Nita Pippins, who served as a maternal figure to AIDS patients after she lost her son to the disease, died at age 93 in New York City of the coronavirus.
The retired nurse was living in Pensacola, Florida, when she received a phone call in 1987 from her son Nick, her only child, letting his mother know he could no longer get out of bed and that "it's time."
Pippins initially kept her son's AIDS diagnosis a secret from family and friends, but after she got that phone call, she packed up her belongings and moved to New York City to care for him.
"She didn’t come here to be an activist," Irwin Kroot, who met Pippins through her son’s partner, Dennis Daniel, and interviewed her for a possible memoir told the New York Times.
Pippins didn't initially love city life. However, she met her son's friends, including those in the acting group he founded, People With AIDS Theater Workshop, and learned other people in their apartment building were also testing positive for the disease.
That experience changed her.
Nick Pippins was 35 years old when he died in 1990. His mother didn't head back to Florida. She decided to stay, and with a new sense of purpose, started her next chapter helping AIDS patients and their families. She often held the hands of young men as they took their final breaths.
"She was filling a void. She was usually with young men who were dying and was, at their request, a go-between for them and their families," Kroot told the New York Times.
When Pippins was asked for advice from someone who wanted to start an AIDS-related charity, she also offered her input about the importance of having an affordable place to stay for families, caretakers and out of town patients seeing treatment. That's when the Miracle House was born.
With several apartments scattered throughout New York City, the homes provide an affordable place for people to stay, making sure they're able to get the treatment they need and spend time with loved ones traveling to the city, just as Pippins was able to with her son.
She also hosted a breakfast for residents and relished meeting everyone who stayed at The Miracle House.
"I really wanted to get the mothers together and let them know that my son died of AIDS and that it is very painful," she told NY1 in 2010. "At that time, you were shunned if your son died of AIDS or if you had AIDS in your family. You were shunned. I wanted to let them know there was other people having the same problem."
Pippins died on May 10 — Mother's Day — in New York City.
Jesse Ramos, who said he was mentored by Pippins and chosen by her to become executive director of The Miracle House, paid tribute to her in a public Facebook post.
"I was fortunate to meet her when I did as I was lost in my grieving after having lost a circle of friends including my best friend to AIDS. She saw me clearly and knew me as the whole man that I could be. She taught me how to love without strings, on a tight rope, up high," he said. "Our love ran deep. Love is everything... For me it makes life everything it should be."