Michael R. Holbrook, a former Gay and Lesbian Community Center Health Clinic volunteer, and a Project Home provider of care to people living with AIDS, passed away on April 15 from complications related to his HIV medications. He was 37 and lived in Northeast Baltimore. His funeral was held at the McCully-Polyniak Funeral Home on Fort Avenue on April 20. The service was presided over by the Reverend Thomas Reeves, a friend and longtime Boston activist.
Michael was born in Prince George’s County and attended schools there and in Houston, Texas. In 1979 he moved to Pomona, California but returned to Maryland in 1982. He moved to Baltimore in December of that year.
Michael met his first lover, Martin Evans while in California. From 1983 to 1989 he was lover to Jim Becker, a longtime Center volunteer. In 1990 he met Gregory McCaslin and they remained life partners until Greg’s passing in 1994.
Michael loved gardening and home decorating. Wherever he lived he created unique internal spaces and beautiful gardens. He was also very fond of animals and had two cats and a dog at the time of his passing.
Michael held a variety of jobs. While in California he was a night manager for a 7-11 franchise. After moving to Baltimore, he was employed by the Artisans, an exclusive downtown gift shop. He also obtained a real estate license and worked briefly as a real estate agent. In 1988 he began what he considered his calling, home care of the elderly, disabled and eventually people with AIDS. Beginning in 1990 Michael and his lover Greg were approved to provide care in their home to people with AIDS by Project Home, a program of the Baltimore City Department of Social Services. They gave excellent care to those living with them and were devoted providers. Several patients had been abandoned by their families and Michael and Greg made them members of their family, including them in all holiday celebrations and family gatherings. They continued working as Project Home providers until Greg’s death and the onset of Michael’s HIV related disability in September 1994. Michael was distressed that he could no longer care for people with AID and willed his home to the Don Miller House. He also directed that the house go to another provider of AIDS care if Don Miller House was unable to accept the bequest.
Michael became HIV positive in 1989. When he first became disabled in the summer of 1994, Michael was incorrectly diagnosed with polymorphus lukoencephalopathy, and given 6 months. A friend took him to Dr. Justin McCarther, a Johns Hopkins Hospital neurologist and AIDS specialist who disagreed with the diagnosis and began treating him for HIV encephalopathy, with dramatic results. Within a week he went from being wheel chair bound to walking. He and his friends credit Dr. McCarther with saving his life.
Michael was very strong-willed and he stubbornly pursued what he thought was right. It was this trait that not only enabled him to be an advocate for the patients in his home but also to survive several serious illnesses following his diagnosis with HIV encephalopathy. From 1994 until his passing he was hospitalized five times, once for several months. On each occasion he was able to summon the strength to return home and with the help of Project Home, HERO, and especially Moveable Feast, maintain his independence.
Although Michael was not able to leave the house without assistance, he had weekly luncheon outings with friends which provided him with much pleasure. He was particularly fond of the Wyman Park restaurant and the waitresses there who treated him with great kindness. One Saturday Michael mentioned that his microwave oven had broken. When he went to the restaurant the next week, a waitress gave him a replacement.
At the time of his passing, Michael’s HIV was under control. He had a low viral load and an adequate T-cell count. However, he experienced serious side affects from several of his HIV medications which led to acute pancreatitis. This was his second bout of pancreatitis and it caused his death. Sadly, the medications that gave him several additional years of life eventually became too much for his body to withstand.
Michael is survived by his mother and father, Sharon and William Johnson; three sisters Lori Penn-Johnson, Kimberly Istvan, and Sharon Johnson; four brothers, William, Kelly, Brian and Frank Johnson; his maternal grandmother Lillian McCormick; six nieces and nephews; devoted friend Jim Becker; and his many other friends. The family suggests that donations in Michael’s name be made to Moveable Feast.