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James Watkins, leader of 1980s AIDS commission, dies

James D. Watkins, leader of Ronald Reagan's AIDS commission, dies at 85

James Watkins, leader of 1980s AIDS commission, dies

Retired Navy Adm. James D. Watkins, an early advocate for AIDS patients, died in his Virginia home. He was 85.

In 1987, then President Ronald Reagan picked the career Navy man to be in charge of the President’s Commission on the HIV Epidemic.

‘He told the president, "I’m a sailor and a submariner, and I know nothing about medicine,"’ his wife, Janet, said as reported by the Washington Post. ‘But Reagan told him, "You’re exactly who we’re looking for."’

Despite initial activists’ wariness of Watkins and other members of the commission, he was instrumental in having the commission make strong recommendations for the welfare of patients.

‘Under Adm. Watkins, the panel advocated the passage of anti-discrimination laws for AIDS patients and the need for laws to protect the rights and privacy of those with AIDS,’ the Washington Post wrote. ‘He was most eloquent in describing the loneliness afflicting those with the disease.’

‘To have a presidential commission chairman with his background to come out so strongly against stigma and discrimination was a very, very important step,’ said Anthony S. Fauci, who oversees AIDS research at the National Institutes of Health, to the newspaper.

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