Nancy Sawaya, the co-founder of AIDS Project Los Angeles who publicly disclosed two months ago that she had contracted the disease, died Saturday in Sherman Oaks Community Hospital from a strain of pneumonia that is ordinarily harmless. She was 40.
Married and the mother of a 2-year-old adopted daughter, Mrs. Sawaya acknowledged in a Times interview in August that she had developed acquired immune deficiency syndrome, apparently from sexual encounters with several men before her marriage, at least one of whom later died of AIDS complications.
Her candor and remarks drew letters of encouragement from across the county, according to Matt Redman, AIDS Project Los Angeles vice chairman, and did much to combat the notion that AIDS is strictly a disease that affects homosexual men.
"I think anytime someone is able to be that open about it and to get that across to other individuals in the public, that it does a great deal of good," said Redman, who along with Mrs. Sawaya and two friends were credited with forming what has become the oldest and largest organization in Southern California providing educational and support services for AIDS victims.
The publicity, Redman continued, "brought her a great deal of joy hearing from others, from strangers even, and people who haven't been in her life for years."
Mrs. Sawaya had been a schoolteacher, model, actress and frequent social service volunteer. In 1982, she hosted a Christmas party to raise money for AIDS Project Los Angeles and ended up running its first client services operation.
She is survived by her husband, Louis; daughter, Morgan, and father. In lieu of flowers, the family requests that donations be made to the Sawaya Fund, in care of AIDS Project Los Angeles, 7362 Santa Monica Blvd., West Hollywood, Calif. 90046.