Robert Marsh of Laguna Niguel, who was diagnosed as having AIDS in 1981 and who was believed to be the longest-surviving AIDS patient in Orange County, has died while visiting his sister in San Antonio, Tex.
Marsh, 48, a founding member of the AIDS Services Foundation in Costa Mesa, died peacefully while watching television Sunday evening, according to Steve Peskind, director of services for the AIDS Services Foundation, which provides professional and volunteer support services to people with AIDS.
Marsh was diagnosed with Kaposi's sarcoma, a rare skin cancer associated with AIDS, in early 1981, a year before a name had even been given to the disease, which destroys the body's immune system.
In recent months, Peskind said, "his cancer was spreading rapidly and he was experiencing more and more physical compromise because of the cancer."
Marsh was one of 213 Orange County residents who have so far been diagnosed with AIDS, according to the Orange County Health Care Agency's AIDS program, and he is the 126th county resident to die from the disease for which there is no known cure.
Marsh, whose experience with AIDS was chronicled by The Times last August, was a native of Dayton, Ohio, who moved to Laguna Beach in 1960. A year later, he met Crawford Hartley, who became his companion for the next 22 years. Hartley, who later managed the Coast Inn in Laguna Beach where Marsh worked as a bartender, died of AIDS in January, 1983.
In an interview with The Times, Marsh said that "when Crawford died, it was probably the most devastating thing that's ever happened to my life."
Throughout his five years as an AIDS patient, however, friends said that Marsh retained his sense of humor.
"I have never from the beginning felt that I would die," Marsh said last August. "Ninety-nine percent of the time I'm optimistic, and when dealing with a disease like this, it certainly helps to be an optimist. The people I've seen who have died the fastest have been those who have been negative people. They looked for the worst in everything. They didn't have a chance before they started."
Peskind said that Marsh had been on limited chemotherapy until a month ago.
"As a long-term survivor who continued to live with AIDS with a great deal of dignity he was definitely an inspiration to others who have just been diagnosed or are attempting to live gracefully with this disease," said Peskind.
Funeral services for Marsh, who is survived by his mother and two sisters, were conducted at 11 a.m. Thursday at Pacific View Mortuary in Corona del Mar. Marsh had requested that memorial donations be made to the AIDS Services Foundation.