W. Ross Milstead, 34, delivered AIDS talks Volunteer with HERO appeared at schools in Baltimore area

November 06, 1995|By Donna R. Engle | Donna R. Engle,SUN STAFF

Before AIDS killed W. Ross Milstead, he had something to say about the humanity of people with AIDS and how to avoid the disease, and he said it to thousands of students in Baltimore City and Howard and Baltimore county schools.

Mr. Milstead died Friday at the Towson home of his parents, Melvin G. and Nancy L. Milstead, after fighting for a decade through multiple infections related to acquired immune deficiency syndrome. He would have been 35 yesterday and had planned a birthday party.

He was an alcoholic when he learned he was HIV-positive in 1984, but he "got sober and helped a lot of other people to get sober," Mrs. Milstead said. He began speaking publicly about his condition and what it meant to live with AIDS about six years ago. He volunteered as a speaker with the Health Education Resources Organization (HERO) and fought protests against his appearances in the Howard County schools.

When Mr. Milstead was scheduled to speak at Glenwood Middle School in Howard County in 1992, opponents petitioned the school board to bar his appearance.

"In the front line of this battle, he made a difference in the Howard County education system by putting himself on the line despite all the negativity and animosity that came from a few people," said Lenwood "Lennie" Green, his speaking partner in the county school system's disability awareness program.

Mr. Green said that when he spoke at Glenwood Middle the year after Mr. Milstead's appearance, the opponents stayed away.

Mr. Green and Mr. Milstead were scheduled to speak Friday at Mayfield Woods Middle School in Columbia, but Mr. Milstead was too ill. Mr. Green said that, as his friend lay dying, he thought about Mr. Milstead's belief that it was important to go on, no matter what the obstacles.

"So that's what I did," he said.

Mr. Milstead attended Towson High School. He was teaching ballroom dancing in Florida when he was diagnosed as having the human immunodeficiency virus. He returned to Baltimore, where a friend sponsored him in Alcoholics Anonymous and introduced him to Fran Fitch, who came to admire him through six years as his psychotherapist.

Mr. Milstead's friends probably didn't know how sick he was, because he kept making plans and tried to be active, Ms. Fitch said. She said she didn't realize the severity of his condition until he was hospitalized three weeks ago.

"I walked in, and I knew," she said.

She and Mr. Milstead started working on his obituary.

"He said, 'I'm not afraid of dying. I'm afraid of leaving all my friends,' " she said.

Mr. Milstead was an interior designer with John Stone Interiors since 1992.

Friends praised Mr. Milstead's creativity and design ability, which showed in the flair with which he dressed.

A memorial service is scheduled at 2 p.m. Nov. 18 at Towson Presbyterian Church, 400 W. Chesapeake Ave.

Surviving, in addition to his parents, are a brother, Barry N. Milstead of Towson; his grandmother, Marian I. Swett of Baltimore; and his godmother, Trula N. Hoffman of Towson.

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