HIV Community Mourns Loss Of Ground Breaking Leader

By Todd Heywood

LANSING - The HIV and AIDS Service Organization community is mourning the loss of Kaye McDuffie. McDuffie, 59, passed away this week from undisclosed causes. A memorial service was held Saturday at the Riley Funeral Home, 426 W. St. Joseph St, Lansing.

Jake Distel, executive director of the Lansing Area AIDS Network, where McDuffie worked as an early intervention prevention specialist, said he was crushed by her loss. He said McDuffie had come to be not only a mentor to him, and countless others, but also a "cherished" friend.

"It was as clear then as it is now, that the level of Kaye's compassion, integrity, and honesty were unmatched. Her commitment to social justice was unwavering and she actively battled the ugliness of HIV stigma, racism, homophobia, and all forms of social prejudice," Distel said in an email to Between the Lines. "She has impacted my life in ways that she was probably unaware of. More importantly the loss of Kaye McDuffie to our shared communities is profound."

Distel noted that McDuffie had mentored many young people, introducing them to a world where compassion would overcome hatred, indifference and fear.

One of those young people was Becky McKendry, who volunteered at the Lansing Area AIDS Network when she was a teenager.

"Kaye always made me feel like my thoughts or ideas were valuable, and I will never be able to explain how much that meant to me. Especially at that time in my life. She genuinely helped me on my path to becoming a happy, healthy and focused adult. It was totally commonplace for her to stay late after work and a five-minute chat in the parking lot would turn into a hour or more, or a little walk around the building, while she asked me about my future, my writing and that sort of thing," McKendy said in an email to BTL. "And maybe this is the best way to put it into perspective: by all accounts, I absolutely should have been a tertiary character in her life. Just some kid who volunteered at her job for a little while. And still, in the small amount of time we did have together, she made such an incredible impact on me and my self-esteem. I have never been able (and would never have been able) to thank her enough for that."

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