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Remembering Ron

Remembering Ron


When Continental Flight 3407 crashed in upstate New York, it claimed the life of local hero and gay rights activist Ron Gonzalez -- beloved by family, friends, and total strangers.

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 for Ron."

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."

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