Frances Peabody; Activist Against AIDS

From Times Staff and Wire Reports

Frances W. Peabody, a community activist who became one of Maine's leading figures in the fight against AIDS, has died. She was 98.

Peabody died June 26 at a hospital in Portland, Maine, after a short illness.

Known as "Frannie," Peabody became active in AIDS causes at the age of 81 after her grandson died of the disease in 1984. She helped start the state's first AIDS information hotline and years later helped found the AIDS Project, which provides housing, money and support groups to people with HIV. The Peabody House, the state's only residential care facility for AIDS patients, is named in her honor.

Mary Lake, executive director of Peabody House, said Peabody helped change the way people in Maine look at AIDS.

"Before her, there was nothing. There were patients, but no services in Maine," Lake told the Portland Press Herald. "She changed the attitudes of a lot of people that others couldn't reach."

Born Frances Wilson in Washington, D.C., Peabody rolled bandages during the first World War. She graduated from Smith College and found work at Macy's in New York City, where she met her future husband, Millard Peabody, one of the store's managers.

The couple resettled in Boston in the late 1920s, where her husband ran a shoe manufacturing business and Peabody raised the couple's five children. Four of them survive her, as do eight grandchildren and 10 great-grandchildren.

The politically conservative Peabody, a lifelong activist who traced her family to the Mayflower, was a recipient last year of the AIDS Action 2000 National Leadership Award. Previous winners include former Vice President Al Gore and his wife, Tipper; Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.); and filmmaker Jonathan Demme.

In 1990, Peabody received the Daily Points of Light Program award presented by President George Bush.

Active until the last few days of her life, she attended the Peabody House Board of Trustees' annual retreat earlier this month. On June 16, she was the grand marshal of the South Maine Gay Pride Parade. She wore a pink feather boa.

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