Gunther Freehill, a leader in the 1980s of the AIDS protest group ACT UP Los Angeles who later became a recognized expert on AIDS policy as an official with the L.A. and D.C. health departments, died July 15 in his home in Washington of complications from heart surgery. He was 60.
Friends and colleagues said Freehill, who was gay, retained his passion for addressing the plight of people with HIV/AIDS when in the 1990s he gave up his role as a firebrand activist and organizer of AIDS protest rallies to become a bureaucrat in city AIDS offices in L.A. and D.C.
“In his field, he was renowned as an expert, locally and nationally, especially in the administration of the Ryan White CARE Act and other HIV/AIDS public programs,” a memorial statement released by the D.C. Department of Health says.
“His tireless work ethic and devotion to public services has helped save millions of taxpayer dollars and has positively impacted tens of thousands of lives,” the statement says.
At the time of his death, Freehill served as the Care, Housing & Support Services Bureau Chief at the HIV/AIDS, Hepatitis, Sexually Transmitted Disease and Tuberculosis Administration (HAHSTA), which is an arm of the D.C. Department of Health.
Freehill began working at HAHSTA in 2005 after having worked from 1998 to 2005 as Director of Public Affairs for the L.A. County Office of AIDS Programs and Policy (OAPP).
Guy Weston, executive director of D.C. Care, a local consortium that provides services for people with HIV/AIDS, called Freehill a “virtual encyclopedia of knowledge” on local and federal AIDS programs that HAHSTA uses to assist people with HIV.
“You might not have agreed with all of his positions, but you had to respect his passion, commitment, and all that he accomplished on behalf people with HIV/AIDS in D.C. and beyond,” Weston said.
Freehill was born in Melvin, Ill., and was the second youngest in a family of nine children, according to biographical information included in the memorial statement by the D.C. Department of Health.
He received a bachelor’s degree from the University of North Carolina and a master’s degree in international studies from the Claremont Colleges in California. He completed coursework toward a doctoral degree, the DOH statement says.
Freehill is survived by his former partner Raymond Reece of Yountville, Calif.; and seven brothers and a sister.
Interment was scheduled to be held July 24 at Strawn Cemetery in Strawn, Ill.