Advocate Randy Allgaier dies at 53
by Liz Highleyman
HIV and healthcare advocate Randy Allgaier passed away early Saturday morning, November 27, at Davies Medical Center in the Castro. A long-term HIV and hepatitis C survivor who also recently battled anal cancer, Mr. Allgaier died from complications of intestinal obstruction and organ failure. He was 53.
Over the past two decades Mr. Allgaier played a key role in shaping public policy related to HIV/AIDS and, more recently, viral hepatitis, serving on nearly a dozen committees, councils, and boards.
"Few people understood the intricacies of national HIV/AIDS policy better than Randy Allgaier," stated House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco). "He dedicated his career to enhancing the lives of people living with HIV/AIDS in every aspect, working quietly and tirelessly to shape national policy, increase funding, and improve systems of care."
Mr. Allgaier was born in September of 1957 in Ramsey, New Jersey, growing up there and in Tuxedo Park, New York. He earned his Bachelor's degree from Cornell University in 1979 and a Master's from Harvard University, both in English literature.
Mr. Allgaier moved to San Francisco in 1988; he met his partner, Lee Hawn, that same year while both were Shanti volunteers.
"Randy was in my life for 22 years, and what a great gift that has been," said Hawn. "I will treasure my memories of him the rest of my life."
They were married on their 20th anniversary, in a City Hall ceremony officiated by openly gay state Senator Mark Leno (D-San Francisco), during the brief window when such unions were legally recognized in California.
"Randy's passing is a great loss to his husband Lee, to his many friends, and to his co-warriors in the battle against HIV/AIDS," Leno told the Bay Area Reporter.
In the early 1990s Mr. Allgaier worked as a philanthropy consultant and began his involvement in organizational governance, joining Shanti's Board of Directors.
He was hired by the San Francisco AIDS Foundation in 1995 to head its HIV Advocacy Network, working on local and state policy and budget issues.
During the same period Mr. Allgaier was founding director of the California Alliance for Pride and Equality (now Equality California) and served on the Human Rights Campaign's National Board of Governors.
For nearly a decade Mr. Allgaier was a member of the San Francisco HIV Health Services Planning Council (also known as the CARE Council), acting as co-chair during 2004-2006; he also sat on the city's HIV Prevention Planning Council.
"I knew Randy from his many stints on various HIV panels and councils and came to appreciate and respect his insider approach," said long-time AIDS activist Michael Petrelis. "We argued, we often enough agreed, and we knew our respective roles in public advocacy."
At the national level, Mr. Allgaier was a member of the Board of Directors of the National Working Positive Coalition and the Communities Advocating Emergency AIDS Relief (CAEAR) Coalition. He was known for his expertise on Medicare/Medicaid issues and was a strong proponent of increased AIDS Drug Assistance Program (ADAP) funding.
"Randy was a role model for so many and was determined to live his life out loud, talking about his HIV, hepatitis C, or anal cancer so that other people might have an easier time," said Laura Thomas, a fellow member of the CARE Council and CAEAR Coalition. "He also had a sharply tuned sense of humor and an enormous appreciation of the finer things in life, including Scotch, food, and opera."
Although he officially retired from full-time employment to attend to his health, Mr. Allgaier never ceased his policy and advocacy efforts. In 2009 he returned to work as director of the CARE Council and co-chair of the new Mayor's Hepatitis C Task Force.
"I will remember him most for his fierce commitment to ensuring that the voices of people living with HIV and hepatitis C were included during the development of programs and legislation that affected their lives," said Ryan Clary, director of public policy at Project Inform.
In 2008 Mr. Allgaier became a founding member of the Coalition for a National AIDS Strategy, which spearheaded the creation of the Obama administration's HIV/AIDS plan; he was invited to the White House for its release this past July.
"Randy was a true mensch," said SFAF Vice President Judith Auerbach, also a founder of the National AIDS Strategy group. "He was a smart, thoughtful, and caring colleague and friend to all of us working in the fight against AIDS."
Mr. Allgaier and Hawn adopted their beagle, Darwin, in 1998, and for the next decade organized the semiannual Northern California Beaglefests, which drew up to 200 hounds. In 2000 he became involved with Pets Are Wonderful Support, serving as a member and then president of the Board of Directors.
"Randy was always a passionate and relentlessly driven advocate, leading by example in his work ethic and sense of justice for everyone living with and at risk for HIV," said SFAF Legislative Director Ernest Hopkins. "His passion for health care was equaled by his love of beagles and more broadly, through PAWS, the ability of people with disabling diseases to have the love and support of dogs to enhance their quality of life."
Mr. Allgaier won many awards and commendations, including the National Association of People Living with AIDS Positive Leadership Award. He was named one of POZ magazine's top 100 AIDS fighters in the December 2010 issue.
"Randy was a fierce advocate with a huge heart and we will all miss him," said Anne Donnelly, Project Inform's director of health care policy. "The many people he mentored and befriended will surely carry on his example in their own work."
Mr. Allgaier is survived by Hawn; his father Richard; his sister Linda Van Der Stad; extended family members and many loving friends.
A memorial service for Mr. Allgaier is being planned. The CAEAR Coalition will honor him at a San Francisco reception in January. Donations in his memory may be made to Shanti or PAWS.