Paul Kelly, AIDS victims' advocate

March 12, 1995|By Fred Rasmussen | Fred Rasmussen,Sun Staff Writer

Paul F. Kelly, whose personal struggle with drug addiction left him HIV-positive and made him a nationally recognized advocate for those similarly afflicted, died Thursday of acquired immune deficiency syndrome at Fort Howard Veterans Hospital. He was 42.

The Walbrook resident, who had grown up in the South Bronx in New York, became addicted at 12 and spent most of the next two decades addicted to drugs and alcohol. He recalled living in vacant buildings and eating from garbage cans until he had a religious conversion and sought a cure.

He was diagnosed in 1984 as being HIV-positive, a likely result of sharing drug needles. In 1986, he quit drugs.

On World AIDS Day in 1991, Mr. Perry stood in Unity United Methodist Church and announced that he had the human immunodeficiency virus.

"I'd rather have people to know what I have, how I live with it and how I took what the world perceived to be a lemon and made lemonade out of it," he told The Sun in 1992. "I'm not doing it for ego. I'm doing it to let other people know that they can self-disclose if they want to, that they can live with it."

Yesterday, Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke called Mr. Kelly "an outspoken, articulate advocate for AIDS prevention and research. He knew of the devastating impact of AIDS, especially on Baltimore's African-American community."

At his death, Mr. Kelly was a consultant to AIDS-related and substance-abuse organizations, and he lectured throughout the country. He participated in the development of Baltimore's needle exchange program, which began last year.

Speaking at the fifth annual Baltimore City-Baltimore County AIDS conference in 1992, Mr. Kelly grimly suggested a formula to compute the rapidly surging AIDS and HIV cases in the area:

"Multiply each known case by five sexual partners and five injection partners, and you get a sense of the numbers yet to come."

Mike Wright, director of ambulatory care services at Liberty Medical Center where Mr. Kelly was a consultant, said: "He was a strong-willed person, and that's what drove him. He wasn't dismayed over the spread of the disease -- it made him do what he did."

Dr. Henry N. Blansfield, who described Mr. Kelly as a "phenomenon of self-redemption," invited him to speak to students at an alternative high school in Danbury, Conn., where the doctor lives. "His presentation to the students in my hometown will never be forgotten.

"His death is a significant loss to the campaign to educate society. His regal bearing, his deep and abiding concern for others and his huge intelligence will be sorely missed. He undoubtedly was a descendant of African kings."

Paul Kawata, executive director of the National Minority AIDS Council, said in a telephone interview from Denver: "He was a hero in this epidemic. He stood for justice, equality and human rights for all people living with this virus. His was a voice of compassion and truth and we will miss his voice."

Services are scheduled for 7 p.m. Tuesday at Unity United Methodist Church, Edmondson Avenue and Stricker Street.

He is survived by his wife of a year, the former Bernette Jones, director of the Baltimore Urban League's youth employment institute; his father, Jake Kelly of Quincy, Fla.; his mother, Emma Kelly of New York City; two brothers, John Kelly of Baltimore, and Michael Kelly of New York City; and a stepdaughter, Kameel Holmes of Baltimore.

Memorial contributions may be made to the Paul F. Kelly Legacy Fund, 2200 Walbrook Ave., Baltimore 21216.

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