BRATTLEBORO—The AIDS Project of Southern Vermont has many volunteers and friends, but none more beloved than Shirley Squires of Guilford.
Since the death of her son, Ron, in 1993, the 83-year-old great-grandmother has been a tireless fundraiser and advocate for the AIDS Project, which was founded in 1988 and provides direct services to people living with HIV/AIDS and prevention services in Windham, Bennington and southern Windsor counties.
And last Saturday, before the start of the AIDS Project’s annual Walk for Life, Squires was honored for a huge milestone — raising more than $250,000 for the nonprofit over the past two decades.
Karen Peterson, executive director of AIDS Project of Southern Vermont, said that Squires has gone from setting up a table in front of the supermarket to solicit pledges for the walk to contacting more than 700 people by phone and mail each year to give pledges large and small.
“She gets started every January, and she doesn’t stop until the day the walk begins,” said Peterson.
In her first year, in 1993, Squires raised $1,000. With each passing year, the dollars added up.
Coming into this year’s walk, Squires had raised a bit more than $233,000 over the course of 21 years. Peterson said Squires passed the quarter-million-dollar mark this year with $22,000 in pledges — a bit more than two-thirds of the event’s total take this year of more than $30,000.
At the kick-off to last Saturday’s walk at the Robert H. Gibson River Garden, Squires was surrounded by family and friends as board members read the names of those from Southern Vermont who succumbed to AIDS over the past three decades.
Among the names on the roll was Ron Squires, who served in the Vermont Legislature representing Guilford and Vernon from 1991 until his death at 41 on Jan. 8, 1993.
An eighth-generation Vermonter, the Democrat was the first openly gay lawmaker in Vermont. Squires helped in the passage of legislation in 1992 that banned discrimination against gays and lesbians, making Vermont the sixth state to do so.
Squires served on the House Operations Committee as vice-chair in his first term and was poised to become that committee’s chair until illness intervened. He was sworn in for his second term in his hospital bed a little more than hour before his death from viral meningitis, an AIDS-related illness.
Gov. Peter Shumlin, who served in the House during the years Squires was there, sent a letter of thanks for Shirley’s work.
“For years, Shirley has worked tirelessly on behalf of the AIDS Project of Southern Vermont to ensure direct services are available to those affected by HIV/AIDS,” he wrote. “You have made a tremendous difference and I am proud to consider you my friend.”
And Rev. James C. Dodson, pastor of St. Michael’s Catholic Church in Brattleboro, said Squires “was a blessing to us all” and said, “You can see the Holy Spirit working in her heart, mind, and soul.”
Peterson said Shirley had a significant health scare last summer when she needed emergency heart bypass surgery. It slowed her down briefly.
“There’s only one Shirley, and we’re thankful we have her,” said Peterson.
That sentiment was reinforced by the dozen or so signs that read “Thanks Shirley Squires” carried by friends and family during the walk.