Remembering Rose Walton: HIV/AIDS Educator, Activist & LGBTQ+ Advocate

Rose Walton, who was also a pilot, taking her wife Marge Sherwin for a airplane ride
Rose Walton, who was also a pilot, taking her wife Marge Sherwin for a airplane ride
Courtesy Marge Sherwin

Hearts and minds were deeply touched at the news that Rose Walton died on April 9 after a long illness. She was 85. Her legacy and impact on the East End and in the LGBTQ+ community at large as a fierce and effective advocate, activist and educator will never be forgotten.

Walton was raised in Oak Hill, West Virginia, received her bachelor’s degree in physical education at Slippery Rock University in Pennsylvania and went on to receive a master’s degree at Peabody College (now Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee) and an Ed.D. doctorate of education degree from Nova Southeastern University in Florida.

She met her future wife and life partner of 45 years, Marge Sherwin, a self-described “true New Yorker,” on a trip to Florida, and the couple shared a house in Remsenburg from 1973 until two years ago when they sold it and moved permanently to the West Coast of Florida to live in the home that Walton had built there and kept since 1971.

The Rose Walton Care Services for HIV/AIDS at the newly named Edie Windsor Healthcare Center, now in Hamptons Bays, is a testament to Walton’s imprint and impact. Her fearless, focused efforts in the 1980s and 1990s to bring HIV/AIDS education and healthcare to the East End had a ripple effect nationally at a time when fear versus funding was the operative word.

As an educator, Walton taught at Stony Brook University, served as an administrator at the Stony Brook University School of Allied Health and started the first HIV/AIDS Hotline and Resource Center on Long Island with the blessings of the deans of the school who were ultimately astounded at the overwhelming response at the time, according to her surviving spouse. Walton is also fondly remembered as an effective member and co-chair of the (now defunct) East End Gay Organization (EEGO), fighting for LGBTQ+ causes, rights and equality.

We wanted to honor Rose Walton with some remembrances shared from some of her friends, community members, and the person who knew her best, her spouse Marge Sherwin, who shared 45 years with Walton.

Marge Sherwin and Rose Walton
Marge Sherwin and Rose WaltonCourtesy Marge Sherwin

Dorothy Sander, friend of Rose Walton, former co-chair of EEGO

Rose Walton was a pioneer from the earliest days of HIV/AIDs and she spearheaded the entire AIDS education movement trying to educate gay men and others in the spreading of HIV. She was instrumental in that, which was a reason that the Southampton Hospital under the new now-named Edie Windsor Healthcare Center is the Rose Walton HIV/AIDS Education Center. She was a pioneer-educator.

When I followed her (as co-chair of EEGO) … I saw firsthand her leadership qualities in rallying the East End people, straight and gay, to ally with us, to get some equal rights on the East End, including domestic partnership.

She was a strategic leader … she understood that you just didn’t scream in the streets. You had to have meetings with our local legislature. She set them up. Meetings with people who owned restaurants. Get the people who owned restaurants to understand that we spend money and that they need to support our projects — and they did.

Jimmy Mack, lifelong resident of Southampton

My husband Brian (Mott) and I met Rose and Marge late in life, but Rose’s energy, focus and intelligence were still so intact, so clear. We met through our mutual friendship with Edie Windsor, so we knew we were in great company. I read Rose’s book, By Any Other Name, and my respect for her strength and humor only deepened.

I have been a patient at the Rose Walton HIV/AIDS Care Center since its inception, and I feel such gratitude to have known and cared for someone whose work has been so instrumental to my own health journey.

Robert S. Chaloner, Chief Administrative Officer, Stony Brook Southampton Hospital

Rose Walton was a dynamic force on the East End. She was passionately committed to administering the highest quality of care to HIV/AIDS patients. Her dedication inspired the Rose Walton Care Services for HIV/AIDS at the Edie Windsor Healthcare Center in Hampton Bays where we continue to carry forth her mission today. While there is currently no cure, medical advancements have enabled those diagnosed with HIV to live full lives. In addition to the Rose Walton Care Services, the Edie Windsor Healthcare Center specializes in providing LGBTQ+ health services in a compassionate and respectful environment.

Josephine DeVincenzi, Ed.D. & Mary J. Scanlon, friends of Rose

Dr. Rose Walton was a calming, strong presence at a time when people were frightened and needed answers. Her educational efforts in Suffolk County during the height of the AIDS epidemic saved lives and changed minds.

She always put others first, despite enduring a significant illness for most of her adult life. She transcended her illness with the help of her loving, skillful wife. She was admired, loved and became a hero to those of us who were honored to have known her.

Marge Sherwin, spouse of Rose

She was extremely smart. Her compassion, her quiet force are the adjectives I would use to describe her.

She stood up for the gay community in times when it was not easy to do, and she was the first educator on Long Island to pick up the mantle and to help the people on the East End get access to care.

I remember when we were with EEGO, everyone was supportive except some of the women came up to Rose at a cocktail party and said to her, “Why are you doing this? You are helping the men. The men would not stand up to the women if this was reversed.” And she looked at them and she said, “Women are also getting AIDS.” It was a very interesting exchange.

The people that knew her then understood that quietness and that force behind her quietness. The people who didn’t know her then are amazed at what she accomplished … she was an administrator at Stony Brook, she ran the AIDS Resource Center, she was the chair of the Allied Health Care Curriculum … when she retired they hired two or three people — it was amazing — to take all her jobs.

I think today she would want to help with the transgender issues and making kids safe in schools here.

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