Terry Higgins, the UK’s first named person to die from AIDS-related illnesses, has been honoured with a memorial quilt four decades on from his death.
He passed away at the age of 37 on 4 July 1982, sparking the creation of Terrence Higgins Trust which is now the country’s leading sexual health and HIV charity.
Now, on 3 August, a memorial quilt paying tribute to him is to be revealed for the first time at The Festival of Quilts in Birmingham’s NEC.
Making quilts to honour those lost to the AIDS epidemic first became popular in the 1980s and ‘90s to help people grieve those they lost and ensure they are never forgotten.
Terrence Higgins Trust worked with The Quilters’ Guild to create the new eight-panel memorial quilt, a project that was overseen by the charity’s co-founders Ruper Whitaker (Terry’s partner) and Martyn Butler, as well as Terry’s close friends Linda Payan and Maxine Saunders.
“It contains a sad, but beautiful, set of memories”
Discussing the significance of the quilt, Whitaker said: “This panel contains images of some of the most meaningful things connected with Terry: my favourite photo of him, his letters to me at uni, some song titles we used to dance to in Heaven, the clock he gave me for Christmas and the note he put in the back of it (which always makes me smile), my grandmother’s cottage in Boscastle where we stayed in the autumn and made crumble from freshly picked blackberries, and where, the following summer, I scattered his ashes in the Valency river nearby.
“It contains a sad, but beautiful, set of memories that bring him right back to me. I’m so grateful for the kindness and artistry of Paula, the quilter.”
Each panel honours an aspect of Terry’s character, including as a Welshman, gay man and his time in the Royal Navy.
Two of them also explore his working life as a Hansard reporter in Parliament by day and his evenings spent as a barman and DJ in London’s Heaven nightclub.
Service users, volunteers and staff from Terrence Higgins Trust worked together on the final panel, which celebrates the progress made in the fight against HIV and the stigma surrounding it over the last 40 years.
Each panel contains part of the heart motif which is part of the charity’s logo.
“The Terry Higgins Memorial Quilt has surpassed all of our expectations. It is a fittingly stunning tribute to Terry as a friend, lover, Welshman, gay man, activist and to his incredible legacy through our charity Terrence Higgins Trust,” Richard Angell, Chief Executive of Terrence Higgins Trust, said.
“As well as celebrating Terry and the past 40 years, the quilt also celebrates how much progress has been made because of those who acted, including our co-founders Rupert Whitaker and Martyn Butler.
“We stand on their shoulders and today we’re fighting hard to ensure that the UK becomes the first country in the world to end new HIV cases – and, as always, doing so in Terry’s name.”
The Terry Higgins Memorial Quilt is on display at The Festival of Quilts at Birmingham’s NEC from 3-6 August.