Nita Pippins, who cared for her son as he was dying of AIDS complications and founded a charity assisting other people with AIDS and their families, has died at age 93.
Pippins died of COVID-19 May 10 at Amsterdam Nursing Home in Manhattan, The New York Times reports.
She was a retired nurse living in Pensacola, Fla., when her gay son, Nick, an actor in New York City, let her know that his condition was deteriorating and he needed her to come north. She ended up taking care of him for three years until his death in 1990.
She initially did not let her family and friends know Nick had AIDS, and she was “troubled that he was gay,” the Times notes. She also hated New York City at first. But she eventually embraced Nick’s gay friends, decided to do volunteer work in AIDS services, and came to love the city.
“She became a tireless volunteer for Miracle House, a charity that provided out-of-town families of AIDS patients with housing and support,” the Times reports. “For mothers working through anger, guilt and sadness, Ms. Pippins served as a parent who had been there. For men estranged from their families, she became a replacement mother, sometimes holding their hands as they died.”
She had helped found Miracle House, based on the model of the Ronald McDonald Houses for families of children being treated for serious illnesses, Poz magazine reports. “Now families finding themselves in New York City dealing with their sons’ or daughters’ AIDS diagnoses — and often learning for the first time about their children’s sexual orientation too — could meet Nita,” her son’s partner, Dennis Daniel, wrote in Poz in 2007. “Miracle House offered them a safe and nurturing place to stay, and Nita offered them breakfast at the nearby diner and a shoulder to cry on.”
Her conservative Southern background helped her understand the concerns of some families, but she encouraged them to support their children no matter what, the Times reports. And her experience as a nurse made her a source of medical information.
“At that time, you were shunned if your son died of AIDS or you had AIDS in your family,” Pippins told broadcaster NY1 in 2010. “And I wanted to get together and let them know there was other people having the same problem.”
She gained a new family in New York, made up of her son’s friends and people she encountered through her volunteer work. She loved attending Broadway shows and dining out, and she vacationed in London with friends from this group.
Pippins is survived by a stepdaughter and three step-grandchildren as well as her chosen family of New Yorkers. Sean Strub, an activist and founder of Poz, paid tribute to her in a Facebook post.