THE BLOG
12/12/2013 10:35 am ET Updated Feb 11, 2014

New York's Great AIDS Activist, Judy Peabody, Honored

"NOTHING IS coincidence, it is all fate" -- Mehmet Murat ildan.

• IT is rare that a social philanthropic event melds at the same time with a popular film, made with no intent of the two intersecting. This is one of those rare times.

We know about the critical success of Matthew McConaughey in the movie "The Dallas Buyers Club"--and of this actor's astonishing "comeback." At first he was just another pretty male face. Then, he was a kind of perpetually stripped-to-the-waist, running-on-the-beach, laid-back semi has-been. And then, he redeemed himself as an actor, in movies such as "Killer Joe" "Mud" and "Magic Mike."

• "The Dallas Buyers Club" is set in the 1980's. It tells of lowlife hard-living heterosexual (McConaughey) who had always disdained homosexuals. Then he discovers he has AIDS, in the emerging years of the fatal crisis when diagnosis meant death. . He is catapulted into a new conscientious awareness that these around him dying by the dozens are the same gays and transsexuals whom he despised. Nevertheless, he finds himself in the same boat because of the promiscuous unprotected sex that he was so fond of.

The only lifeline at the time were drugs that the medical community had not legalized, so people died by the hundreds with help "on the way." Matthew's real-life character became the catapult for a new way to save lives -- illegally. And he made a living doing just that.

He preserved his own existence and financed the saving of others by dealing in these drugs and questioning the medical establishment. (McConaughey lost a lot of weight to play this role. That, and his raw performance have been critically acclaimed. His co-star, Jared Leto has been equally hailed in the role of a gay transvestite.)

McConaughey's lowlife schemer went on selling illegal life-saving unapproved drugs in Dallas and environs. More or less, he made history, manifest in this bold movie.

• AROUND THIS time--the early 1980s--in Manhattan, a lovely woman named Judy Peabody, from the distinct upper crust, began her own private fight for AIDS sufferers, and physically nursed many of them, encouraged and spent time with people dying. She reconciled desperate ashamed parents into joining with their suffering children and stayed with the desperate, their heartbroken partners and she had plenty to choose from. She co-facilitated a care partners group for Gay Men's Health Crisis and raised a tremendous amount of money by enlisting the help for New York Presbyterian's benefit at Mortimer's restaurant which put an approved face on charity, the Fete de Famille. (Many still recall that era--a terrible time in which even the most sophisticated and liberal people in the upper echelons were so fearful of AIDS that they shunned their gay friends, abandoned their hairdressers and decorators and eschewed kissing, even socially.)

Later, in 1984, Dr. Mathilde Krim and Elizabeth Taylor founded AmFAR, eventually bringing in stars such as Sharon Stone and Madonna and Kenneth Cole, raising legal money. I was one of the earliest board members. AmFAR was and is a valiant, valuable organization, but at the time it was late already.

• DESPITE substantial fundraising, Judy Peabody kept inserting herself physically into the scene. She was tireless.

Now a dedicated group has opened a Wellness Center at 53 W. 23rd Street and they have wisely named it after Judith Peabody who died more than three years ago.

Many who are ill with AIDS and other diseases don't yet know about the Wellness Center which opened its doors and many hearts downtown in Manhattan. Judy's husband, Sam, and their daughter, Elizabeth, are prime movers behind the Wellness Center. At the recent official opening Sam made a wonderful speech about his happy marriage to Judy and how gratified she would be to know of this new happening. (As for AIDS, there are now 30 drugs to choose from. The Center also offers help for other chronic diseases.)

The Center is handsome in a beautifully designed complex that is welcoming and named for a terrific woman, who was one of a kind. Dr. Jonathan Jacobs of New York Presbyterian made a great speech at the opening of the Wellness Center. It is staffed with professionals and volunteers seeking promising new therapies for those without hope.

Dr. Jacobs deplored the reality that is poverty, substance abuse, mental illness and the inadequacies of the current health system. He noted that if one is an African-American gay, he still has a 30 percent chance of AIDS infection. That is much higher than in Nigeria where they have a sister clinic. Many women, victims of domestic violence, are finding succor in the Wellness Center. The Center tries to track the sick and then act, not just write a prescription.

I am sorry I've been so long in writing about this opening and the terrific party it generated of helping hands. Why not go there and see if you want to volunteer your services, time and money, as Judy Peabody did in her amazing all-too-short life!