
Roxy's life-story was the subject of a Lifetime TV movie "And Then There Was One". The 1994 movie described the events which led to the deaths of her husband, Vinny, and infant daughter, Miranda Rose. They both died from AIDS in 1991. In 1993, Roxy was remarried to AIDS activist, Matthew McGrath.
Amy Madigan played the part of Roxy and won an Emmy for her outstanding performance. In her acceptance speech she gave tribute to the Ventola family and mentioned that Roxy had since passed away. Roxy's play, "After the Bomb" about a post-AIDS world, was produced in the spring of 1994 at Open Fist Theater in Los Angeles. She also performed in the Michael Kerns play, "AIDS, US Women: Silent NO More." She was: President of the Board of Women At Risk, a support service for women with HIV/AIDS; a co-founding member of Women Alive, a peer group run by and for women volunteers with HIV/AIDS; a founding member of Friends for Life, a support service for heterosexuals with HIV/AIDS; and an active member of of ACT UP/LA.
In 1991, Roxy was a staff writer for the sit-com, "Sunday Dinner," produced by Norman Lear. She worked as a reporter/producer at WNET in New York from 1973-77. She created a pilot project for PBS on working class America called "US". She moved to Los Angeles, and worked at KNXT and KCET as a magazine show producer. Her journalism awards include a local Emmy for Best Documentary, "Art Therapy", and an award from Radio 8 TV News Association of Southern California in 1978.
Roxy, wherever you are, we miss you. We miss your fury, your fighting spirit, your razor-sharp mind, your amazing sense of humor, your enormous courage and most of all your love and friendship.
Mary and I still plot our revenge against the government, dream up ways to kidnap Socks, the White House cat, drink coffee, smoke cigarettes, and miss our beloved accomplice, Roxy.