Mary Fisher, Chair
Before that August evening in Houston in 1992, Mary Fisher had worked as a successful television producer and as an assistant to the President of the United States (The Honorable Gerald R. Ford). Already, she was a nationally recognized artist and the mother of Max and Zack. But after the night of August 19, 1992, she would be known worldwide as “the woman who spoke at the Republican Convention.” Following the speech in which Mary stunned millions around the world and brought the convention floor to silence and tears, she had a new role: ambassador of compassion in the fight against AIDS.
Born in Louisville, Kentucky on April 6, 1948, Mary Fisher was raised in Southeast Michigan where she attended the Cranbrook Academies, Wayne State University and the University of Michigan. Mary’s brother, sisters and mother continue to live in the Greater Detroit area; her father died in March 2005. Mary makes her home in Sedona, Arizona, with her son Zack; her son Max lives in Michigan.
As an artist, Mary is best known for her work in handmade papers and fiber art, including quilts. Featured in solo and group shows in major galleries across the country, and accessible on www.maryfisher.com, her works are found in private and public collections across the U.S. and Europe. Mary’s photography and sculpture have also attracted media attention. In the fall of 1995 her one-person exhibit, “Messages,” was invited to the United States Senate for a Rotunda exhibit; the exhibition was subsequently banned on the objection of one Senator, making headlines across the United States. Several one-person exhibits under the title “ABATAKA” (a pan-African term for “community”) have toured the United States since early 2003. In spring 2006, her work was exhibited at the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum in Grand Rapids, Michigan; and in fall 2006, several of her sculptures were added to the permanent collection at the UNAIDS headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland.
In 1992 Mary founded the Family AIDS Network, a national non-profit organization dedicated to heightening community, national and international awareness and compassion for the fight against HIV/AIDS. At the beginning of 2000, the Family AIDS Network was transitioned into a new organization, the Mary Fisher Clinical AIDS Research and Education (CARE) Fund at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. The CARE Fund supports clinical and outcomes-based research for persons with HIV/AIDS and is the base from which Mary continues her advocacy work.
As part of her commitment to enable HIV-affected women in Africa to support themselves and their families, Mary taught women in Rwanda and Zambia to hand-bead bracelets initially brought to the U.S. market by Fair Winds Trading, Inc., through partnerships with O, The Oprah Magazine, and Macy’s.com. Mary continues personally to teach HIV-positive women in Zambia to make jewelry, in a training, support and income-generation program called The ABATAKA Project. She showcases the women’s handiwork at galleries where her art is exhibited, and sells their jewelry on her Web site as The ABATAKA Collection. Through The ABATAKA Project, women acquire job skills and income that enable them to educate, feed and house their families, and even to start their own small businesses.
Two collections of Mary’s speeches and personal photographs have been published (Sleep with the Angels, 1994, and I’ll Not Go Quietly, 1995). Her first autobiographical memoir, My Name is Mary, was published in 1995 during the era when AIDS was a death sentence; her second memoir -- MESSENGER, A Self-Portrait (2012), focused on her return to life, overcoming breast cancer, and taking on new challenges. In 1997 Moyer-Bell published her journal of caregivers in photographs and stories, Angels in Our Midst, and in 2004 ABATAKA: A Collection of Quilts, Sculpture and Textiles was released. Her speeches have been published in university rhetoric textbooks and anthologies, including the “Top 100 Speeches in America: 1900-1999” (Oxford University Press). Ms. Fisher’s “Letter to My Sons” (1992) is included in the best-selling collection, Letters of the Century: America 1900-1999 (2000, Dial Press).
Mary and her work have been honored with a variety of awards, tributes, and honorary degrees including three doctorates. She is a trustee and board member for several national organizations. In May of 2006 she was named to a three-year term as Special Representative for the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS).