Although he had lived
in New Jersey for more than three years, Ron Gonzalez
always called New York home. The 44-year-old HIV activist was
on his way back home on February 12 when his plane, Continental
Flight 3407, went down in Clarence Center, just outside
Buffalo. He had been planning to visit friends and family that
weekend, and spend Valentine's Day with his boyfriend of six
months, Kevin Rathbun.
Fifty people died in
the plane crash -- 49 passengers and one person on the ground.
Gonzalez will be remembered for his tireless activism
and a life spent fighting for the underdog.
Growing up in the Bronx
and spending his adult life in Buffalo, Gonzalez was fiercely
proud of the cities that had provided the backdrop for the best
years of his life. His network of friends in Buffalo was,
according to friend Gary Williams, "a chosen, man-made family
Many members of that
"family" met Gonzalez when he began his work as an activist
in the fight against HIV/AIDS over a decade ago. Gonzalez,
according to Rathbun, was "very proud of being Latino and a
gay man," and he worked in tireless service to those
demographics. "I think of how insignificant our lives are
compared to what he accomplished," Rathbun says. "He was
the most incredible man I've ever met. I already miss what I
won't have with him."
After graduating from
Buffalo State in 1999, Gonzalez worked as an educator at the
AIDS Community Center and went on to lead Alianza Latina, the
center's sister organization for the Hispanic community.
Outside the office,
Gonzalez dedicated himself to grassroots outreach. He was often
found assisting in health workshops, passing out AIDS
information at bars, and planning pride events with friends and
colleagues. Most recently, Gonzalez had taken a position as the
head of a youth services program at New Brunswick Tomorrow, a
New Jersey nonprofit serving the urban community.
Gonzalez's family knew
of his community work, but only after his death. When hundreds
arrived at his memorials and funeral, they saw firsthand just
how many lives he affected.
Close friend Jason Rein
was not surprised at the outpouring of support. "Ron spent
his life trying to have an impact on others, even people he
didn't know," recalls Rein.
But both he and
Williams were saddened by the fact of this particular life
being taken so soon. "He dedicated his life to health
activism, ran five miles a day, and completed the New York City
Marathon in 2004," noted Williams. "He did everything he
could to ensure he would live a long life."