1,500 Say Goodbye to AIDS Victim Ryan White
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) _ More than 1,500 friends and admirers, including first lady Barbara Bush and singer Michael Jackson, bid farewell Wednesday to Ryan White, the young AIDS victim who taught the nation a lesson in courage.
″Ryan and his family always believed there would be a miracle,″ the Rev. Raymond Probasco said in his eulogy. ″But that didn’t happen. I believe God gave us that miracle in Ryan. He healed a wounded spirit in the world and made it whole.″
Ryan’s mother, Jeanne, sat with her 16-year-old daughter, Andrea, and Jackson, who had befriended Ryan. Ryan’s father, Wayne, who is divorced from Mrs. White, also attended the service at the Second Presbyterian Church.
Singer Elton John, who had maintained a bedside vigil during Ryan’s final week of life, led the congregation in singing a hymn. He then accompanied himself as he sang his own composition, ″Skyline Pigeon,″ about a captive bird yearning to be freed.
Ryan died Sunday of complications from the disease he had fought for more than five years.
Probasco noted that many celebrities had befriended the youth during his struggle with AIDS and his legal battle to attend public school. He said Ryan’s life, like theirs, also was successful.
″He helped us to care and to believe that with God’s help, nothing is impossible, even for a kid,″ said the minister, who is pastor at Center Chapel United Methodist Church in Muncie and has known the White family for years.
John, wearing a black sequined hat, served as a pallbearer with Los Angeles Raiders football player Howie Long, talk-show host Phil Donahue and three local friends of Ryan: Tommy Hale, Leo Joseph and John Huffman.
About 300 of Ryan’s schoolmates at Hamilton Heights High School in Arcadia, 25 miles north of Indianapolis, came by bus to the funeral, which was carried live by Cable News Network.
Scores of people were left during the service standing outside the Gothic- style church, which was filled to capacity, in chilly wind and rain.
Members of the school’s choir sang ″That’s What Friends Are For.″ Ryan found friendship and acceptance at the school after his family moved from Kokomo.
A private burial service was held for the family and close friends in a cemetery in Cicero, the small town near Arcadia, where the Whites have lived nearly three years.
Gov. Evan Bayh ordered flags across Indiana to fly at half-staff in tribute to the youngster who not only confronted a devastating disease but helped to educate the world about it.
Former President Reagan, who with his wife, Nancy, joined Ryan in the youth’s last public appearance two weeks ago in Los Angeles, remembered him in a newspaper column as a young man of patience and kindness who did not wallow in self-pity.
″Ryan accepted his situation with awe-inspiring courage and magnanimity. He did not run and hide, and he graciously accepted the public responsibilities thrust on his young shoulders,″ Reagan wrote in the tribute published Wednesday on the op-ed page of The Washington Post.
Ryan was diagnosed with acquired immune deficiency syndrome in December 1984. He had contracted the disease from tainted blood products used to treat his hemophilia.
During the following two years, he and his mother won a court battle to allow him to attend public school near Kokomo. The youngster appeared on television talk shows and magazine covers and at Washington hearings as a spokesman for young sufferers of AIDS.
In between appearances at star-studded fund-raisers, the teen-ager tried to lead a normal life by attending classes and dances, skateboarding and getting his driver’s license.
Hundreds of friends and strangers waited in line Tuesday at the Flanner & Buchanan Mortuary in suburban Carmel to file past his open casket. They saw him one last time wearing his faded denim jacket and reflective sunglasses.
Visitation continued Wednesday morning at the church, where 300 people were waiting in line when the doors opened.
″I’m glad to see that he was so thought of that so many are here,″ said Gladys Lewis of Indianapolis. ″It shows that somehow we all learned something from his battle. What he went through, it brought so many people - whites, blacks, people of all religions and ages - he brought people together.″
″It’s obviously a very sad day for all of us that knew him and worked with him,″ said Dr. Woodrow A. Myers at the church. The former Indiana state health commissioner who supported the Whites’ school battle is now New York City health commissioner.
″Ryan really led us all. Here’s a kid who was 14 years old who led the nation by his example,″ Myers said.
After the funeral, Elton John and Mrs. White issued a statement thanking the media for ″respectful and sensitive″ coverage of the death and mourning.
″As Ryan understood, the role of the media in educating others about AIDS is critically important,″ the statement said. ″He showed us all that we need to devote ourselves to fighting the disease of AIDS, not those who suffer from it.″