David Irish remains a robust part of his family’s life, even after his death 25 years ago.
They celebrate the Greenwood native’s birthday every year. Special family meals include Yorkshire puddings, his favorite. Someone always has to shove a bite full of gravy into their mouth and yell out, “For David!”
Every year near the date of Irish’s death, his mother and two sisters go on a trip. They toast him with a Madras, his favorite cocktail, and wear corsages of yellow roses, which he bought his mother Margaret Irish every year for her birthday.
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“That’s the tribute we make, just so he’s not forgotten, so that my kids can hear the stories about him, and it’s ongoing,” said Julie Hustava, David Irish’s sister.
Traditions help keep David Irish’s memory alive. At the same time, a serene monument inside Crown Hill Cemetery helps honor him and other Indiana natives who have died from AIDS.
The Indiana AIDS Memorial was created to remember the impact the epidemic has had in the community. As people gathered Friday for the re-dedication of the monument, there was celebration of the progress that’s been made in the recognition of AIDS victims, but also resolve that much remains to be done.
“Hopefully, this brings more awareness to the memorial,” Hustava said. “(David) would be very pleased with this. He always talked about ‘The Cause,’ that we need to make people aware of it. That’s what this does. With all of the melting pot of names on there, it’s not just homosexuals. It runs the gamut.”
Under crisp blue skies Friday morning, about 50 people gathered around the monument in recognition of World AIDS Day. Survivors, family and friends, and other involved in the fight against the disease paid respects to the Indiana residents that have died from AIDS.
People walked up the renovated walkway around the bronze monument, quietly reflecting in front of the massive entwined hands. Others looked for names inscribed on limestone tablets around the sculpture.
At the base of one of those tablets, Hustava had laid a single yellow rose, for David.
For about an hour, speakers involved with the creation of the memorial, as well as its upkeep, spoke to the crowd about its importance.
Dennis Stover, director of the HIV/STD viral hepatitis division of the Indiana State Department of Health, talked about the challenges that AIDS and other diseases pose to the community. Keith Norwalk, president of Crown Hill Funeral Home and Cemetery, discussed what the memorial has provided to the community.
Though advancements and treatments for the disease have allowed AIDS patients to live longer, much work remains in eliminating AIDS, said Jason Grisell, president and CEO of the Health Foundation of Greater Indianapolis.
“The memorial that stands behind me is a testament to the fight that occurred early on in this epidemic, and to the fight that continues today,” he said. “We can be dazzled by the advancements in science and medicine, but it’s access to these medications, access to health care and insurance, substance abuse and mental health treatment, issues of stigma, racism, bigotry and prejudice that continue to be barriers to ending this disease.”
The Indiana AIDS Memorial was created in 2000 at Crown Hill Cemetery. At the time, it was one of only four monuments in the U.S. dedicated to victims of the epidemic, joining ones in San Francisco, Los Angeles and Key West, Florida. It was the only one in a cemetery.
The centerpiece sculpture by artist Guy Grey features a pair of intertwining hands which form the shape of a lapel ribbon. Around the monument, a semi-circle of limestone tablets features 138 names of Indiana residents or natives who have died from AIDS.
This year, organizers have added $75,000 in improvements to the site, including new landscaping, benches and walls, as well as a better pathway to reach the memorial.
For the Irish family, the memorial is a place of great importance.
“It’s very important because so many young men, though it wasn’t always young men, who died had parents who had thrown them out virtually, because they were gay or because they had AIDS,” said Margaret Irish, Greenwood resident and David’s mother. “That monument is the only place where you can go and remember those people.”
David Irish grew up in Greenwood, before moving west to attend the prestigious School of Music at the University of California at Berkeley. Hustava describes him as brilliant, witty and good-looking — as well as vain.
“He loved it that I was three years younger, and if we went somewhere, I’d get carded and he wouldn’t,” she said with a laugh. “He didn’t let me forget about that.”
He loved Christmas, and was the one spearheading decorations, parties and other festivities surrounding the holidays, Margaret Irish said.
“In a lot of ways, our family revolved around him,” she said.
In 1991, David Irish was diagnosed with pneumonia that would not go away. Hustava suspected there may be something he wasn’t telling them — he was openly gay, and AIDS was ravaging the homosexual community.
Hustava asked if he had tested positive for HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. He revealed that he had full-blown AIDS. The declaration crushed the family, but they gave him their full support.
By the following year, his health was declining quickly. He couldn’t walk, so the family worked together to care for him. Hustava and her younger sister, Beverly, left their jobs to serve as his nurses. On March 20, 1992, he died in Margaret Irish’s arms.
The Irish family hopes that the re-dedication will raise awareness of the memorial, Hustava said. When David Irish’s name was included on the monument, only 47 names were included.
Though that number now stands at 138, the names don’t even fill one full tablet. The others remain blank.
“There was a stigma back then. People didn’t want to have their names blaringly put on there. But now that times have changed, I think it’s a great place for solace and remembrance,” Hustava said. “You can see those other names, and know that you’re not alone.”
David Irish’s memory will never be lost among his family. The stories they tell ensure that.
Even more so, small occurrences in daily life — a song, a smell, the way someone says something — brings a rush of emotions forward.
“We all have our ups and downs. One thing can set you off, completely unaware,” Hustava said. “It hits you when you least expect it. But then there were so many times when we laugh so hard we’d wet ourselves.”
Thinking about David, they wonder what he’d look like all this time later. Would his hair be gray? Would he be more distinguished?
“My kids missed out on meeting a fantastic person. But they get to hear stories around the table,” Hustava said.
Indiana AIDS Memorial
What: A monument honoring and remembering the Indiana natives and residents who have died from AIDS.
Where: The memorial is located inside Crown Hill Cemetery in Indianapolis.
When was it built: The original monument was dedicated on Oct. 29, 2000. A renovation and upgrade of the site was completed earlier this year, and a re-dedication ceremony was conducted Friday, which was World AIDS Day.
How to support the memorial: Donations can be made at giving.thfgi.org/memorial
How to have a name included on the memorial: People can have the name of a loved one inscribed on the limestone tablets at the Indiana AIDS Memorial. The cost is $100 per name, $50 of which is tax deductible to support the Indiana AIDS Fund.
More information: thfgi.org/special-events/indiana-aids-memorial