Matt Redman, who co-founded AIDS Project Los Angeles in 1982 with Nancy Cole Sawaya, Ervin Munro and Max Drew, was remembered Sunday afternoon in West Hollywood City Chambers as a man of courage, integrity and determination. Redman, who believed he acquired HIV disease in the late 1970s,died Dec. 27 of cardiopulmonary arrest in Southern California Hospital at Culver City. He was 67.
The memorial was a casual reunion of family, friends, and longtime AIDS activists. West Hollywood City Councilmember John Duran, flanked by photos of Redman through various stages of his life, recalled the times in the early 1980s when Redman, an interior designer, stepped up and became an AIDS warrior.
Redman “was a force to be reckoned with” as “we, as a community, walked through a plague. It was unprecedented,” Duran said, putting Redman, who helped create the AIDS Action Council, in the larger context the AIDS crisis. “There would have been no wedding cakes without that response.”
Duran joked that he could almost hear Redman “bark” in his ear as the out HIV-positive councilmember promised that Redman’s legacy of work would be permanently “enshrined in some way,” presumably at the AIDS Monument, which is being planned for West Hollywood Park. It’s important that LGBT kids know “they came from good stock,” Duran said.
Redman’s brother Brian Redman affectionately recalled how Matt was not as athletic as he was growing up. “But what he lacked in athletic ability, he made up foe in personality.” How un-athletic? Brian told of how he came to Los Angeles to film a public service announcement with Magic Johnson. “Who’s that?” Matt asked.
Brian Redman also joked about how Matt later told his brother, a huge Washington Redskins football fan, that he had dated famous record-setting tight end Jerry Smith. “Had he told me then, I’d still be in therapy now,” Brian Redman said to laughter. Smith contracted HIV/AIDS after he retired in 1977, dying of AIDS in 1986 at age 43.
Brian also talked about how his brother loved his wife and two daughters, who also attended the memorial with the love of Matt’s life, his former partner Tim. Brian shared how much the comments to the story about Matt’s death posted on APLA’s Facebook page mattered to him and his family, reading a few comments as an example.
APLA Health Chief Executive Officer Craig Thompson (pictured with WeHo City Councilmember John Heilman and Charles Robbins) noted that Redman spent more than half his life responding to AIDS at APLA. Thompson said he spent 20 of those years working for Redman, who was both a “visionary” and “an opinionated micro-manager,” a man with integrity who was “always concerned about ending the AIDS epidemic.” He was “relentless.”
Redman said from the very beginning that it was not enough to bury friends, Thompson recalled, pushing APLA to get involved with the important policy-making decisions at AIDS Action Council. Redman not only cared for the individual with HIV/AIDS but “he never lost sight of the bigger picture of ending the epidemic,” Thompson said.
Redman’s friend Fred Croton said he met Redman first over the phone, when Croton worked in the Cultural Affairs Department at Los Angeles City Hall. Redman called Croton to secure a space to hold an art auction and was told, “We can do that.” Twenty-five years later Croton discovered that Redman had gone everywhere to find a place for the auction and had been turned down until Croton’s important “yes.” Croton also quoted from John Milton’s poem “Paradise Lost” to underscore Redman’s “courage to never submit or yield.”
Jeff Jenest talked about how he bonded with Redman right away after joining APLA’s board of directors in 1992 because like him, Redman was also “loud.” Jenest said that as he endured several hip surgeries, Redman “knew how to deal with life that had stripped us of our more defining attributes.” Redman, Janest said, “was my best girlfriend and I will miss him all the days of my life.”
James Mason, who organized the memorial, knew Redman as both the body builder and a party girl at Probe. Once Redman called him for help to “practice” before a bowling date with a man Redman met on Grindr. Mason didn’t really know how to bowl but went along as a friend, meeting Redman outside a place in Koreatown with two armed guards at the door. Inside, they were the only white gay guys and their lane was sandwiched between a romantic couple making out and what Mason took to be tougher kids. He wasn’t so sure they belonged there.
Nonetheless, Redman needed the practice so they decided to bowl. However, Redman had arthritis in his joints and was only able to stand in a semi-squat and toss the bowling ball forward. It plunked down hard on the lane and rolled a bit before landing in the gutter. Mason wasn’t much better. But, he recalled, by the end of the game, the young people on either sides “were cheering us on,” and they felt the “joy, the love, the camaraderie” that came their way “just by being ourselves.”
Mason said he spoke with Redman just before Christmas and urged him to go to the doctor to check out a breathing issue. Redman said he would go later; he wanted to spend Christmas with his cat. “I think deep down in his heart, he knew it was time,” Mason said. “But he was at peace.”
Among those who attended the memorial were former APLA Board Chair David D. Wexler and his spouse David L. Beckerman. Wexler is widely credited with having saved APLA from bankruptcy when the agency experienced a $1 million deficit in 1989.
Also there were Randi Fine and her mother Sharon Weber, who worked with the late Dr. Joel Weisman at Pacific Oaks medical group.
Redman’s family and friends lingered at a reception long after the memorial concluded, not wanting to let go of the love and memories that brought them together.