OLD ORCHARD BEACH – Brandon Garette, a passionate advocate for people living with HIV and AIDS, died Sunday after a 27-year battle with the disease. He was 48.
Mr. Garette, born Eric J. Clifford, tested positive for HIV in 1986. He was 21 years old and thought his life was over.
At the time, he was one of 82 people in Maine living with HIV/AIDS. As of Dec. 31, 2012, there were 1,654 people in Maine living with the disease.
Mr. Garette dedicated his life to educating people about HIV and AIDS. He did radio, television and newspaper interviews about living with the disease. He got active with the AIDS Project in Portland, now known as the Frannie Peabody Center.
He spoke to young people at high schools and colleges about HIV and AIDS and how to protect themselves from becoming infected.
“It was something that was always important to Eric,” his sister, Bonnie Lowell, said Wednesday. “He wanted to get the message out about AIDS to everyone, especially young people. He wanted to make people aware so they wouldn’t have to go through the struggles he did finding out about this disease.”
Mr. Garette’s courage and conviction go back to his years growing up in Biddeford, one of five children. He never graduated from high school, but earned his GED.
Lowell said they used to dance at the “student lounge,” a teen center on Elm Street.
“We used to laugh and joke because people made fun of us for dancing together,” his sister said. “We had such a love for dancing and didn’t care what people thought. He loved music and he loved dancing.”
Mr. Garette moved from Biddeford to Augusta in his early 20s. After he learned he had HIV, Mr. Garette’s fear of dying motivated him to live.
His family remembered him Wednesday as a strong, compassionate and generous person who lived life to its fullest.
In recent years, Mr. Garette fulfilled many of his goals, such as swimming with dolphins in the Bahamas, going to a New England Patriots game and riding a horse.
A highlight of Mr. Garette’s life was meeting country music artist Reba McEntire in 2000. He got backstage passes to her show and presented her with an AIDS quilt that he made.
“He loved Reba McEntire,” his sister said.
Mr. Garette had lived in Old Orchard Beach for the past 15 years. About a month ago, he moved to Modesto, Calif., to live with his boyfriend, Rick Dowling, who died on June 13. They were planning to get married this month.
On Sunday, the day Mr. Garette died, he crossed another item off his “bucket list.” He attended the San Francisco Pride Parade with his brother Michael Clifford and Clifford’s wife, Kathy, who live in California.
Mr. Garette began feeling weak and disoriented at the parade and had to leave. He rested his head on the train ride back to Modesto and died. He was supposed to move back to Maine on July 7.
“My brother is devastated,” Lowell said. “To find out he was with my brother gives me peace of mind. He was not alone.”
Melanie Creamer can be contacted at 791-6361 or at: