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Tom Lindsay: 1957-2003

The death of beloved Santa Cruz AIDS Project executive director rocks the organization he revitalized

By Mike Connor

Originally, this article was going to be a whimsical story about how very easy it is to get tested for AIDS--these days, needles don't even enter the picture. All it takes is a cotton swab in the mouth. I planned to crack jokes about covertly swiping "Snugger Fit" condoms from the Drop-In Center and giving a first-person account of that poignantly stressful experience of waiting two weeks for test results. It was going to be fun making light of a serious issue with the covert agenda of raising awareness.

But then, last Monday morning, we heard the tragic news that the Santa Cruz Aids Project's executive director Tom Lindsay had died over the weekend. SCAP staffers were shocked by the news, unaware that Lindsay had any life-threatening health problems.

"I couldn't believe it," says Shaunessy Jones, community relations director for SCAP. "We had just seen him on Friday at our employee picnic. We were all having fun and playing games and laughing. He was having a great time, and to think he just went home that night and he died ... it's just incomprehensible. None of us wanted it to be true."

Lindsay died on Saturday, July 19, of internal bleeding brought on by liver failure. Prior to his position at SCAP, Lindsay served as executive director at the Sonoma County AIDS Network and education director of the Minnesota AIDS Project. He was hired by SCAP six months ago to direct the agency.

"We were in crisis," says Jones. "We hadn't had an executive director in over two months. We needed some direction and leadership, and he was bold enough to take that on."

Associate director of development Ch!P says of Lindsay, "I really enjoyed working with Tom because, as a professional, he really challenged me and supported me in a way that I hadn't experienced very often in a professional environment. It's rare to see someone come into an organization, really be effective and really be loved at the same time. And everyone genuinely loved him. There was this feeling around here that he was kind of like a dad."

Born in Fort Wayne, Ind., Lindsay is survived by Robert Lindsay Jr. and John Lindsay of Fort Wayne, and sister Laura Smart of Pleasant Lake, Ind., and Linda Holt of Oakland, Calif. His sister Linda made the call to SCAP on Monday morning, received by Speaker's Bureau and Office coordinator Brandy Hansen.

SCAP staffers have taken immediate steps to continue the day-to-day operations of the agency, even as they've taken time to share their shock and grief with each other.

"Most people's reactions--including mine--have been complete disbelief," says Jones. "It's just so shocking when somebody dies. Even some of our clients, they have AIDS and they get sick, and it's not like it hurts any less, but at least there's a warning. This was just unexpected."

SCAP board member Jennifer Rose, who is the director of Domestic Violence Services at the Walnut Avenue Women's Center, describes Lindsay as a warm, kind spirit who worked hard to reach out into the community.

"You just kind of instantly fell in love with him," says Rose. "He was funny, charming, smart and just really committed to making a difference. He made you feel comfortable the minute you met him, and he was so willing and open to building collaborations, and to working together as a whole community."

Rose worked with Lindsay and Diversity Center director Bob Correa to form a queer anti-violence task force. Lindsay also sought out Correa to volunteer at the DC and to collaborate on fundraising events with the DC, which Correa says would be an unprecedented collaboration.

SCAP has been serving Santa Cruz County for over 17 years, assisting nearly 300 clients each year through outreach and counseling programs, HIV testing, case management and housing services. State Assemblyman John Laird helped start the agency from scratch in 1985, and also served as executive director for three years.

"It's one of the best jobs I've ever had," says Laird, "and one of the most demanding. I think Tom would have been one of the great executive directors at SCAP--it's just a tragic loss that we won't get to have the full benefit of his leadership."

Laird has taken steps to arrange for the State Assembly to adjourn in Lindsay's memory on Monday. SCAP will hold a memorial for Lindsay; they will announce the details on Thursday, July 31. To volunteer for or donate to SCAP, call 831.427.3900.

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From the July 30-August 6, 2003 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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