Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Goodbye to a friend

On Monday, July 13, my friend Mark Etzel died.

The e-mail bearing that news was relayed to me by a friend at AIDS Project Los Angeles. APLA is where I met Mark in the early 1990s; I was working in the organization's Communications Department, and Mark came on board to work in Government Affairs.

I quickly became fond of Mark, and I was grateful for the many opportunities we had to collaborate on projects. Mark struck many people as being serious and intelligent but he also had an impish side that revealed itself on the occasions when he stopped by my office to chat, usually at the end of a long day.

Mark got seriously ill when he was at APLA, and then some time later he left the organization to work at the UCLA-Semel Institute, Center for Community Health. There, Mark served as the Executive Director of the Center for HIV Identification, Prevention, and Treatment Services (CHIPTS) for more than a decade.

In 2002, I was part of a team of people at APLA working on a new publication focused on HIV, and Mark was selected to be the guest editor of the first edition. Before that project was complete, however, I lost my position at APLA, bringing our working relationship to a halt.

Post-APLA, I tried to wing it as a free-lance marketing and publications consultant for a few years, and several of my clients were former colleagues at APLA, including Mark, who had the grace to give me several opportunities to work with his team at CHIPTS. Mark was doing important work in the realm of HIV at CHIPTS and it was a privilege to support that work in my small way, and to learn from him. Having him as a boss was a thrill.

After a while, it became clear to me that I didn't have the temperament or appetite for risk that free-lancing requires, and I was lucky to land a steady full-time job. Around that time, I learned that Mark was suffering from lymphoma.

I wasn't in touch with Mark's partner, family or co-workers so I don't know all of the ups and downs of Mark's illness. From second-hand reports provided by friends remaining at APLA, I do know that Mark bounced back from being gravely ill at least once. I looked to Mark for inspiration and motivation and even courage when I got my cancer diagnosis in January.

Earlier this year, Mark's colleagues at UCLA hosted a reception in his honor. The day of the reception happened to be the day that I was scheduled to begin chemotherapy, so I couldn't make it. But Mark got word that I was ill with cancer, and several times this year, he took time to send cards with notes of encouragement to me and offer to run errands for me. I wrote back a few times and intended to continue corresponding.

In the e-mail announcing Mark's passing, Dr. Mary Jane Rotheram-Borus, Principal Investigator at the UCLA Semel Institute Center for Community Health, wrote: "Mark Etzel has lost his battle with cancer. He passed away peacefully at home on Monday, July 13, surrounded by his family. He was a strong and caring individual, a valuable asset to the University as well as to the larger Los Angeles community. The leadership, strength, and clarity that his presence brought to our community will be a tremendous loss. . . .

"We have lost a wonderful colleague, a great friend and an incredible man."

A rosary for Mark will be held at 10:30 a.m. on Saturday, July 18, with a funeral service to follow at 11 a.m. at Blessed Kateri Catholic Church, 22508 Copper Hill, Santa Clarita.

The photo above was taken by Paul Antico.


  1. I am saddened to learn about Mark's passing. Like Paul Serchia, I met as a colleague in the Government Relations Department of APLA in the 1990's. Mark and I were good friends -- similar in age -- and outlook. Mark was serious about his career -- but not too serious about the world outside -- or the internal organizational politics. He had a wicked sense of humor -- and that was ultimately one of the things I most appreciated about him. He was smart and serious about his job, too -- but survival in the policy trenches requires something more. Mark thrived, ultimately becoming Executive Director of another organization. I will always remember the strength of the team we had at APLA at that time -- it was something that I have not seen since. But enough about his job. Mark and I stayed friends -- and saw each other occasionally. Once when I went to visit him at his parent's house, I had a wayward Sharpie in my pocket and inadvertently ended up marking up their sofa cushion in permanent black marker. I thought I would have to purchase a new couch or something -- but Mark flipped the cushion over and suggested we go OUT to dinner . . . NOW. If anyone his parent's are reading this -- it was me. Mark also was a devoted and contented partner to Art and Uncle to his nephew. I spoke with him several months ago -- and he seemed to be responding well to treatment -- which was a relief since the last time I saw him in person, it took some energy to get him out of the house for a burger. I will miss Mark -- and I just wanted to speak out in some way for him. Thanks, Paul, for giving me the chance. --Christopher Kush

  2. It was crushing to find this blog entry as I was Googling to find Mark after clearing my files and discovering an old note from him. It was written after our mutual friend Angela Easton died unexpectedly from a rare form of cancer several years ago. I am so sorry to learn of his passing.