Robb Dussliere was born on December 31, 1961. He grew up primarily in East Moline, Illinois in a large family. While living in Denver in the mid-1980s, his partner became one of the first men in Denver to be diagnosed with AIDS. Robb discovered that he, too, was HIV positive.
Ten years later, Robb returned home to the Quad Cities to be near his family at the end of his life.
Robb and Beth Wehrman, executive director of the AIDS Project Quad Cities, approached me in early April 1995 with this story. They originally wanted Robb to simply speak into a camera each week, an idea they got from a Canadian series by Dr. Peter Jepson-Young, who talked to viewers each week until his death in 1992.
My instincts told me that it would be even more effective if we could see Robb go through his life as a real human being, not just someone speaking in front of a camera. Together, we decided that was what we would do.
From April 1995, when he appeared fit and healthy, until his funeral in April, 1996, I followed Robb with my camcorder, videotaping his life as he lived with AIDS. I wanted to tell his story without a reporter getting in the way, so I stepped back and let the medium of TV show his life through the visuals, the natural sound, the interviews, and music that tapped into the heart of the story. My face was never seen and my voice was only heard a couple of times when I asked a question from off-camera.
Along the way, we pushed the creative envelope and shattered some of the tired formulas of local TV news. Since I was news director at WHBF-TV and called the shots in our daily news coverage, I was able to make that call without interference. Management at the time wisely gave me enough leeway to do this project, something for which I will always be grateful. We especially appreciate the permission granted by WHBF-TV to put the series online so Robb can continue to educate the public.
This series won several Associated Press awards and other acknowledgements. More importantly, it was clear by the end that we had touched people in ways I had never seen in my years as a professional journalist.
Twenty years later, Robb means more to me than ever. Robb’s bravery is more clear than ever. But the work is not finished.
During the final year of his life Robb was in a race against time as he worked to help launch the DeLaCerda House, a place where HIV/AIDS patients could find housing and support. Even 20 years later, these people are often shunned by family and friends, they lose their jobs and find themselves homeless.
During the 20th anniversary of Robb’s Life, the original stories are being shown on this blog in “real time,” appearing in order, during the same week, as the original stories in 1995 and 1996.
I hope that you will go on this trip back in time with us, keep track of Robb’s Life as it unfolds just as it did two decades ago, and donate — even a few dollars at a time — to the DeLaCerda House, which began as “Robb’s House” and still works to fulfill his wish that no one should be homeless because of this disease. You will find links throughout the pages and the stories. Robb would appreciate your help, and so would I.
Along the way, I will share some of my own story, what I felt as we were shooting the series, and the changes that happen when the jagged, ugly holes of ignorance and prejudice are filled in with experience and understanding. I was raised in the South in the Fifties and Sixties, with all the prejudices that were taught to white folks in those days. Enlightenment did not come easily, but it did come, and Robb was an important part of my own transformation and, you might say, redemption.
I have never known anyone as brave as Robb Dussliere, and I know that you will never forget Robb’s Life.
— Ken Gullette, April, 2015