Clare Reilly was just 23-years old when her father died of AIDS in 1990. Today, she participates annually in the AIDS Walk & 5K Run to honor his memory—and to share with her two young sons the values her father imparted to her: To be generous and caring, and to help those in need.
“He died in February, 1990 so it was still during a time when there was an incredible amount of stigma about the disease,” Reilly said. “On top of that, to watch him suffer and die, was obviously very difficult.”
Reilly’s father, John W. Reilly, was born in 1930 in St. Paul, Minnesota and was raised in a conservative, working-class Irish family. “It was not the best time to come out as a gay man, so he suppressed it and got married and had kids. But it was not who he was,” Reilly said.
Her father eventually came out and her parents separated, though they remained close. When her father was dying in 1989, Reilly’s mother took him back into her home to care for him. Reilly graduated from college that same year and instead of going out to find a job, she returned home to New York to help her mother care for her father.
“That was a very difficult time, but in so many ways, I feel grateful to have had that time with him, to show him that I loved him, to make his days a little easier, and to come to some acceptance of it ,” she said.
Today, Reilly lives in Jamaica Plain with her husband and their two sons, age four and seven. They participate in the AIDS Walk & 5K Run as a family.
“It’s such a fun day. And it’s a really good day to tell them stories about my father,” Reilly said. “We don’t focus on the negative. I tell them what a great man he was and that he would have loved them very much. We talk about how sad it is that he had to die before he got to meet them. It’s such a great way that my husband and I are able to instill in our kids the value of taking care of other people.”
In a simple email she sends out to friends and family to let them know about her participation in the AIDS Walk & 5K Run, Reilly wrote: “My father was a complex man, but he was undoubtedly the most generous and caring man I have ever known. And he believed strongly in helping those in need. Those are the qualities, more than any others, I want my children to develop. And walking to raise money for people who are struggling with AIDS today is one of the ways I can show them that this is what is important to us — we take care of others less fortunate, we do all we can to ease suffering, and we try to make the world a better place, even if it's just in small ways.”
This year’s AIDS Walk & 5K Run takes place Sunday, June 2. It draws 10,000 to 15,000 participants and is AIDS Action’s largest annual fundraiser. The Walk is 6.2-miles long. The 5K Run is a competitive, timed event, and is fully sanctioned by the USA Track & Field Association. The AIDS Walk & 5K Run will begin and end at the DCR Hatch Memorial Shell on the Charles River Esplanade in Boston. Registration and check-in begins at 7:30 a.m. The Walk begins at 10 a.m.; the 5K Run begins at 9:50 a.m. WCVB-TV Eye Opener Newscaster Randy Price will emcee the event, which also includes a Wellness Festival. Participants can register for the AIDS Walk & 5K Run at www.aidswalkboston.org. There is neither a registration fee nor a minimum funds raised requirement in order to participate in the Walk. The 5K Run is $25 to register. AIDS Action expects to raise approximately $1 million from participants.
Visit the AIDS Walk Boston & 5K Run website for more information. To donate to Reilly, please visit her AIDS Walk fundraising page.