Activist Bob Hattoy Dies of Complications from AIDS In 1992, Bob Hattoy was the first openly gay person with AIDS to speak at a national political convention. He died Sunday from complications of AIDS. Dee Dee Myers, who met Hattoy in 1984 while working on the Mondale campaign, talks about her longtime friend and colleague.
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Activist Bob Hattoy Dies of Complications from AIDS

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Activist Bob Hattoy Dies of Complications from AIDS

Activist Bob Hattoy Dies of Complications from AIDS

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In 1992, Bob Hattoy became the first openly gay person with AIDS to address a national political convention.

Mr. BOB HATTOY (Activist): We are part of the American family. And Mr. President, your family has AIDS. And we're dying, and you're doing nothing about it.

BLOCK: That's Bob Hattoy addressing delegates and sending a message to the first President Bush in those remarks at the Democratic National Convention. Bob Hattoy died on Sunday of complications from AIDS. He was 56.

He was an outspoken advocate for environmental issues, as well as gay rights. He was an adviser to President Clinton, but was moved out of the White House personnel office to the Interior Department. That was after he went public with criticism of the administration's don't ask, don't tell policy on gays in the military.

Dee Dee Myers was press secretary to President Clinton and a long-time friend and colleague of Bob Hattoy. Thanks for being with us.

Ms. DEE DEE MYERS (Former Press Secretary, Clinton Administration): Good to be here.

BLOCK: And Dee Dee, tell us what your first impressions when you first met Bob Hattoy.

Ms. MYERS: Oh, I think like a lot of people, Bob makes a rather strong first impression. I met him back in 1984, when we are both working on the Mondale campaign - I as a member of the staff, and he as the regional director of the Sierra Club at that time. And, you know, Bob's great genius was taking something and always reducing it to its sort of utter, irreducible, ridiculous core.

And so he was always quick with a quip in meetings. I remember him from very early on always busting up the room. And that went on all over the years in my association with him. He had a real genius for just coming up with just the right line at just the right time.

And of course he could never resist the urge to speak the line once it came into his head, and that sometimes got him trouble.

BLOCK: He felt very betrayed by the don't ask, don't tell policy of the Clinton administration. Did you talk to him about that?

Ms. MYERS: Yeah, in many capacities, as a friend. And of course I was the one who had to take him to the woodshed when he made one of his inevitable clever but all too honest comments to the media, and in particular, when there was some discussion about limiting the roles of gays once they were allowed to serve openly in the military.

And of course Bob said something to the effect that that would be like limiting civilian gay and lesbians to being florists and hairdressers. And unlike most people in Washington, Bob didn't do that on an anonymous basis. He put his name on it and it ended up on the front pages of the New York Times, so I had to discipline him. And the problem with disciplining Bob was that he was funny and he would always say, well, it was funny, right? It was funny.

And you could never argue with the fact that it was funny, that it was poignant, that it was right on the money, even when it wasn't helpful. And so it was difficult to sort of sit down with your old friend and argue that the comment didn't speak to some greater truth.

BLOCK: What do you think Bob Hattoy's impact was for gay people in politics?

Ms. MYERS: I think Bob's impact was to give face to gay people with AIDS. AIDS had been talked about at previous conventions, but almost always by people who had obtained AIDS through blood transfusions or other methods that seemed somehow more acceptable. And Bob stepped up and said I'm a gay man with AIDS. And I think he gave a face and a voice to that cause that really had an impact on people who were living with the disease or knew people who are living with the disease. And I think that was a tremendous, tremendous gift and a courageous thing for him to do.

BLOCK: There was this small detail in Bob Hattoy's obituary in the L.A. Times today: He apparently asked friends to preserve his ashes in a Martini shaker.

Ms. MYERS: I laughed out loud when I read that, because that to me was the essence of Bob. Right until the very end, you know, humorous, laughing, just irrepressible right up until the very end - that was Bob.

BLOCK: Dee Dee Myers, former White House press secretary, remembering her long time friend and colleague Bob Hattoy, who died on Sunday. Ms. Myers, thanks very much.

Ms. MYERS: Thank you, Melissa.

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