My Mother, My Ally

Lift for Life
by David Waggoner

Mothers around the world are often the first faces we see when we are born. And if you are lucky, as I am, your mom is there for you throughout your life. Sadly my mom, Carolyn K. Waggoner, passed away recently in a nursing home in Coronado, California, a small quaint city across the bay from ultra-modern San Diego.

Helping those who were the most vulnerable is how I remember my mother. My mom was always the first to volunteer for causes near and dear to her heart. She had over the years served on the board of many phenomenal nonprofit organizations that were dedicated to a long list of community causes, including children’s services across the border in Tijuana, Mexico, and arts activities throughout Southern California; she was often found in her happiest moments cohosting fundraisers alongside such Hollywood luminaries as Dick Van Patten, Carol Burnett, and one of my favorite campy vixens of the silver screen, Yvonne de Carlo. Designers Showcase, the Assistance League of San Diego County, and the Salvation Army were her favorite initiatives. They were able to do more because of my mom. She was a multiplier of everyone’s combined talents and they were all blessed to have my mom on their go-to fundraising and organizing skills.

Mom didn’t just stay on the West Coast, though, pitching in on a good cause! She often paid visits to Albany, where she braved the fall temperatures to raise the funds necessary to launch a new health pandemic publication: seen through the unique prism of the arts and literature, the full spectrum of AIDS and culture as well as cover stories with AIDS advocates, many of whom in the early days were celebrities bringing needed awareness to the greater crisis.A&U grew to a large national distribution in all fifty states, thanks in part to fundraisers overseen by my mom. For one, hundreds of volunteers with Sharpies handwrote on balloons the names of famous artists and performers who had died from AIDS-related causes, from Klaus Nomi to Peter Allen to Freddie Mercury to Keith Haring and Robert Mapplethorpe. And with local community activists at her side, the lady from SoCal let go the bouquet of balloons. The headline in the local Hearst newspaper wasn’t altogether positive. Who was this patrician AIDS organizer and and why was she releasing hundreds of shiny red helium balloons into the bright blue skies of a crisp November afternoon from the proscenium of Washington Park’s outdoor playhouse? My mom, that’s who.

When I see how the AIDS community has responded to the COVID-19 pandemic, I am reminded of my mother’s take-charge spirt. This startling swift-moving pandemic requires immediate and sustained action, and that’s why we decided to dedicate an entire issue to this new virus in our lives. In this month’s cover story, written by Managing Editor Chael Needle, A&U asked advocates from around the country to weigh in on how to survive and thrive during a pandemic——especially one that isolates us even as it forges a community. Senior Editor Hank Trout has curated a Gallery, asking artists to offer an image that responds to isolation and a reflection about what it means to take shelter from a storm. Trout, along with fellow columnists John Francis Leonard, Corey Saucier, and Jeannie Wraight, all trace how COVID-19 is impacting the lives of people living with HIV/AIDS. Norman Belanger, in a resonant piece of fiction, offers a compelling look at staying safe. And in The Culture of AIDS, our editors share what they are reading during lockdown.

In the very early days of this magazine, my mom would drive all over San Diego County in her very practical maroon Volvo, delivering what was then the first glossy HIV/AIDS magazine in the United States. It was then called Art & Understanding (now known as A&U: America’s AIDS Magazine). So I am being literal, not figurative when I say this: She always went the extra mile for me.

I love you, Mom.


David Waggoner is Editor in Chief and Publisher of A&U, the first national HIV/AIDS magazine in the U.S.