Fenway Health is deeply saddened to hear that Larry Kessler passed away early on February 1. Larry helped lead the local and national response to HIV/AIDS and was one of the founders of the AIDS Action Committee of Massachusetts, heading up the organization from the 1980s through the early 2000s.
Larry was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in 1942 and spent time in his early life as both an ironworker and seminarian. He jumped into civil rights and anti-poverty work in his 20s, founding and directing Project Applachia in the late 1960s and co-founding and directing Pittsburgh’s Thomas Merton Center in the early 1970s. Larry then moved to Boston, working at the Paulist Center where he helped expand the Walk for Hunger into Project Bread.
Larry was running a small business called Copley Flair and serving on the Board of Fenway Community Health Center (now known as Fenway Health) in the early 1980s when the first reports of what would come to be known as HIV/AIDS began to emerge. Larry joined fellow board member John Stein in forming a special committee of Fenway’s Board of Directors that would eventually become AIDS Action, which incorporated as a standalone nonprofit in 1986 with Larry as its Executive Director and first employee.
Over the years that followed, AIDS Action would not only provide critical services for people living with HIV, but would create groundbreaking HIV prevention programs and educational campaigns and engage in vital public policy advocacy work. Larry and AIDS Action also founded the AIDS Walk, now known as Strides for Action, which over the years has raised millions of dollars for HIV services at AIDS Action, Fenway Health, and many other organizations.
In 1988, Larry was appointed to the National Commission on AIDS, which was created by Congress in response to President Ronald Reagan’s failure to respond to the recommendations of the President’s Commission on the HIV Epidemic.
Larry moved into the role of AIDS Action’s Founding Director in 2002 and retired in 2006. After a merger in 2013, AIDS Action and its programs and services once again became a part of Fenway Health. That same year, Larry was tapped by Victory Programs to run the Boston Living Center, which offered support groups, congregate meals, and other resources for people living with HIV. Larry retired for a second time in 2015. In his later years, Larry enjoyed spending time with his husband and friends, including many former AIDS Action staff members who considered him a valued mentor.
Our hearts go out to everyone who loved and cared for Larry.