Affectionately known as the Cemetery Angel

A former caregiver of AIDS crisis victims and an AIDS awareness advocate based in Arkansas

In 1984, her discovery of a hospital room door with a "big, red bag" over it and her encounter with the dying young man inside changed her life -- and led her to becoming the final caregiver for hundreds of people dying of AIDS, most of them young gay men who had been abandoned by their families. 

She used her salary as a real estate agent to care for AIDS patients whose families and communities had abandoned them. Because of the prejudices, fears, and stigma surrounding the disease at the time, she was often the patients' only caregiver until they eventually died. She is recognized for burying them in her own family cemetery in Hot Springs, Arkansas

In 2017, she was awarded the Thom Weyand Unsung Hero Award by the National AIDS Memorial for her work in the darkest days of the epidemic, where she cared for hundreds of young gay men abandoned by their families.


"Who knew there’d come a time when people didn’t want to bury their children?”

— Ruth Coker Burks

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40 yearS 40 stories

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the fear, stigma and discrimination. We share the stories of hope, courage, compassion, and love.  And, we bring to light the harsh reality that four decades later, there is no cure and the rates of infection are on the rise, particularly in communities of color.

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