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 of memorial, survivorship and stories of AIDS

The National AIDS Memorial brings 40 years of stories from the pandemic – the lives lost, the heroes, the survivors.  Each week we will share new stories that provide a glimpse into the many faces of AIDS from then to now.

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Our work helps ensure that the lives of people who died from AIDS are not forgotten and the story of AIDS is known by future generations -
so that never again will a community be harmed because of fear, silence, discrimination, or stigma.