John William Lorenzini
25 Mar 1047 - 18 Jul 1990
In Their Own Words
John Lorenzini: A man dedicated to education By Nancy Melich, Tribune Staff Writer
John Lorenzini has the kind of voice that sounds as if it were permanently attached to a smile. Often it is.
His greeting is warm and immediately filled with humor as he introduces the master of the house, a big, fat, arrogant black cat named Christopher. "He clearly runs things around here as you might imagine," laughs Lorenzini.
A well-proportioned young man of medium height, he moves with the intensity of someone in a hurry. Yet when talking, his focus is extremely present, as if he has all the time in the world. The fact is he doesn't. In 1983, he became a national statistic. He is one of nearly 30,000 Americans to be diagnosed as having Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome, commonly known as AIDS.
The disease has broken down his immune system and left him with one of the two most common illnesses found in people with AIDS: Kaposi's sarcoma or KS, which is a form of skin cancer. (The other is Pneumocystis carini pneumonia, or PCP.) The chemotherapy treatment has temporarily lessened the spread of the KS, but he has no delusions about what the future holds. He is well aware of the fact that there is currently no treatment that will destroy the AIDS virus or restore the immune system.
"There are two choices when you find out you have AIDS," says Lorenzini matter-of-factly. "You can start focusing in quality of life with no guarantees about quantity, or basically accept the fact that you have a terminal illness and proceed to die."
Lorenzini has obviously selected the first. He spends most of his waking hours as a volunteer for AIDS Project Utah, a non-profit organization that operates out of his apartment via an AIDS hotline. He also will talk anytime, anywhere to any person or group interested in learning more about the fatal disease.
He has no car and no income other than Social Security Disability. (He was fired from his accounting job in California when he told the company about his illness.) He receives no financial or emotional support from his family in Nebraska. "They know I have AIDS, but they refuse to talk about it," he says without a trace of bitterness. "They have reacted in much the same way they did when I told them I was a homosexual."
When "As Is" director Dian McGlone asked him if he would come talk to her cast during rehearsals for the drama concerning AIDS, he gladly accepted. Though admitting the play — which centers on a homosexual couple in New York — contains stereotypes, he is pleased that Walk-Ons, Inc. has decided to produce it.
Not only am I pleased, I am extremely proud of them for doing the play," says Lorenzini, who is a also a Vietnam veteran. "Yes the characters could be considered stereotypes of gay men, but they are not stereotyped without reason. Promiscuity does exist in this fairly sex-oriented culture — which can also be said about the heterosexual community — but if he try to sweep [the unpleasantness] under the carpet, we are doing ourselves a disservice."
"The playwright William Hoffman is talking about New York, not Salt Lake City in 'As Is.' The issues in New York are much different than here, but nevertheless the play is a fair picture. It gives you a sense of what you can do. I'm particularly impressed with the character of the hospice worker."
Lorenzini says he would like to challenge the potential audience here "to go see the play and appreciate the opportunity afforded — to go and try and adopt an impartial view of a society you may not be a part of, and then begin to see the humanness that is there.
"You can walk into the theater with prejudice and walk out the same way. It would be like going to see 'Raisin in the Sun' and leaving the theater saying it meant nothing because there were no whites in the cast.
"Or you can go to the play and welcome the opportunity to learn. I think now is certainly the time for society to accept, tolerate and love people who are different. That is not to say that we should ever condone criminality, incest or violence of any kind, but the longer we are unable to accept others as they are, the longer the pestilence will continue."
Lorenzini moved to Salt Lake City a year ago from San Francisco where he became active in AIDS education projects. He came to Utah to assist in educating the community about the fatal disease.
"There have been 57 reported cases of AIDS in this state, the earliest being in 1981. Since that time 39 of those people have died, including four women and three children. That means over 10 percent of people diagnosed with AIDS in this state have been women and children! I find that a shocking statistic, especially when considering that the national percentages for women and children aren't anywhere near that high."
Lorenzini applauds the efforts of local and state organizations, in particular the Utah State Health Department, and the Salt Lake County Health Department, the Red Cross, the Community Nursing Service and particularly state epidemiologist Craig Nichols, all of whom he says are making a considerable difference.
"The kind of interest here, the kind of commitment, the numbers of people in this conservative community who are willing to take a chance, it is simply incredible. I commend them all for being so brave."
The same thing can be said of John Lorenzini.
John W. Lorenzini March 25, 1947 - July 18, 1990
John died in Berkeley, where, in a short week, he had won the hearts of his hospital nurses and staff. Present were his housemate, many friends, and his brother and sister-in-law. Days before his death, John finagled a “pass” to take a few friends and his amazed doctor to dinner at a local restaurant.
John was born to Robert Wane and Harriet E. Lombard Hamlett. He was raised by his mother and stepfather, Americo John Lorenzini in Nebraska, served as a diver (a Navy Seal) in Vietnam, and received his bachelor’s in accounting from SF State. But he often spoke of the time since his KS diagnosis in October 1983 as the best years of his life.
John became known for his down-to-earth teaching, which he used widely with both men and women at risk for AIDS, with health care providers and the general public. He liked the challenge of helping angry questioners turn their fears into positive action.
John is memorable for his ability to get the bureaucracy off its duff, such as the time he chained himself to the Federal Building in 1985 protesting the feds not releasing AIDS funding. An AIDS services advocate to the end, his last letter in July 1990 protested the lack of motorized services for PWAs in the Gay Day Parade (John had to sit on the sidelines).
Among John’s credits were founding member of SF PWA Switchboard and Mobilization Against AIDS, past co-chair NAPWA, past director PWAs SF, board of directors AIDS Action Council, vice-chair AIDS Advisory of Alameda County, AIDS committee of both Alice B. Toklas and Harvey Milk Democratic clubs. He spearheaded STOP AIDS Project of the East Bay and was curriculum developer and trainer with AIDS Project of the East Bay and AIDS Health Project.
John, your persistence, optimism, and compassion were an inspiration to many. We love you, and will never forget you. Contributions accepted in John’s name to Shanti in San Francisco and to The Center in Oakland.
- The Salt Lake Tribune (Salt LAke CIty, UT) Sunday, 15 Feb 1987, p.E3
- Bay Area Reporter (San Francisco, CA) Wednesday, 08 Aug 1990