Tony Lombardo, AIDS activist


“Our beautiful friend Tony Lombardo is now with the angels,” so wrote local gay philanthropist Mel Heifetz on Facebook, about the passing of his longtime friend and companion.

Heifetz and Rick Lombardo, Tony’s brother and sole surviving family member, were Tony’s constant companions throughout his final illness. Rick and Tony had faced their father’s illness and death together and the brothers had a close bond that friends and colleagues alike admired.

On his brother’s passing, Rick Lombardo said, “Words cannot express my thoughts and what this loss means to me.” But, he said that after Tony’s long illness and the weeks Tony had spent at Pennsylvania Hospital, with Rick at his side, “He is now at peace.”

The Facebook message Heifetz posted, in white letters on a stark black background, was a shock to many in the Philadelphia LGBTQ community where Lombardo, 59, had been a fixture for decades. Scores of comments and condolences to Mel and Rick followed the post, some from well-known Philadelphia activists and others from friends and colleagues. Some told stories of how enjoyable it was to hang out with Tony and talk — he was, for many, a friend who could be counted on.

Tony Lombardo died on the evening of Sept. 26 at Pennsylvania Hospital after a long and valiant battle with cancer. Heifetz had posted regularly on Facebook about Lombardo’s declining health in the weeks before his death. Heifetz said, “Never have I or others heard a bad word about our Tony. It is with deep sorrow that we will all miss his beautiful smile.”

Lombardo had been deeply involved in local LGBTQ politics since the early 1980s. As the former partner of PGN publisher Mark Segal, Lombardo was one of the most visible community faces during the most volatile activist years of the AIDS pandemic and was known to many as a compassionate friend to those who were sick and dying of AIDS.

Segal recounted a final visit to Lombardo. “Tony invited me to visit him in the hospital, where we went down memory lane together.”

Segal and Lombardo had traveled extensively throughout their 20-year relationship, and Segal recounted that he and Lombardo had reminisced “mostly about our travel — those memories are what I’ll cherish.”

For those who worked with Lombardo at PGN, where he was office manager, assistant to the publisher and facilitator of political events, Lombardo was a civilizing force during a complicated era in LGBTQ politics in Philadelphia.

Former PGN art director and local playwright Gary L. Day remembered Lombardo with fondness. Day said, “Tony was a constant positive presence in whatever situation he found himself.” He said, “I worked with him at PGN for 11 years, and never did we have a cross word between us. His premature departure is a great loss to us all.”

Former PGN editor Tommi Avicolli Mecca learned of Lombardo’s passing at his home in San Francisco via Facebook. Avicolli Mecca was deeply saddened by Lombardo’s passing, saying, “Tony was an incredibly kind and generous person, who could always be counted on to help someone.”

Like Day, Avicolli Mecca had worked with Lombardo for years, and recalled how important Lombardo’s strength, humor and warmth were to so many. “When I worked at PGN in the ’80s during the beginning years of the AIDS crisis,” Avicolli Mecca said, “Tony helped keep up morale around the office at a time when so many of us were feeling nothing but despair.”

For Segal, Lombardo’s outspokenness about his HIV status is a part of his legacy. He said, “Tony should be fondly remembered by the community for his bravery in being public about his HIV status and for leading the quest of destigmatizing HIV.”

At a time when many feared going public with their HIV-positive status due to rampant discrimination, Lombardo was boldly open about his, taking the ACT-UP mantra “Silence = Death” to heart. That honesty about his HIV status, Segal said, led to others being open about their own status. Segal detailed how Lombardo had been “invigorated by the unconditional support of his doctor, and by [Executive Director] Jane Shull of Philadelphia Fight, at a time when others were silent. That was a major contribution to our community that he gave us.”

For Rick Lombardo, his brother’s passing has been acutely painful and a tremendous loss. He said, “Tony was one of the good guys. He had his ups and downs in life, but always landed on his feet. He was there for me in taking care of our father, and he was there for me in everything else. Tony will always be in my heart and mind.”

Avicolli Mecca spoke for many in the community when he said, “Rest in power, Tony, you will never be forgotten.”

Tony Lombardo is survived only by Rick, who has organized a memorial service for Tony at Sannutti Funeral Home, 7101 Torresdale Ave., on Friday, Oct. 11th at 6:00 p.m.

An additional memorial service will be held Monday, Oct. 7, at the William Way Center from 5:30 p.m. until 8 p.m. For the service at Wiliam Way, in lieu of flowers, donations can be made to Philadelphia Fight or other local AIDS organizations. Heifetz said, “Please come and join us and share your story, photo or appreciation with us. All are welcome.”