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Two Halifax County families remember sons lost to AIDS

World AIDS Day is Saturday, and two Halifax County families are taking this day to publicly remember their sons who died from the disease while reaching out to the community to help others who may be dealing with the disease.

Willie B. Wilson and Nita Payne, both of South Boston, know what it is to suffer the loss of a child to AIDS.

Since the epidemic began in June 1981, an estimated 1,129,127 people have been diagnosed with Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome in the United States.

Payne’s son, Chuck, was 28 when he died on Nov. 1, 1994 from complications due to AIDS.

Wilson’s son, Kenneth Ray, died a year earlier on Sept. 7, 1993.

Chuck was diagnosed positive with HIV in the fall of 1987 while he was living at home in Halifax County.

The diagnosis changed his life forever, his mother said.

“We knew and he knew he would not be able to stay at home. Word had gotten out about the diagnosis, and the roller coaster ride was just beginning,” Payne said.

Chuck would move to Richmond and later to Charlottesville. Then his job took him to Northern Virginia.

According to his mom, he enjoyed his career and was doing great until “the virus caught up with him.”

It was then he returned to Halifax County to live, which didn’t work out well, so he moved to Washington, D.C., she said.

He would return home again when he became very ill.

“I ended up doing the most difficult thing I have ever had to do when I put Chuck in a home in Richmond for AIDS patients,” she recalled.

He would only live two weeks after the move.

“He died alone,” she said.

“He died lonely and sick and alone, something our family will never get over. No one should die alone,” said Chuck’s father, Charles Payne.

The Wilson family faced a similar situation with their son, Kenny Ray.

He was born May 22, 1965 and would graduate from Halifax County High School before joining the Navy.

During his time in the Navy, Kenneth was stationed in Illinois, California, Texas, Florida and Maryland.

Just prior to his being honorably discharged at the end of his enlistment, Kenneth’s mother received the news that her son had tested positive for HIV.

“The first thing I thought was that I have no one to talk to and nowhere to go to get the information that I might need. I must have cried for three hours non-stop before anyone could talk to me,” she recalled of the day she learned the news.

“That was a very painful and dark day,” she said.

Her son had been unable to tell his parents the news himself and instead told his mother’s sister.

She said,  “He could not handle the hurt that would show on our face. He feared that he would be a disgrace to our family.”

To know that a child or a loved one is diagnosed with this disease and cannot tell anyone is heartbreaking, Wilson said.

“Kenneth loved home and wanted to move back here,” his mother said. But similar to Chuck, Kenny Ray realized he had to return to Northern Virginia where he could receive the necessary medical treatment.

However, making the trips back and forth was more than his health could stand, according to his mother.

“It was very painful to watch my son go through those days of wondering what was next in his life,” she said.

As his health deteriorated, she would travel to Northern Virginia on her days off to help take care of him.

During his final days, she took a leave of absence from work and stayed with him at his apartment or in the hospital where he would have to go for blood transfusions.

The last time he was able to make the trip home to visit was Labor Day 1993 when he stayed for a week.

On the trip back to Northern Virginia, he confided in his mother how much he wanted to move back home and stay.

“I promised I would bring him back and do everything that I could to take care of him,” she said.

However, he wouldn’t live to make the move.

On Sept. 7, 1993 Kenneth Ray Wilson passed away at his apartment in Northern Virginia with his mother by his side.

Both mothers now wish to help others in the community who are bearing similar burdens.

“From the time I learned of Kenneth’s diagnosis, I felt that I never had a chance to be open and talk to anyone about my story until Thanksgiving 2011,” said Wilson.

“A friend called me and told me that she and a few other ladies wanted to start an AIDS organization. She asked me if I would be interested in joining, and I did not hesitate one minute to say yes because I know there are people out here that are probably going through the same thing that I went through.

“If I could help anyone in our community or help our community reach out to those who need help with this disease, that is what I want to do,” Wilson added.

“I am very proud that Kenneth was my son. I have always loved him, and that love gets stronger everyday,” his mom said. “There is an empty spot in my life because he is not here with us today.”

Wilson said she decided to share her story in loving memory of her son in honor of World AIDS Day.

And she is glad to be a part of the Halifax County AIDS Service Organization, an organization founded by county resident Cindy Sullins and committed to supporting and helping other residents who may need the organization’s services.

Today there is hope for AIDS victims, Nita Payne said, but she noted the stigma is still here.

“I hope with education about the disease we will be able to teach people the facts about AIDS, so they can make the choices needed to prevent the spread of AIDS. Also through education, we can help the general public not to be afraid of people who test positive,” Payne added.

Her husband noted that at the time of their son’s death, AIDS was a disease that took life “as fast as you could turn around.

 “Today modern medicine has made great strides finding medicines that keep AIDS victims alive and offer hope for tomorrow,” he said.

For more information about the Halifax County AIDS Service Organization, contact Cindy Sullins at 434-579-5369.