Portion of AIDS quilt returned to San Francisco 

After losing his best friend to AIDS in 1986, AIDS Memorial Quilt founder and longtime San Francisco resident Cleve Jones was desperate to put a face on the pandemic.

"I was standing at Castro and Market one day and I realized — thousands died of AIDS, and they all really lived within six blocks of where I was standing," Jones said. "More importantly, there was no evidence of them ever being there, so I got angry. I thought, ‘If this was ameadow with 1,000 corpses rotting in the sun, others would understand they were human beings and would be compelled to respond.’"

Jones then created what turned into a 40,000-panel, 50-ton quilt representing those who had succumbed to the disease, sewn by the loved ones of the fallen. He will be in The City today as a special guest speaker for the display of one of the quilt’s many panels at the San Francisco Columbarium’s Day of Remembrance ceremony. This will be the third time the quilt has come to the columbarium — and the facility’s Family Service Director, Matt Outcalt, said it is just as emotional every year.

Local effort evolved into national legal battle 

"It’s a San Francisco story in a lot of ways — [the quilt] started here," Outcalt said. "I think it’s really important to keep awareness of AIDS and HIV in our consciousness," Outcalt said.

The quilt was wrapped up in a two-year legal battle beginning in 2004, as Jones sued the Atlanta-based Names Project Foundation, which owns and manages the quilt. He claimed, among other things, that he had been fired for pushing a plan to showcase the quilt in Washington, D.C. The case was settled in December, and Jones was awarded 35 pieces of the quilt, including the original panel, as long as he created a nonprofit organization to showcase it. Much of the quilt is kept in Atlanta.

Dione Bowers, who lost her son Stewart to AIDS in 1991, requested that the panel representing him come back to San Francisco. The panel, which is displayed near the columbarium’s door, is a replica of Stewart’s middle school woodshop project and is made of his clothing.

"The quilt is pretty powerful — it plays an important part in awareness," Bowers said.

The remembrance ceremony is open to the public and will be held at 2 p.m. at the San Francisco Columbarium, 1 Lorraine Court.

eeconomides@examiner.com

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