Tuesday, April 1, 2008

In Memoriam: Jim Valiton

It is with great sadness that we report that Jim Valiton, community activist and leader in the GLBT and HIV communities, passed away on Saturday, March 29, at the age of 53.

In addition to great memories and friendships, Jim leaves us with a legacy of his many contributions, including leadership on the City of Tucson Commission on Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Issues; the Men’s Social Network (a networking group that offers a variety of alcohol-free social activities throughout the year); and the Tucson Interfaith HIV/AIDS Network (TIIHAN), where he served on staff for over three years. Forced to retire due to medical issues in 2002, Jim continued to be active in a volunteer capacity. Even in the weeks before his passing, Jim wrote a review of the restaurant where TIHAN’s weekly breakfast program is served, and he was in the midst of devoting his volunteer time helping with tax preparations for TIHAN clients to ensure they would receive their economic stimulus payments.

Jim was a longtime survivor of HIV (more than 20 years), and a medical miracle. Despite living for many years with advanced HIV disease and cardiac issues, Jim continued to stay as active as possible, always helping others. Even with his limited mobility, diminished hearing, and constant pain, Jim lived courageously and valiantly. He passed away peacefully on a weekend camping trip, one of the things he most loved to do. Jim was a man of many talents, and his expertise covered many areas—computers, sewing, tax preparation, electronics, pinochle, cooking, electrical engineering, camping, HIV disease, advocacy, bookkeeping, and so many other areas. He excelled at sharing his skills and expertise with others. Raised on a ranch in Montana, Jim also lived in Spokane, Washington, as well as Stockton and Pleasanton, California

During his tenure with TIHAN, Jim was instrumental in helping the fledgling organization to grow and thrive, and he was recognized with a special award for his lifetime contributions to TIHAN and people living with HIV. He received many other recognitions as well. In January 2002, he was chosen to help carry the Olympic Torch through Tucson, the only known person living with HIV to do so as the Olympic Torch Relay made its way across the United States in preparation for the Salt Lake City Olympic Games.

Jim always spoke proudly of those who inspired him along the way, crediting his doctors, medical staff, and researchers who are making great progress in medical treatment, as well as his many brothers and sisters who are also living with HIV, and the countless volunteers who dedicate part of their lives to make a difference. "I hope that, just as other people have inspired me to continue to walk this journey, I want to inspire others with my message that people living with HIV and AIDS can overcome hardships and obstacles and make a real difference in the world," he said in 2002.

"During my segment of the [Olympic] torch run, I'm just going to focus on putting one foot in front of the other, and that's how I've had to live my life since I found out I have HIV. You never know what life will bring you, and you just have to accept your circumstances and move forward."

That philosophy, Jim said, helped him to overcome hurdles in the past and be able to continue his journey forward, knowing that through taking one step at a time, and sometimes very small steps, he could make it through anything. "It's the people who I am surrounded by in my life that make it possible for me to keep taking those steps into whatever tomorrow will bring me," he said. Jim was fortunate to be surrounded by so many wonderful people in his life, and we were amazingly blessed to have him with us.

Jim is survived by his longtime partner Dave Fredricks, his sister Mary Emerson, friends Kitty Tobin and Mary Beth Barone, and hundreds of friends and loved ones. A gathering in celebration of Jim’s life is being planned, and is tentatively scheduled for mid-May. Details will be forthcoming. Jim’s partner Dave has requested that gifts in memory of Jim be made to TIHAN, 1011 North Craycroft #301, Tucson, Arizona 85711 so that the important work of AIDS awareness and support services can live on in memory of Jim.

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