It was a wonderful day for a stroll, and 3,000 people walked 10 kilometers along the paths of Rock Creek Park yesterday to raise money for AIDS education, research and care.
"We have a great day for a great cause," Jim Graham, administrator of the Whitman-Walker Clinic, told marchers at the Carter Barron Amphitheater, the starting point of the fourth annual walk. "Foremost, we are here because we care -- we care about people with AIDS."
The organizers of yesterday's 6.2-mile "Walk in the Park" set out to show that acquired immune deficiency syndrome has become a mainstream issue in the decade since the fatal disease was identified in a few gay men in San Francisco.
Honorary sponsors of the walk included Maryland Gov. William Donald Schaefer and Fairfax County Board Chairman Audrey Moore. Woodward and Lothrop and Safeway were among the corporate sponsors. Among those on the speakers' platform were Surgeon General Antonia C. Novello and the Democratic and Republican candidates for D.C. mayor, Sharon Pratt Dixon and Maurice T. Turner Jr.
The marchers included a large number of the gay men who are a major client group at Whitman-Walker, as well as couples wheeling baby carriages, college students toting junk food and middle-aged volunteers for a variety of AIDS programs in the region. More than 40 city and suburban groups will benefit from the money raised yesterday.
"There are more straight people here, more families, more children" than in the three past marches, said John Maddix, Whitman-Walker's associate education director. "Gay people are fairly alienated. It sends an important message."
Washington ranks fifth among the nation's metropolitan areas in the number of AIDS cases, and more than 2,300 people in the area have died of the disease. Despite the heartbreaking statistics, yesterday's fund-raiser gave people a chance to have fun.
Walkers were serenaded with bluegrass music and entertained by the vocal group In Process and cast members from "Les Miserables." Graham's speech pleading for more government funding for AIDS care was a passionate exception in a day in which few protest signs were on display. Two bee stings and a minor cut were the only reported injuries.
"The attitude about AIDS has changed," said Charlotte Motley, who signed up because a friend raises money for Whitman-Walker. "Five years ago, as a professional woman, I don't think I would have come and walked for AIDS, and now I don't blink an eye."
Damien Haussling and Jennifer Brown were among three dozen Mary Washington College students who came in vans from Fredericksburg, Va.
Brown said she knows a little about AIDS because a woman who worked at her father's company had relatives who died of the disease. Haussling, who grew up in Leesburg, said he hopes the walk will "get more people involved in knowing it's a problem for everyone."
For David Deyo, the walk was a chance to prove something.
"Last year, I was in the hospital," said Deyo, who has AIDS. "This is the first I've done since I got out of the hospital."
Eight friends and former colleagues from Gallaudet University accompanied him. "I lost a friend from AIDS," said one of them, Lynne Erting. "The visibility is important."
Patrick Crowley said he and his St. Bernard, Pooch, joined the walk because he knows a lot of people with AIDS, including his best friend from high school, who lives in San Francisco. "I can't get out to visit him," Crowley said, "so I do what I can on this side of the country."
Pat Lear, who organized the walk, was not able to join it because of a bum knee. But her family did: "My grandson, who is 18 months old, brought in $55," she said.