"She could have done something smaller. It was like an enormous storm came into her life and she absorbed its power. Her sails opened and she harnessed the power of the wind."
That was Elizabeth Glaser, according to Josh Baran, who was among the friends on Sunday recalling her fierce dedication and tireless efforts to raise money and awareness of AIDS. Glaser died Saturday from AIDS-related complications at the age of 47.
While she raced against an ever-ticking clock, Glaser never lost her love of life and continued to inspire those around her even as she struggled with the devastating effects of AIDS.
Through her very public work, "Elizabeth became more of who she already was," said Susan DeLaurentis, who with Glaser and Susan Zeegan co-founded the Pediatric AIDS Foundation. At the end of 1993 the group had raised $23 million.
"She said we have the answers if we look inside ourselves, and she used a lot of that inner strength to go and make the difference that she did," said DeLaurentis.
"She instilled a sense of adventure in everyone. If you wanted to be her friend, you had to be adventurous, you had to throw caution to the wind and embrace life. She would challenge me to do things, not just with the foundation, with everything, going on a trip somewhere, from the mundane to the magnificent."
Added Zeegan: "The work she did was a lifeline, and it helped her find the strength to be vocal and pro-active. . . . More than anything she taught us to appreciate every day and live life the best we can, knowing that we've been loving and kind each day."
For Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), Glaser was her hero.
"If I have one-tenth of her courage as I lead my public life and my private life," she said, "I will indeed be fortunate. She came to me when I was serving on the budget committee of the House of Representatives. She taught me that pediatric AIDS needed special attention and it was getting none. I got her appointments with the speaker of the House, the leader of the House and the key players in Congress. I also brought her before the budget committee to testify. I knew once the door was open she would never be denied. She wasn't. But now we must continue to fight, as lonely as it will be without (her)."
"She was always looking on the constructive side of things, never on the competitive," said Dr. Michael Gottlieb, Glaser's personal physician and a member of the Pediatric AIDS Foundation's advisory board.
"The whole spirit of the foundation was to break down the walls between the labs--to get scientists and doctors to brainstorm and cooperate."
Still, Gottlieb said, it was Glaser's "strong competitive spirit" that fueled her dedication.
"I never got on a tennis court with her, and for good reason," he said. "She went full-throttle with whatever she did. She realized she had what it took to move people, move people to give money for this cause, and that she had a unique gift. . . . I think there was an initial phase in confronting the HIV virus and accepting it, and then she quickly moved beyond the fear and discovered she had the power to change things."
Glaser contracted the HIV virus through a blood transfusion in 1981, then passed it on to her two children. Her daughter, Ariel, died in 1988, and son Jake, now 10, has been diagnosed HIV positive. Her husband, director Paul Michael Glaser, did not become infected.
Baran, a public relations consultant who worked with Elizabeth Glaser, recalled being in her dining room when she was just forming the Pediatric AIDS Foundation.
"It was late one night and she asked me to come over. Her daughter was in the hospital, and she said she couldn't save Ari, but she had to do something to raise awareness. I said, 'Here are the choices. You can do fund-raisers and bake sales, small things, or you can do big things.' And she said, 'I want to do the biggest possible thing. I don't have time. I'm on a different timetable. I have no patience.' . . .
"Within a few weeks we were meeting with senators, and with President Reagan. She had an enormous fire in her belly and determination that was unstoppable. . . . Everything she did was about saving the lives of her children and other children. I don't think she even thought about saving her own life."
Baran was with Glaser at the Democratic National Convention in 1992 when she gave an impassioned speech about the need to take action in the fight against AIDS.
"It was an extraordinary moment," he recalled. "She had so memorized her speech that it allowed her to make it completely come from her heart. Suddenly the rabble became quiet and you could feel the connection, could feel her touching the hearts of millions of people at that moment. She later said she felt the presence of her daughter holding her hand at the podium. After that she was in a state of exhilaration. We went out and drank tequila until 2 a.m.
"To us that speech was remarkable--but no more remarkable than the rest of her life."