The HIV/AIDS community lost a precious ally last Saturday.
I learned about Bob’s work, life and passing via The AIDS Memorial on Instagram. He spent his life fighting the good fight wherever it took him... which was, literally, around the world.
The following obituary, written by John Marino, was posted on The AIDS Memorial’s Facebook page.
Robert Wayne Starkey (1/20/1949 to 5/20/2023)
On January 20, 1949, Bob Starkey was the sixth of seven siblings born to Robert Henry and Mary Lillian Dreher Starkey in Danville, Illinois. He is survived by his sisters, Marlene Starkey Stevens of Sikeston, Missouri; Patricia Starkey Testa of Fort Worth, Texas; Barbara Starkey Talbert of Cameron, North Carolina; Sandra Starkey Peteway of Winston-Salem, North Carolina; and his brother, Steven Allen Starkey of Indianapolis, Indiana. He is preceded in death by his parents and his sister, Christy Jo Starkey Williamson of Danville, Illinois.
Bob graduated from the Danville High School in 1967. He attended Danville Community College, graduating in 1969 with a major in liberal arts. Following college, he worked as the Acquisitions Clerk for Rare Books at the University of Illinois/Champaign-Urbana. It was there that he mastered library sciences and developed archival skills that would serve him well throughout his career as an activist, world traveler, writer and photo-documentarian.
With his first husband, Larry Stevens, he moved to Fort Lauderdale in 1973 where he lived until 1976 when he was invited to speak as guest poet at the International Conference of the Metropolitan Community Church in Washington, DC. It was there that he was introduced to, and became the roommate of Frank Kameny, “one of the most significant figures” in the American Gay Rights Movement. By 1977, he had created the activist organization, Save our Children from Anita Bryant, who was seeking to overturn the Dade County, Florida, ordinance to protect the rights of gay people. Under the banner of Save Our Children, he organized a demonstration in Lafayette Park to call President Jimmy Carter’s attention to the civil rights abuses that faced LGBTQ community at that time. As co-delegate on a steering committee, he was instrumental in organizing the first gay Pride March on Washington in 1979.
While in Washington, DC, Bob met his soulmate, Robert Frank Villacari, forming a relationship that will forever be known as Rob and Bob. Their relationship is memorialized in the Story of Rob and Bob, a biographical memoir published on Facebook, Nextdoor, and Rob and Bob moved to San Francisco in 1982 during the early days of the AIDS epidemic. Together they created the Poppy Project to honor the memory of the many friends and others who had died of AIDS by planting California Poppies throughout the San Francisco Bay Area. In 1988, they toured Europe to promote the project internationally. When police brutally beat gay men in the Castro in 1989, as the Truth Fairy, they worked tirelessly to expose the abuse. From 1986 to 1989, Rob and Bob, with a group of friends, created and hosted the Friday Night Dinners. The dinners were open to people with AIDS, their friends and family, and others challenged by other illnesses. The purpose of the dinners was to create community, provide a good meal and to introduce the guests to alternative, traditional and holistic therapies at a time when the American medical community would not recognize the value of these measures.
In 1990, Rob and Bob sold all of their belongings, packed back packs and moved to Berlin where they observed the reunification of Germany and the fall of the Berlin Wall. From Berlin, they relocated to the south coast of the Crete.. In Loutro, they taught yoga in a 13th Century castle ruins. Rob died of AIDS in 1995. His ashes are spread in the castle ruins.
Following Rob’s death, Bob returned to the U.S., living and working in San Francisco, and later retiring to the Oakmont Community in Sonoma County. From 1995 to 2003, Bob dedicated himself to the task of banning smoking in restaurants, bars, airlines and other public spaces. For that effort, he created the website, In 2017, the Tubbs Fire forced a temporary evacuation of his home in Oakmont. During the evacuation he photographed the fire and the devastation it heaped upon the communities affected by the fire. With great determination, he was among the first people allowed to return to the burn area. He became the official photo-documentarian of the fire and the recovery effort.
In May, 2022, Bob returned to the Castle in Loutro after a 20 year absence … for the last time, having been diagnosed with multiple myeloma in 2019. His ashes will be spread in the Castle.
Bob will be long remembered by many lifelong friends, family and devoted on-line followers who enjoyed his adventures through his published writing and photography.