Amy Herman, AIDS Warrior, Celebrated

NYAC leader, who died in July, recalled as tireless, effective, and kind

Veterans of AIDS wars in the state had a sorrowful but uplifting reunion in Hell’s Kitchen on October 26 to remember Amy Herman, former executive director of the New York AIDS Coalition, whose quiet determination and savvy secured the funding that got services for those living with HIV into a vast array of communities and the policies that made prevention and treatment work.

Herman died at 53 this past July after a long bout with cancer.

Joe Pressley, the current executive director of NYAC, said, “Amy came to NYAC with a wealth of experience working on social justice issues,” including a stint as the training coordinator at Legal Services for the city. During her tenure at the group, she was able to increase its budget from $100,000 to more than a million and bring scores of community-based organizations into the coalition.

“It is so easy to celebrate someone who was so pivotal to my personal and professional development,” he said.

Joanna Omi, now with corporate planning and HIV services at the city’s Health and Hospitals Corporation, recalled the key role Herman played in shaping the Ryan White Planning Council that oversees disbursement of federal AIDS funds here in the city.

“She understood what a planning council was supposed to do and created something wonderful,” Omi said, “a public-private partnership” and “an opportunity for consumers to be heard through community organizations.”

Elizabeth Levine recalled Herman as “a great boss” who was “incredibly fair, funny, and loyal.” Levine was determined to find her a boyfriend, “but when I suggested men, she’d say, ‘He’s gay,’ or ‘He’s married.’ She was really married to the work.”

Reverend John Magisano, who also served on her staff, said Herman “had a laser-like focus that could be really scary, but it was a focus on what could be accomplished. People like Amy were building from scratch and believed that the power is in us to do it.”

Magisano said Herman is “the example of someone who knew the work isn’t how much noise you can make, but the effect that you have.” He remembered the satisfaction in her eyes when New York finally enacted syringe availability legislation, knowing “lives would be saved.” But, he said, “that didn’t last long and she would get on to the next thing.”

Wendy Hoefler, former coordinator of the Staten Island HIV Care Network, shared much with Herman, including illness.

“She knew how important it was to live life as if we were not sick, to not let us conquer us,” Hoefler said.

The program for the event, held at the Ryan/Chelsea Clinton Community Health Center, noted that as her eight-year struggle with cancer concluded at Calvary Hospital, “countless visits were made by an array of family, friends, and colleagues.”

This reporter bumped into a white-haired woman on the way to sit down for the celebration.

“I’m only the mother,” Sylvia Herman said.

Told how much her daughter meant to the fight against AIDS and how genuinely nice she was in a field with some pretty rough characters, Sylvia Herman said, “That’s what everybody tells me,” before adding that the information offered some consolation for the incalculable loss of her child.

Donations in Amy Herman’s memory can be made to the New York AIDS Coalition-Amy Herman Fund, 231 W. 29th St., Suite 1002, New York, NY 10001.

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