May 27, 1948 - February 2, 2012
One year ago, René Jesus Valdes, linguist, Gay Games Gold Medalist, and 30-year HIV survivor, died after increasingly difficult bouts of mental anguish. He was born In Havana, Cuba, and battled discrimination after being expelled from university and denied employment for being Gay. He came to the U.S. in 1980 in the Mariel boatlift and battled further discrimination by the INS, which sought to deny his citizenship when he admitted he was Gay. After a lengthy court fight he won his citizenship in 1989.
Shortly after his arrival in the U.S., he quickly found work in the burgeoning IT world and began his career as a computational linguist. Despite being diagnosed with AIDS in 1984 and being told three different times in the '80s that he had less than six months to live, he survived the disease that took his first U.S. lover and many friends over the years. He was part of the early generation that protested U.S. government inaction on the AIDS crisis and encouraged the FDA to open clinical trials to the dying. It was in one such clinical trial in 1986, for an early protease inhibitor, that gave him his life back. Despite the illness and other opportunistic infections, he continued to work for most of this period. He also earned his master's degree in Hispanic Linguistics and brought his twin sons from Cuba to live with him.
In 2002, he moved to Seattle. He won several awards from Microsoft for his work in developing spell- and grammar-checks in a host of languages. He spoke seven languages including Esperanto and could get along in at least six others. He hosted noontime discussion sessions in any number of languages and his knowledge was legend among his colleagues.
René was a handsome and sexy man, the life of any group. Men and women enjoyed being around him and all he had to do was to flash his famous smile to endear anyone. He was curious about everyone and everything and could spend hours talking and questioning friends and strangers alike on politics, the arts, movies, and social conditions around the world. He loved to travel, and once in a new country or region, he would pick up the local language in a few days and be relatively fluent if he was there for a week. At the drop of a hat, he would burst into song in Spanish, Russian, German, Czech, or Yiddish.
He was loyal to all of his friends and especially to his family. He supported several older relatives in Cuba by sending money, medications, and other supplies that were scarce in that country. Even at a long distance he was a father figure to several of his nephews and was beloved by all of his family members in both Cuba and the U.S.
He was a runner and became active in Team Seattle Track and Field, where he also learned to throw the javelin and discus. He medaled in both the Chicago Gay Games in 2006 and in Cologne in 2010 he won gold, silver, and bronze medals. He also ran in numerous local 5k and 10k races.
Active in Democratic politics, René also participated in numerous marches and protests in Seattle. He supported the Lifelong AIDS Alliance and always participated in the Seattle AIDS Walk. He volunteered time in the Seattle community and taught computer skills to Spanish-speaking immigrants. He loved Seattle and its parks and from his home in Capital Hill/Madison Park, he often walked to the Arboretum.
In 2000 he began a long-distance relationship with Alan Lessik, who lived in San Francisco, and for eight years the two would travel back and forth between the two cities every three weeks. Together they explored Washington and British Columbia as well as traveled to Cuba, Argentina, Spain, Belgium, France, and Germany. René finally moved to San Francisco in 2011. He is survived by his sons, Sandor and Franco Valdes of Miami, his aunt Helga Engelhardt of Cuba, and other relatives, former partners, and friends. A one-year memorial is planned at the San Francisco Zen Center on February 2. For more information contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
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