“Elegant Fighter, Tough Customer”
One of aids activism’s greats, Linda Grinberg, died on Memorial Day of a heart attack, the result of AIDS-related pulmonary hypertension. She had just turned 51.
When I first laid eyes on Linda, she was testifying at a Food and Drug Administration Advisory Committee meeting about a new antiretroviral. It was so many years ago, I can’t even remember which drug was up for approval, but I distinctly remember her fiery passion.
Linda’s father, Sherman, was a film-industry mogul, and Linda was a rich and beautiful child of Hollywood. She didn’t have to enter the AIDS war with guns blazing, but she did, from the moment of her diagnosis in 1991 with CD4 cells below 50. For the next 11 years, she worked incessantly to make the latest HIV meds accessible not only to herself but to HIVers worldwide.
With her own money, Linda helped establish the Structured Treatment Interruption Working Group, which played a critical role in fostering early research into once-forbidden drug holidays, and founded the Foundation for AIDS and Immune Research, which has funneled millions of dollars into innovative immunology. She was a driving force behind the Fair Pricing Coalition, which recently won two-year HIV-med price freezes from GlaxoSmithKline, Pfizer and Abbott.
Linda got far more from her beloved father than funds for these cutting-edge causes. She often spoke of the style and grace with which he mastered his cancer diagnosis and his quest to survive -- all qualities she inherited. Her own health struggles were marked by generosity, perseverance and a lust for life. She was an elegant fighter, but a tough customer nonetheless.
We became good friends through our work as cochairs of the Coalition for Salvage Therapy (CST), which marked a significant development in the evolution of treatment activism. I got to really see her shine in the pre-protease days of the epidemic as great philosophical tensions rose up between activists from the East and the West coasts -- the latter emphasized immediate, wide access to new meds while the former pushed for more solid drug data. It was in the context of these tensions that Linda’s achievements stand out.
Until the CST’s founding in 1998, treatment activists were unable to work together for long before controversy would erupt. But Linda changed all that forever. Her friendships with Martin Delaney of San Francisco’s Project Inform and with Mark Harrington of New York City’s Treatment Action Group pulled the two sides together. Working as the unofficial mediator, she single-handedly brought about a new cooperation between East and West that survives today.
Linda was a formidable opponent whose constant flood of calls and e-mails had the capacity to both overwhelm and instigate. Her boundless energy for activism will be sorely missed, now more than ever.
Lynda Dee is ED of AIDS Action Baltimore, Inc. and a board member of Treatment Action Group. Contributions may be made in Linda’s name to the Foundation for AIDS and Immune Research. Make checks out to FAIR and send them to: 356 Skyeway Road, Los Angeles, CA 90049.