On June 30th, Gail Barouh retired as CEO of LIAAC. The Board of Directors of LIAAC thanks Gail for over 30 years of service to the community of Long Island and wishes her a fulfilling and happy retirement. But we also have to express our sadness because part of the essential heart of LIAAC leaves with her. It’s hard to imagine LIAAC without Gail’s presence. For over 30 years she has been the animating spirit of the agency. LIAAC will continue to thrive and evolve in exciting new directions (thanks largely to the structures she has built), but it will deeply miss Gail’s creative and insightful leadership.
I first worked with Gail during the searing early days of the AIDS epidemic and personally witnessed her clarity and courage under fire. There was a lot of confusion, fear and shame at the time. She brought clear vision and a plan for an agency that could help thousands of desperate Long Islanders. She also brought confidence – one of the most important elements of leadership. In meetings with community leaders, with staff, with people living with HIV/AIDS, with their families, she radiated a quiet, determined confidence. In the midst of a great deal of despair, she offered practical ways to lessen the suffering. She didn’t minimize the problems we faced, but constantly expressed the belief that if we worked together we could begin to make things better.
It has often been said that it’s relatively easy to start an enterprise but very hard to keep it going (fiscally and programmatically) year after year. Well, it wasn’t easy to start LIAAC, but it really wasn’t easy to build it into a viable and effective agency. But that’s precisely what Gail did for over 30 years. She assembled focused teams and step-by-step built an agency that has become a leader in both community-based care for people living with HIV and community-based prevention. There were a great many obstacles – prejudice and fear were two of the worst – but LIAAC, under Gail’s leadership, consistently and creatively met the challenges of an evolving epidemic. When a volunteer force and a buddy system met the needs of the time, that’s what LIAAC became good at. When targeted case management was needed, LIAAC provided it. When a mobile-outreach testing program was needed for prevention, LIAAC became a leader in mobile-outreach. Potential problems were often on LIAAC’s radar well before many acknowledged them. The Hepatitis C crisis is an example.
If you were to ask Gail what she loved most about the work, my bet would be on the time she spent leading family support and bereavement groups. For years she helped hundreds of families who were struggling with sick and dying loved ones. She accompanied them over the long haul and then helped them grieve their loses. She was a genuine hero to these families. I know. I also worked with many of them. Gail was always ‘Hands On’ – and not just with support groups – she was the very opposite of a distant administrator.
It’s impossible to sum up 30 years of accomplishments in a few paragraphs. But it is possible to witness the end result of these accomplishments by looking at LIAAC today. LIAAC is as vital as it was in the first days of the epidemic. It has changed and evolved with the times, but remains, as always, the flexible servant of new challenges. LIAAC is a vital contributor to the well being of Long Island. The community is a better place because of this fine agency. The community is a better place because of the leadership and hard work of Gail Barouh. LIAAC’s ongoing work of service is her legacy. Thank you Gail.
John Haigney, Board Chair
For the Board of LIAAC