Ruth Coker Burks is an unlikely advocate for people with AIDS/HIV. A single mom with no background in the medical field, Ruth became involved in the AIDS/HIV crisis while visiting a friend at the University of Arkansas Medical Center in 1984.
Since then, she has spent over 30 years caring for people abandoned by their families and neglected by medical professionals. In the darkest hour of the AIDS epidemic, Ruth, an Arkansas native, cared for over 1,000 dying people, many of them gay men who their families had abandoned.
While visiting her friend at the hospital, Ruth noticed a red door and saw nurses drawing straws to determine who would tend to the patient on the other side of that door. Curiosity got the best of her, and Ruth decided to sneak into the room. That is where she met Jimmy, her first AIDS patient and her life would never be the same after that chance meeting.
Ruth has cared for and helped bury over 1,000 people. She found compassionate and like-minded medical professionals to care for her “patients” and learned as much as she could about the disease to understand the problems her patients faced. The Centers for Disease Control & Prevention and the National Institute of Health sent their professionals to investigate how Ruth’s patients were living, on average, two years longer than others.
Ruth worked with President Bill Clinton when he was Governor of Arkansas and served as an informal adviser to him and as a consultant on HIV/AIDS in the White House during his presidency.
Ruth’s message of courage, love, and strength inspires other activists. Her goal is to encourage others through her activism and humanitarian efforts.
Ruth has been featured on the BBC, Fighting Fear and Stigma to Care for AIDS Patients; the Arkansas Times, St. Ruth: The Cemetery Angel; NPR, Caring for AIDS Patients When No One Else Would; Out, Meet the Woman Who Cared for Hundreds of Abandoned Gay Men Dying of AIDS; StoryCorps, Ruth Coker Burks, and Jim Harwood; A&U America’s AIDS Magazine, Ruth Coker Burks: Advocate; and many more.