The_Ray_Brothers_story
The Ray Brothers' Story
storiesfactcom Here are some articles in chronological order from different websites about the Ray Brothers:

AIDS Panic Rocks Florida Town
[ WWW. FACT.COM ]
September 04, 1987

Arcadia, Fla. was the scene of a fire of suspicious origin the night of Aug. 28 that destroyed the home of a couple whose three sons were hemophiliacs known to have been exposed to the virus that caused acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS).

The fire capped a week of bomb and death threats against Clifford and Louise Ray, and their daughter and three sons, and a boycott of local schools. The boycott had been prompted by the Aug. 24 return to school of the three boys after a year's absence.

Arcadia was a DeSoto County community about 50 miles (80 km) inland from the Gulf Coast cities of Sarasota and Fort Myers.

The boys, who presumably had been exposed to the AIDS virus through the transfusion of blood products administered to ease the effects of their hemophilia, had been barred from classes in the fall of 1986, after the local school board had been notified of their condition. The Rays had then sued, citing doctors who said the boys posed no threat to other children. Nearly a year later, a federal judge in Tampa had ordered the boys--who continued to show no symptoms of AIDS itself--readmitted to school.

The Rays were not home when the fire broke out. A brother of Clifford Ray was asleep in a bedroom at the time but escaped. He was released from a local hospital after treatment for smoke inhalation.

On Aug. 29, Louise Ray said that her family would leave DeSoto County. "I never thought it would go this far," she said in a telephone interview from her lawyer's office in Sarasota.

On Aug. 30, members of a committee that had been formed to keep the three boys out of DeSoto County classrooms offered the Rays donations of food and clothing. By then the family's plight had attracted national attention, and offers of aid were pouring in from across the country. A family spokesman that day indicated that the Rays wanted any donations from DeSoto County to go toward efforts to educate the community about AIDS.
 

The Rays' house in Arcadia, FL after a suspicious fire.
(photo by Garth Francis)

Ricky Ray loses AIDS battle
[ WWW.AEGIS.COM ]
December 14, 1992

Miami Herald - Monday, December 14, 1992
John Donnelly, Herald Staff Writer

AIDS-infected Florida teenager Ricky Ray, whose precocious wisdom in the face of hysterical persecution helped educate the nation about the disease, died peacefully Sunday at his Orlando home. He was 15.
He and his two younger brothers, Robert, 14, and Randy, 13, who also are infected with HIV, were at the center of a Florida and national controversy in 1986 when the Arcadia School Board barred them from school because they were infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. "He died peacefully at home, in his sleep," said his father, Clifford Ray, who was with the family at the boy's bedside, along with Ricky's friend and former fiance, Wenonah Lindberg.

"He went very quickly, and it was where he wanted to be," said his mother, Louise. "He wanted to be at home; he wanted to be with his family."

The teenager, who had been unable to eat solid food or sit up and needed an oxygen mask to help with his breathing, died about 3:45 a.m. Sunday of multiple organ failure, Dr. Jerry Barbosa said.

"Obviously, it was not unexpected, but it was sudden and quick," said Judith Kavanaugh, the family's attorney in Sarasota, where the Rays lived before moving to Orlando earlier this year. "He was conscious to the very end. The family had an opportunity to tell him how much they loved him."

His family will continue his efforts to educate others about AIDS and fight for a cure, Louise Ray said.

Her son had "wanted people to understand AIDS is not just this word that happens to somebody else -- it can happen to everybody," said Louise Ray, who, along with her husband, looked pale and haggard at a news conference later Sunday outside Kavanaugh's office.

"Ricky has done what he wanted to do," the boy's father said. "He won his battle, and he's gone to a better place."

In his last days, Ray's family had maintained a bedside vigil by the teenager, who recently had returned to his home for Thanksgiving after being hospitalized for a month at All Children's Hospital in St. Petersburg.

The family said the boy's funeral will be Friday morning in Sarasota, where he also will be buried.

Last month, President-elect Clinton telephoned the boy in the hospital to offer his support.

It is uncertain whether Clinton will attend services for Ray, spokesman Jeff Eller said in Little Rock, Ark. Clinton, who was unable to reach the family Sunday morning, sent his condolences.

Ray had said before the hospital call that he hoped Clinton "does what he says about AIDS. . . . I know he's a very busy man right now because he's got to run the United States now, but . . . I want to tell him that I want help for AIDS."

He had hoped to live long enough to attend Clinton's inauguration and progressed to the point that he was able to walk in for out-patient care early this month, "surprising everyone," said Barbosa. But his condition then rapidly deteriorated, Barbosa said.

Ricky again made national headlines in June 1991 when he and his Sarasota neighbor, 16-year-old Lindberg, announced plans to wed.

Although the young couple's decision was supported by their parents, the engagement drew mixed public reaction. Illness eventually forced Ricky to put the wedding plans on hold. The pair later broke up, but remained close friends.

"They were best friends, always best friends -- even now that he's gone," Lindberg's mother, Debbie, said Sunday.

The three Ray boys are believed to have contracted the AIDS virus six years ago through tainted blood products taken for their hemophilia. They were the first Florida children to receive the AIDS drug AZT.

Ray's impact on AIDS education already has been felt.

"Things changed so much for us around the country after the Ray family. People saw that education is really an imperative in dealing with AIDS," said Alan Brownstein, executive director of the National Hemophilia Foundation in New York. "They went through hell, but their hell has helped others."

Robert was diagnosed with acquired immune deficiency syndrome in February 1990 but shows little sign of physical problems. Ricky was diagnosed with AIDS in March 1991.

Randy, like his brothers, tested positive for the human immunodeficiency virus in 1986, but he has not developed any symptoms of advanced stages of the incurable disease.

Barbosa said Sunday that the younger brothers are "the picture of health" and are not yet showing outward signs of the ravaging disease.

During the ordeal, the family endured the miseries of a small Central Florida town barring their children from school, and an arsonist torched their home in 1987.

In some ways, Ricky Ray was a teenager like any other. In one month last year, he dyed his hair blond, got a spike cut and had his ears pierced. He loved going to the movies, eating at fast-food restaurants and hanging out with friends.

Yet, Ricky was clearly different -- "like he was living on another place from the rest of us," said Kavanaugh, the family lawyer who become the Rays' confidante.

He was wise beyond his years, and one of his missions from the start was to speak bluntly about AIDS. When his family moved to Sarasota in 1988, after their house was burned down in Arcardia, Ricky talked about his disease to classmates. Use condoms, he said; if someone with HIV is bleeding, get them to a doctor.

When one friend's mother expressed fears about exposure to someone with the HIV virus, Ricky spent hours with the woman, explaining the basics of the disease. She changed her mind.

And he spoke out to groups across the country, jetting with his family from talk show to talk show.

People had a hard time understanding how the teenager could speak so openly about death, or about how he worried not for himself, but for his brothers.

He did get depressed at times. One of his worst periods was the death of his friend Ryan White, 18, in 1990. Ryan was a hemophiliac, too, who contracted the disease through tainted blood transfusions.

The two used to talk often on the phone. About what? "Secrets," Ricky said in an interview last year.

"I've learned since I have AIDS," he said in a hearing last year in a lawsuit, "that every moment is supposed to be a special time because you don't know how much time you have left." The suit, against two blood-products companies, was settled out of court for $1 million.

But most of all over the last six years, he became the protective older brother to his sister and brothers.

In an interview with The Miami Herald last year, Ricky said he had, in his own way, prayed that he could save his brothers through his own sacrifice: "I thought about both of them dying. I thought about a way to take it off Robert and Randy and putting it on me."

A public viewing of Ricky's body was planned for Thursday night at Toale Brothers Funeral Home in Sarasota.

Ray's funeral will be at 11 a.m. Friday at the First Baptist Church in Sarasota, with burial at Palms Memorial Park. In lieu of flowers, donations may be sent to Dr. Jerry Barbosa, chief of pediatrics, All Children's Hospital, 801 Sixth St. South, St. Petersburg, Fla., 33701.

Ricky Ray is survived by his parents, Clifford and Louise Ray; his brothers, Robert and Randy; and a sister, Candy.
 

Ray brother fighting AIDS faces surgery
[ WWW.SPTIMES.COM ]
October 5, 2000

The family that battled AIDS, the government and its rural community is still struggling.

ST. PETERSBURG -- He is still remembered across the nation as one of three boys whose blood was accidentally infected with HIV. Rejected by neighbors who fought to keep them out of school, he and his brothers cried when someone in their small community burned down their house.

Their family fled Arcadia and DeSoto County in 1987, tragic figures from the early days of the AIDS epidemic. Since then, the Rays have never really recovered.

Today, in the latest hardship to befall the family, Robert Ray, now 22, will undergo surgery at All Children's Hospital to have his spleen removed.

When he entered the hospital about 10 days ago, doctors discovered an enlarged spleen, the result of the hemophilia that he and his brothers had from birth and the AIDS he has fended off for years with the help of newer therapies, his mother said Wednesday.

"This is the sickest he's ever been," said Louise Ray, 42, who with her husband, Clifford, has spoken publicly many times about the family's plight -- from network television appearances to news conferences with members of Congress.

Despite their high profile, the Rays find themselves financially strapped from the years of legal, political and medical struggles that began in 1986, when laboratory tests showed that antibodies to the AIDS virus were present in the blood of their sons, Ricky, 9, Robert, 8, and Randy, 7.

The boys had been injected with tainted blood products in the days before the nation's blood supply was tested for HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.

Ricky died in 1992 at age 15, shortly after Bill Clinton, then president-elect, called him at All Children's to say he would work to fund the fight against the deadly virus.

Speaking in the lobby of All Children's, where their sons have been treated over the years, Louise and Clifford Ray said they recently moved from Orlando to Bay Minette, Ala. They said they like the lower cost of living and the slower pace. But they live in a two-bedroom mobile home, barely making it, they said, on disability payments for Clifford Ray's clinical depression. They said they drove to St. Petersburg in older vehicles that might be repossessed at any moment.

They are able to be at their son's side through the good graces of the Ronald McDonald House.

But the couple added they are not alone, part of a hemophiliac "community" ravaged by the effects of AIDS and the government inaction that led to its presence in the blood supply in the 1980s.

This summer, the couple has been pressing Congress to approve funding for the Ricky Ray Hemophilia Relief Fund Act, named after their son, which compensates the more than 5,500 hemophiliacs who became infected with HIV after receiving tainted blood products.

With payments of $100,000 to each victim, the government acknowledges the problem could have been averted had officials reacted more aggressively to warnings in the late 1970s and '80s.

The bill was passed in 1998, when it was estimated it would take $750-million to compensate all affected hemophiliacs and their survivors. But, because Congress has never fully funded it, the victims must compete with each other for the money through a lottery system.

Although the fund is named after their son, the Rays said they are about 3,200 on the list to receive $100,000 as Ricky's survivors. Randy Ray, now 21 and working a part-time maintenance job in Orlando, is about 3,600 on the list, they said. Louise Ray described Randy's health as good, although he has no insurance, she said.

Robert, who has never worked because of his illness, is about 500 on the list, but his parents said Wednesday they wonder if he will live to see the money.

"What this has done is put a hold on his life," Clifford Ray said.

Under the current funding, the wait is estimated at four years or longer.

The Rays said the money would help their family get back on its feet after years of dealing with problems caused by their sons' illnesses. Their daughter, Candy, now 19, was not a hemophiliac and was never infected with HIV. She is married and living in Orlando.

The couple said Robert and Randy Ray received money from a separate settlement with the blood industry. But the boys were teenagers at the time and too young to handle the money responsibly, they said. That money is gone.

The proposed federal budget for fiscal 2001 allots $105-million for the fund, but Democrats in Congress this week are pushing for an additional $475-million.

Last month, President Clinton urged full funding.

"He came into the presidency with Ricky," Clifford Ray said. "He needs to finish this."
 

  From left: Randy, father Clifford, mother Louise, brother Robert  and sister Candy.
(Photo by Barry McCarthy/1998)

Robert Ray, 22, Dies
[ WWW.WASHINGTONPOST.COM ]
October 21, 2000

SARASOTA, Fla. ?? Robert Ray, 22, one of three AIDS-exposed hemophiliac brothers who won a court battle to go to school 13 years ago, only to be burned out of their home by an arsonist, died Oct. 20 in a hospital in St. Petersburg, Fla.

Mr. Ray, infected through contaminated blood products used to treat his hemophilia, died at All Children's Hospital of complications from both diseases, the hospital said in a statement.

Mr. Ray had become engaged earlier this year, and he and his fiancee had postponed nuptials that had been planned for December.

"He just wanted to be a husband and a father. It wasn't like he wanted something great out of life. He just wanted to be normal," his father, Clifford Ray, told the Sarasota Herald Tribune.

Robert, Ricky and Randy Ray gained widespread attention in 1986 when they were barred from attending class with other students in Arcadia in southwest Florida after their parents told school officials of their condition.

They returned to school under court order in 1987. Angry parents distributed petitions and sponsored rallies in a vain attempt to keep the boys out of regular classes, and days later, the Ray home was gutted in an arson fire.

The family moved to Sarasota, where the boys were welcomed by fellow students, although a few parents protested the transfer.

Their highly publicized plight paralleled that of another young hemophiliac AIDS patient, Ryan White, of Indiana, who died in 1990.

Robert Ray's older brother, Ricky, died of AIDS complications in 1992. He was 15. The youngest brother, 21-year-old Randy, has AIDS but is not showing symptoms and remains active.

Robert Ray was hospitalized with a high fever and low blood pressure on Sept. 10 in Mobile, Ala., near Stapleton, where he had moved with his parents. He later transferred to St. Petersburg, where doctors had cared for the brothers for most of their lives.

Robert Ray had been heavily sedated and on a respirator since Monday while doctors tried to control excessive bleeding. The respirator was removed Thursday while his family was present.

"His desire was that if they could fix whatever was wrong and make him better, that would be fine. But there's a difference in using life support for treatment versus prolonging life, and that was his feeling, too," his mother, Louise Ray, told the newspaper.


Slow Change of Heart

[ WWW.SPTIMES.COM ]
September 2, 2001
By Stephen Buckley

When three boys with HIV tried to go to school in Arcadia in 1986, their family was threatened and their home torched. Now, more people in the small town are open to acceptance.
RandyRay.jpg ARCADIA -- Louise Ray had an epiphany the other day. She was visiting with a cousin here, at the auto parts store where he worked, and they were chatting about someone in town who is HIV-positive. They didn't speak in hushed tones or worried voices. The half-dozen people in the store could hear them.

"And I thought, 'Boy, have things changed,' " she says. "You couldn't have had that conversation 10, 15 years ago. Now, as a general rule, having HIV has become more acceptable. You're not considered a leper to be cast away anymore."

Louise Ray and her family have a haunting history in Arcadia, population 6,600. Fifteen years ago, her boys, Ricky, Robert and Randy, were diagnosed with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. They expected support from this close-knit town. Instead they got ugly protests and death threats.

And this: Someone set fire to the Rays' clapboard house.

Arcadia, the only incorporated town in De Soto County, was a simple place known for its old gunslinging ways, its popular rodeo and its tight-lipped self-sufficiency. Legend had it that the county's first motto was "Leave us alone."

The fire changed all that.

[Times photo: Jamie Francis]

It would become a signal event in the history of AIDS in America. It helped transform society's views of the illness and its victims. It turned the Rays into activists, and it turned their lives upside-down. The whole wrenching experience ultimately changed this town in ways its people would never imagine.

Today some Arcadians still wonder whether someone with HIV is as infectious as someone with full-blown AIDS. They murmur about medical conspiracies. They insist that mosquitoes can carry the disease.

And yet ignorance coexists, however awkwardly, with more open, accepting attitudes. This is a place where Mexicans, outsiders for years, now feel comfortable enough to buy houses and open businesses, where gays say they are left alone and where nearly everyone agrees that if the Ray boys were sick with HIV today, few people would pay a whit of attention.

The AIDS hysteria ebbs
Arcadia's story is one of jagged progress, 20 years after AIDS appeared in the United States. It is a story that mirrors the rest of the country, whose struggle with the disease has been a mix of dazzling gains and profoundly frustrating losses.

Urgent, informed action has driven down AIDS deaths from a high of 40,000 a year in the mid 1990s to 16,000 today. In 1987, people with AIDS had one medication to turn to; today, they have more than 20.

In the 1980s, the Ray boys were among thousands of hemophiliacs who contracted the virus though tainted blood. Tightened monitoring of the nation's blood supply has virtually eliminated that as a method of passing on HIV.

But complacency threatens to nullify those gains. Condom use is falling among gay men in some major cities, and around the country new cases of AIDS have surged among blacks and Hispanics.

"People are clearly living longer, healthier lives," says Robert Janssen, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's division of HIV-AIDS. "But there's this sense that this has become a chronic, treatable disease instead of a uniformly fatal disease."

Unlike 1987, towns across America are more sophisticated in what they know about the disease. The AIDS-related hysteria that visited places like Arcadia has ebbed.

"As the epidemic has continued, it is very unusual for someone not to know someone who's been infected with HIV/AIDS," says Anthony Fauci, the renowned AIDS researcher at the National Institutes of Health. "Without question, a lot of the unreasonable fear is gone, which has meant less ostracizing" of people with AIDS.

The trials of this small town, framed by sprawling citrus fields and soaring moss-draped oaks, were a sad but important chapter in that evolution.

"It was a wake-up call for society," says Jerry Barbosa, the St. Petersburg doctor who diagnosed the Ray boys' HIV.

The episode taught him something: "Compassion never hurts. And sometimes it helps a lot."

The facts did not matter
Compassion was in short supply in the summer of 1986, when Clifford and Louise Ray learned that their three sons were HIV-positive. The Rays informed people with the school district and tried to enroll their children in regular classes. The School Board said no.

The Rays took the School Board to federal court. In August 1987, a U.S. district judge in Tampa ruled that the Ray children could not be excluded from regular classes. A group called Citizens Against AIDS in Schools urged parents to keep their children at home.

At their rallies, one of which drew 500 people, leaders of Citizens Against AIDS said things like: "Our primary goal is to remove this tragic disease from our schools. This goal will be accomplished by mandatory testing and separate but equal education."

And: "If a child gets up from his desk, he might trip over the leg of the desk and fall down and bust his nose or cut his arm. In that close proximity, no telling how many of those children around him could be accidentally exposed to his blood."

It did not matter that the judge had provided guidelines for the school system to follow. It did not matter that the American Medical Association had said, "Neither the School Board nor anyone else has presented evidence of any realistic risk posed by these children to their (classmates)."

C. Everett Koop, U.S. surgeon general at the time, traveled to Arcadia. He told his audience that "you couldn't get AIDS through kissing, or using the same toilet or even using the same toothbrush as someone who's HIV-positive."

"I said it was not only a tragedy and an injustice, but it was against all the information that had been provided by the federal government," Koop recalled last week.

None of it mattered. The first day of school, hundreds of parents kept their children away from Memorial Elementary, where the Rays attended. Even the mayor, George Smith, kept his son home.

Smith says now that he had nothing against the Ray boys and that he "felt sorry for them and the life they had to lead." His dominant memory of those tumultuous days is this: At one information session for the town, he asked an AIDS expert "if he could guarantee that my kids won't catch AIDS. And the answer was no."

"You tend to protect your young," he says.

Then, just as parents began sending their kids back to school and reporters started leaving town, there was the fire. Angry letters flooded into the Arcadian, the weekly newspaper.

"Just how much do you fear God and respect him when you can treat those that were made in his image like garbage," wrote someone from East Elmhurst, N.Y.

From Palm Desert, Calif.: "Has anyone in this community ever heard of the word compassion?"

Behind the scenes some Arcadians were reaching out. But those subtleties were lost in the unspooling narrative that painted Arcadia as, in the words of some newspapers, "a town without pity." The insult would stick like a sand spur.

"This has never been the kind of town the media made it out to be," Smith says. "There have always been good people here."

As evidence, he'll tell you, look at how Mexicans here have begun to fit in.

Slowly, tolerance blooms
Mexicans have lived for decades on the margins of the community. Their dreams began and ended in Arcadia's fields, picking oranges. Recently, though, they have opened restaurants and food stands, grocery stores, money-wiring outlets, lawn-mowing businesses.

Today nearly every government office and business displays signs in English and Spanish. Miniature green, red and white Mexican flags fly under rear view mirrors around town, and lawn ornaments feature a sombrero-wearing Mexican walking alongside his donkey.

Last year, Ana Medina became Arcadia's first Mexican real estate agent. Medina has lived here all of her 21 years. Her parents came as migrant workers, and her dad worked his way up to the equivalent of a field supervisor. The family lived in a trailer until three years ago, when they bought a house.

Arcadia is still a place where black and white kids call Hispanics taquito, or little taco. Medina says that she has heard whites sneer at a clutch of Mexicans who were standing outside a grocery store.

"Beaners," they said, adding an expletive.

Still, Medina says, she is mystified when she hears stories of Arcadia's less tolerant days.

"There are very good people here, very good families," she says, sitting in a small Mexican grocery and restaurant owned by her future in-laws. "I had a very good childhood here."

Gay people presumably also have lived here for decades. But 14 years ago, no one knew. Today gays in Arcadia say they live a tranquil life, free of menacing 3 a.m. phone calls or fear of walking the streets at even the most isolated hours.

They say they take their straight neighbors on vacation with them. They run businesses, work for civic groups. They don't walk around town hand in hand, but they say they don't want to.

They say they arrived in Arcadia long after the turmoil over the Rays. Their gay friends were shocked that they had moved to a place synonymous with hate.

"I am here as a business person," says Robert Judd, who owns an antiques store with his life partner, Russell Hanners. "I have never had anyone swearing and yelling at me. It's how you carry yourself and present yourself with people. . . . I don't know whether it's tolerance or acceptance or what."

Another gay man, who moved here in the late 1990s, says he doesn't want to be identified because he doesn't want the people he works with in a nearby county to know his sexual orientation.

Not enough Arcadians spoke up for what was right in 1987, he says, but it was the time they lived in. They didn't know better. They thought getting AIDS "was just as lethal as hurling yourself out in front of a 70-mile-an-hour car. But that happened 14 years ago. Things have changed. Give it up. Let it go."

It took nearly a decade after the fire before the Rays returned to Arcadia. They moved around the South several times, returning to Central Florida last September.

"A lot of water's run under the bridge" since 1987, Clifford says.

Ricky died in 1992. He was 15. In 1998, his name would grace a national law, the Ricky Ray Relief Fund Act, that allowed the government to compensate hemophiliacs who contracted AIDS between 1982 and 1987. The government accepted blame for lax screening of the nation's blood supply in those years.

Robert succumbed to AIDS last October. He was 22. Randy is 22, married three months ago and living in Central Florida. He has full-blown AIDS but is healthy enough to bungee jump, skydive and drag race motorbikes.

"People say to me, aren't you scared to do that stuff?" he says. "And I think: Scared? I live with AIDS every day."

Candy, the Rays' only daughter, was never infected with HIV. She is 20, married and living in Central Florida. She gave birth to her first child in June.

Clifford and Louise Ray, both 43, live alone in a three-bedroom house, brightened by rows of decorative angels and a stout brindled mutt named Tigger. Two large portraits of the children adorn their living room walls, and a lacquered rendering of the Ricky Ray Act leans on the fireplace mantle.

There are hundreds of melancholy mementos from over the years: a poster made by Robert with a red, white and blue drawing of the United States and the words, "An American Dream: A World W/O AIDS." A paperweight from Ricky to his mom and dad: "Best Parents in the World." Video tributes to Ricky and Robert.

Clifford Ray was raised in Arcadia, and so was Louise, like her daddy and grandaddy before her. They understood the fear of AIDS, the suspicion of outsiders. What they did not understand was the violence and the rejection.

"Someone threatened to infect a baby with AIDS and blame it on us," Clifford says. "The idiots spoke out more than the good people in Arcadia."

"Fear breeds ignorance and ignorance breeds violence," Louise chimes in.

"There was a lot of rumor, a lot of false information," Clifford says. "There was good information out there too, but it was like people couldn't hear, or somehow couldn't get to the good information."

Among those rumors was this: The Rays set their house on fire. Investigators decided that a firebomb didn't start the blaze, as early reports said, but they ruled that the fire was arson. They never made an arrest.

The Rays deny that they were involved. "I'll tell you the truth," Clifford says, "I don't really give a damn (what people think) anymore."

Those dark memories are set against the good that people did. A new church took them in. Residents quietly wrote checks to help the family buy clothes. Some neighbors all but marched their children over to play with the Ray boys.

Clifford Ray said one leader of Citizens Against AIDS came to the Ray home and said: " 'I'm not afraid of the disease. I don't hate you. I don't hate your family. I just don't trust the teachers, and I just don't want your children to be in school.' I respected that."

The gentleman gave the Rays a $150 check. They framed it.

Today they see dramatic changes in the town. Pastel hues and antique shops reflect a resurrected downtown, and a row of fast-food restaurants energizes the main drag. The town has even loosened up a bit: This year the City Council voted to let businesses sell alcohol on Sundays.

The Rays go into Arcadia four or five times a month to see friends and relatives and to eat out. The folks who recognize them are friendly.

Some people have said sorry: Old friends who had signed a petition to keep the Ray boys out of school have said they wish they hadn't.

There are still Arcadians who wear their ignorance like a crown. They have read about AIDS and listened to the most authoritative doctors talk about it. They have heard again and again that AIDS is passed through sexual contact, shared needles or tainted blood. And still they don't believe.

"That's what they say, but if mosquitoes can pass on all those diseases, of course they can pass on HIV," says James Westberry Jr., a longtime community leader. The doctors "know lots more than they let on."

He says this in a country accent as smooth and soothing as his wife Dorothy's sweet tea. He is no bumpkin: He has traveled to Europe, the Middle East, South America and the Central America. He has been a member of the Arcadia School Board for 35 years.

In 1987 he was the chairman of the board, and at the time he thought the Ray boys should be quarantined. He said at one public meeting that he feared that someday "they're going to find out that us dumb country folk were right. But by then, it's going to be too late."

Still, Westberry sent his children to school. To this day he believes the board did right by not challenging the federal court's decision. Some of his friends disagreed and cut him off for months.

"I couldn't let people know how I felt personally," Westberry says. "I had to uphold the law."

Students with HIV have come through Arcadia's schools since 1987. Confidentiality laws dictate that few people in the school system can know about students who are HIV-positive, and parents have taken advantage of that. Some students have taken their lessons at home, but others spent at least some time in regular classes. Their secret safe, none of them reportedly was harassed.

After the Ray furor, Florida school systems were directed to beef up their HIV/AIDS education, and today Arcadia students start learning about HIV and AIDS in middle school. Students learn what the disease is, how it is transmitted, how it progresses, and how to avoid it. They learned none of that in 1987.

In recent years, speakers have come into the schools to talk about HIV. Parents and other members of the community are welcome to attend -- or to object. About four years ago, school officials were bold enough to invite in a speaker who had AIDS.

They didn't get a single phone call.

-- Times researchers Caryn Baird and John Martin contributed to this report.

The Ray family today
CLIFFORD AND LOUISE: Raised in Arcadia, they moved around the South several times after the fire in Arcadia. They returned to Central Florida last September. They visit Arcadia four or five times a month and say they are greeted warmly.

RANDY: Married three months ago, he is 22 and, though his AIDS is full-blown, maintains an active life.

ROBERT: Died of AIDS in October. He was 22.

RICKY: Died in 1992 at age 15. In 1998, the Ricky Ray Relief Fund Act, which allowed the government to compensate hemophiliacs who contracted AIDS between 1982 and 1987, was enacted.

CANDY: Never infected with HIV, she is 20, married and living in Central Florida. She gave birth to her first child in June.

AIDS in Florida
The state's first case of AIDS was reported in June 1981.

Number of cases since, June 1981 to December 2000: 80,545.

Number of deaths, from June 1981 to December 2000: 44,761.

Florida ranks third in the nation in number of cases (5,010 as of the end of last year). New York is No. 1, California is No. 2.

Deaths from AIDS plummeted by 62 percent (4,336 to 1,651) between 1995 and 1999.

AIDS was the third-leading cause of death in Florida in 1999. Accidents were No. 1; cancer was No. 2.

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