Around 10 years ago when I became Editor of POSITIVELY AWARE magazine, I joined the AIDS Treatment Activists Coalition, and met many of the country’s leading HIV/AIDS activists for the very first time. One of those activists was Bob Munk. Bob and I immediately hit it off and took a liking to one another, perhaps because we were similar in disposition, each of us having a dry sense of humor and sardonic wit (although his was much drier and wittier), but for me it was more likely because of that smile, that big grin that just sucked you right in.
I recall being so overwhelmed when I first started my job as editor that I approached him and asked, “How do you do it? How do you stay on top of everything?” He readily admitted it wasn’t easy, but that he did a lot of reading and researching to keep up. I admired his honesty and ability to put me right at ease, and for being so gracious with his counsel and advice. We would go on to work together over the years, he as a recurring writer and guest editor for POSITIVELY AWARE, and both of us serving together on various advisory boards and committees.
One of my initial impressions of Bob was, Wow, what a sweet guy! And he really was, he was genuinely a sweet and lovable person with an incredible generosity of spirit. But there was another side to Bob I would see from time to time at meetings with pharmaceutical companies that would leave me in awe. Bob didn’t always speak as much as some people did at these meetings, but when he did, he definitely had something to say. He could drive home a point with such deftness, and so swiftly and succinctly, that they wouldn’t see it coming and were often left speechless and scrambling for a response. Bob would always fight for the underdog and underrepresented communities and populations, emphasizing that not only should a drug be studied in these groups, but made available to them after approval.
I last saw Bob at the United States Conference on AIDS in San Diego last fall. Bob’s health had been in decline in recent years due to a debilitating neurological condition that eventually left him in a wheelchair. He would still make it to meetings and conferences even though he could no longer get around that easily. Bob and his husband, Enoch, have a place in San Diego and they had invited me to visit one afternoon after the conference. Enoch picked us both up at the convention center and we all rode back to their condo, where we shared some laughs and had an enjoyable conversation over a drink or two. I will always cherish that memory.
This past July, feeling exhausted but exhilarated after a full day of crewing for TPAN’s annual Ride for AIDS Chicago, I quickly checked Facebook, only to discover that Bob had just passed away. As I stood in a parking lot with other supporters and crew, cheering on riders as they arrived at camp, I struggled to fight back the tears, realizing I’d never see my friend and mentor again.
This issue of POSITIVELY AWARE on HIV basics is dedicated to the memory of Bob Munk. You see, Bob, probably more than any other person, helped to make HIV/AIDS information accessible and understandable to people in the U.S. and around the world through a website he created called AIDS Info Net. AIDSInfoNet.org continues to provide fact sheets filled with HIV/AIDS treatment information presented in a non-technical format at 8th or 9th grade reading level, and available in various languages. It required a lot of work to keep all of those fact sheets updated but Bob managed to do it, and did it well, until he decided a few years ago to entrust the project to those who he knew could continue the work, which I know he was grateful to be able to do.
I say all of this to remind us that we all have the ability and opportunity to help educate and inform each other by being honest, clear, concise, and most importantly, generous in our gifts to one another. Thank you, Bob Munk, for your gifts, and for leaving the world a little bit better than the way you found it.
Take care of yourself and each other.