Back to 1987: McKinney’s death focuses attention on AIDS fight
Updated 4:30 am, Monday, April 25, 2016
FAIRFIELD — While political news these days centers on the wild wars being waged in both parties for this year’s presidential nomination, in 1987 the political news that grabbed attention on the front page of the Fairfield Citizen — and papers across the nation — was an article on the death of U.S. Rep. Stewart B. McKinney from complications of AIDS.
McKinney, a Republican who represented the 4th Congressional District for nine terms, passed away at age 56 on Thursday, May 7, 1987, as the paper was going to press. A longtime Fairfield resident whose district home was in Westport at the time of his death, McKinney was first elected to office as a state representative in 1967, before being elected to Congress in 1970.
Not all his political ventures were successful, however. In 1965, McKinney tried, and failed, to unseat First Selectman J. John Sullivan, before finding success at the state and national levels.
In an era when little was known about AIDS, and the virus and how it might be contracted were the source of widespread fears, McKinney’s death focused broader attention on the issue. His widow, Lucie, later established a foundation in his name to help people with HIV and battled opposition to her plan to open a Fairfield group home for homeless people with AIDS.
After McKinney’s death, a 70-mile stretch of protected Connecticut coastline was named the Stewart B. McKinney National Wildlife Refuge in his honor.
In the May 8, 1987, edition of the Fairfield Citizen, McKinney’s death was noted with a box on the front page that read:
“U.S. Rep, Steward McKinney of Westport died yesterday in Washington Center Hospital in Washington, D.C. He was 56.
“McKinney died of AIDS contracted from blood transfusions when he had multiple heart bypass surgery in 1979, according to his physician Dr. Cesar Caceras.
“McKinney, who entered the hospital on April 22, was listed as critical since Friday and had been on a respirator. He was admitted to the hospital with a stomach inflammation that later was diagnosed as food poisoning. He then developed an upper respiratory infection, which doctors were treating with antibiotics.
McKinney, a chain smoker, suffered from serious medical problems for the last 10 years, beginning with a heart attack in 1977. He later had double bypass surgery, and in 1985 was hospitalized with pneumonia.
McKinney was a nine-term congressman representing the Fourth Congressional District.”