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Mary Fisher (activist)

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Mary Fisher (activist)

Mary Fisher
Born Lizabeth Davis Frehling
(1948-04-06) April 6, 1948 (age 66)
Louisville, Kentucky, United States
Nationality American
Alma mater University of Michigan
Occupation Artist, author
Known for AIDS activism
Religion Judaism[1]
Spouse(s) Brian Campbell (1987-?; divorced; 2 children)

Mary Fisher (born April 6, 1948) is an American political activist, artist and author. After contracting HIV from her second husband, she has become an outspoken advocate for AIDS prevention and education and for the compassionate treatment of people with HIV and AIDS. She is particularly noted for two speeches before the Republican Convention in Houston in 1992, and in San Diego in 1996. The 1992 speech has been hailed as "one of the best American speeches of the 20th Century."[2]

She is founder of a non-profit organization to fund HIV/AIDS research and education, the Mary Fisher Clinical AIDS Research and Education (CARE) Fund. Since May 2006, she has been a global emissary for the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS).[3]

Early life

Fisher was born Lizabeth Davis Frehling on April 6, 1948, in Louisville, Kentucky, the daughter of Marjorie Faith (née Switow) and George Allen Frehling.[4][5][6] Her parents were of Russian Jewish descent.[7] Her parents divorced when Fisher was four, and the following year her mother married multimillionaire Max Fisher, who adopted Fisher.[4]

Raised in Michigan, Fisher attended Kingswood School (today's Cranbrook Kingswood School) in Bloomfield Hills (where she had briefly dated politician Mitt Romney),[8] and attended college at the University of Michigan for a year before taking a volunteer position at ABC television in Detroit, Michigan, which she left when afforded an opportunity to join the staff of Gerald R. Ford, then President of the United States, as the first female "advance man".[4]

In 1977, Fisher entered her first marriage, which soon dissolved. In 1984, she sought treatment at the Betty Ford Center for alcoholism; while there, she realized she was artistically inclined.[4] After rehabilitation, she resettled to New York City, New York, and in 1987 she married fellow artist Brian Campbell.[4] The couple relocated to Boca Raton, Florida, and expanded their family. Fisher gave birth to son Max and after several miscarriages, adopted a second son, Zachary, with her husband.[4] In 1990, Campbell requested a divorce and in 1991 informed Fisher that he was HIV positive.[4] Fisher soon learned that she had contracted the disease from him, although their children tested negative.[4]


Fisher decided to be open about her illness, and after the Detroit Free Press published her story in February 1992, she was invited to speak at the 1992 Republican National Convention in Houston, Texas.[4] There, she urged the Republican Party to handle the AIDS crisis and the HIV positive with compassion.[9] In 1995, The New York Times credited Fisher – along with Elizabeth Glaser, who spoke on her experience with AIDS at the 1992 Democratic National Convention – with having "brought AIDS home to America."[10] After that appearance, Fisher created a support group for families affected by AIDS and healthcare workers, the Family AIDS Network, and continued speaking as its representative, promoting education, prevention and acceptance of sufferers.[4][10] In October 1992, President George Bush appointed her to the National Commission on AIDS to replace Magic Johnson.[11] Fisher spoke again at the 1996 Republican National Convention in San Diego, California.[12] Fisher did not return for the 2000 Republican National Convention in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; she was replaced by fellow AIDS activist (and "abstinence-only" proponent) Patricia Funderburk Ware.[13]

In 1999, Fisher made news when she, like some other HIV-positive people, decided to stop taking anti-HIV medications which she felt were hurting her quality of life.[14][15]

But she and her doctors continued to try new drug combinations and, by 2001, were able to suppress the virus without unmanageable side effects. Finding medications that could prolong healthy life marked a turning point, Fisher said in a 2007 More magazine interview: "For years it was waiting to die, and then it was turning everything around and trying to figure out how to live." [16]

Fisher expanded her AIDS activism from public speaking into writing, art and international advocacy. She founded the non-profit Global Coalition on Women and AIDS and with other HIV-positive women has toured the United States to raise awareness about the disease.

Fisher’s international work has focused on Africa and especially Zambia, where she has She has taught African women to create handmade jewelry which is then sold online and in U.S. galleries, with profits returned to the women artisans.

Rhetorical Appeals in "A Whisper of AIDS" Speech

Fisher's speech features many examples of the rhetorical appeals of ethos, logos, and pathos to shape her ethical sound and very effective response to the rhetorical situation. [18] In doing so, she earned the support of many people that in retrospect, would not have given an HIV patient the time of day, if it was not for her social status. She was able to inform, persuade and motivate her audience to help with her cause and take precautions for themselves along with others, the key concept a rhetorical speaker tries to accomplish. Without using rhetoric in her speech, it most likely would have not been as successful or meaningful or raised as much awareness about HIV as it did. I am going to address how Fisher specifically used ethos, logos and pathos throughout her speech.

Back to the rhetorical appeals, ethos is described as someone's character or ethical nature. Mary Fisher was the step-daughter of Max Fisher, a very wealthy, powerful, well-known Republican, and established ethos at the moment she began her speech with her high credibility from Max. Her bold character was also portrayed through the fact that she was able to perform this speech and still remain proud of the person she was at that moment.

Logos can be defined as the logic used by someone. Fisher was very blunt about stating the statistics of deaths and the increased rate of infected people in the near future. Fisher states, "The reality of AIDS is brutally clear. Two hundred thousand Americans are dead or dying; a million more are infected. Worldwide forty million, or sixty million or a hundred million infections will be counted in the coming few years. But despite science and research, White House meetings and congressional hearings, despite good intentions and bold initiatives, campaign slogans and hopeful promises-despite it all, it's the epidemic which is winning tonight". [19]

Lastly, is pathos which can be summed up by the emotion one uses. Fisher's emotional expression of pathos in her speech is very real and relatable. She talks about many families that are struggling with AIDS, broken families like her own in particular, saying how they will not give up and they will not be broken, but all of these families have something in common and must try and stick together. Fisher brings up a point that really hits home to parents saying how their children are in danger and the parents cannot do anything to stop HIV. This then instilled a new purpose in the audience to motivate them in any way to stop this epidemic. [20] Close to the end of her speech, Fisher again relates to her family, how she does not want to leave her children and felt almost selfish contracting the disease for her children's sake. Any parent in the audience can relate to her situation then picturing if they were her and had to leave children behind as a result of death. When the action of death kicks in, it really hits home for many.

Throughout her speech, Fisher brought up the ethics of her situation, the logic of what is happening whether the audience would like to believe it or block it out, and her emotions toward HIV and how people must take a stand. Her rhetorical approach was heard from the audience and she gained a lot of support and helped people become much more aware of HIV. Overall, her message was heard in the exact way she wanted it to be addressed, from a real person's perspective that is currently infected with this disease and how this disease is not discriminatory toward anyone.


Fisher’s art has been exhibited in public and private collections around the world. Collectors include: President and Mrs. Art for AIDS, a collection created to recognize the role art has played in the response to AIDS. Fisher’s work also has been shown at the [2]. Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library and Museum.

Fisher is represented year round by Goldenstein Gallery ([3]) Uptown Sedona, Arizona. A special show featuring her work is held annually in November. The show is titled: CHI: Art as a Healing Medium. The opening reception is held the first Friday in November. Fisher speaks in the gallery at least once a year.

She is active with the


Fisher is the author of six books: An autobiography called My Name is Mary: A Memoir; Angels in Our Midst, a photographic tribute to AIDS caregivers; ABATAKA, a collection of her 'AIDS-themed and African-influenced arts works; two books containing transcripts of speeches, Sleep With the Angels and I'll Not Go Quietly and in 2012, Messenger: A Self-Portrait (Greenleaf Book Group, Austin, TX).


External links

  •, Fisher's official website
  • WorldCat catalog)
  • American Rhetoric - clips and transcript of Fisher's 1992 RNC speech

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