barbara keller

Lasting Legacy

How Desert AIDS Project aims high to keep the memory of the legendary Barbara Keller alive.

Daniel Vaillancourt Current Digital, LGBT, Social Scene

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Desert AIDS Project will rename the cornerstone of its Palm Springs complex in honor of Barbara Keller, who passed away in April 2019.
PHOTOGRAPHS COURTESY DESERT AIDS PROJECT

Some singular souls leave such a colossal void in their wake that they find an afterlife here on earth, remembered and revered even long after each and every one of their loved ones is gone.

Such will be the fate of the late, great humanitarian Barbara Keller, who succumbed to complications from cancer last April 15. In honor of the awe-inspiring impact she made on Desert AIDS Project thanks to her decade-long tenure as a board member, four of those years spent as the first female, and first non-LGBTQ, chair, the organization will rename the cornerstone of its complex The Barbara Keller LOVE Building at a special dedication on Dec. 18. The tribute is part of DAP’s current $20 million capital campaign to expand its campus, nearly doubling capacity, so that the non-profit can provide health, dental, and behavioral care –and affordable housing – to some 10,000 patients and clients.

The new moniker is fitting, seeing as it’s no hyperbole to say that love emanated from every cell of Barbara’s body. The native New Yorker – who met and fell in love with her steadfast Jerry while living in Great Neck, Long Island in 1981 – discovered the paradise that is the desert alongside him in 1986. By 1995, they had become full-time residents. For those who never had the golden fortune to know her – or even just to simply meet her – we thought we would let those closest to her, who knew and loved her best, reminisce about “their” Barbara.

Daughter Lindsay Berger Sacks

My mom was a Renaissance woman: an artist, poet, author, playwright, director, elementary school “Teacher of the Year,” labor union manager, political activist, voracious reader, and devotee of Scrabble. For many years, she had three homes—two in the U.S. and one in the South of France. In each place she had a community of friends who adored her.

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Barbara Keller with her daughter, Lindsay.

Somehow, through all of this, she managed to remain not only a devoted wife and daughter but a fantastic mother. She taught me that if you have the ability to help, you help. She often quoted Anne Frank: “No one has ever become poor by giving.” And the Dalai Lama: “If you think you’re too small to make a difference, try sleeping with a mosquito.” I’ll continue to live my life helping others, championing causes the way she did.

U.S. Representative Dr. Raul Ruiz

As delivered on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives on July 25, 2019

There are people whose empathy and compassion glow like a beacon, shine like the sun. That was Barbara Keller, a blazing star of kindness and an inspiring local leader who lived to serve others and championed causes that uplifted the sick, the poor, and fought for the rights of the LGBTQ community. In an era of me-first, ego-driven, selfish ambition, Barbara reminds us that love and genuine service to others is possible. She is the embodiment of good, humility, strength, and outer and inner beauty. Her legacy lives on in the countless lives she improved and inspired. She was a giant, a social architect, designing a healthier, kinder, more just community. Knowing Barbara and calling her my friend was an incredible, unique, and beautiful blessing. Her story must be told and recorded in our national record so that generations to come can learn the vast potential of our national spirit. She will be missed.

Philanthropist Terri Ketover

“Grace” is the word that comes to mind first when remembering my dear friend Barbara. Her simple elegance was transcendent. But there was so much substance, intellect, and generosity behind that beautiful face that defined her and generated admiration, appreciation, and affection from those who were fortunate enough to know her. Her commitment to bettering her community and the lives of all of us who live here was inspirational. Barbara wasn’t just my friend, she was my partner, working alongside me for the benefit of so many organizations and causes. What motivated her? The belief that every person, regardless of their circumstance, has the right to be treated with dignity and respect…that we’re all equal and deserve adequate healthcare, housing, and basic human rights provided by, and protected by, our government…that we’re all responsible for one another and must speak out until these rights are guaranteed.

U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer (Ret.)

Barbara was a one-of-a-kind person. She had everything a human being would want: a loving family, a successful life. She could’ve easily focused on all that bounty. But her passion was helping others. When I first met her, about a dozen years ago, she took me by the hand and said, “You need to see Desert AIDS Project.” I was a United States senator and had a hectic schedule, but there was no way for me to say “No” when I saw the excitement in her eyes. There’s no way to replace someone as vibrant and extraordinary as Barbara. But with her name on the new building, we will forever remember not only her amazing contributions but the need for us all to step it up!

Philanthropist Annette Bloch

It’s so hard for me to say “a little” about Barbara, since she was so special. I think of her as a very gracious, positive, loving woman. Nothing was too much for her to do. She was always working for charity and giving of herself to everyone. An example of her love for life is when she and Jerry were among our guests in Puerto Vallarta. When mariachis started playing, she jumped up on top of the table and started dancing, showing her joie de vivre. I feel very grateful to have had with her a very long and loving friendship of 28 years. She was a rare and beautiful woman.

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Nothing was too much for her to do. She was always working for charity and giving of herself to everyone.

Palm Springs City Council Member Geoff Kors

Anyone who spent time with Barbara knew they were with a truly extraordinary person. She was warm, generous, and loving. We grew up in the same town, and she was a substitute teacher at the elementary school when I was a student there. Years later, when I met Barbara in Palm Springs, it was an instant connection that led to a wonderful relationship I will always value. Working with her on philanthropy and politics was always so inspiring. She brought such knowledge and passion to everything she did. Through her work, she changed and saved lives. She brought joy to those who knew her and to so many who didn’t – but who benefited from her vision and work. She’ll always be in my heart.

Palm Springs Public Arts Commissioner Ann Sheffer

I loved working with Barbara and admired the way she quietly charmed everyone into contributing. When we did our first serious, ‘I’ll do it, if you’ll do it’ project – co-chairing donor program 100 Women for DAP – I started to understand how and why she was so effective as a leader. But the most meaningful memory I keep of Barbara is the moment, not long before her death, at the 80th Anniversary Gala we co-chaired for the Palm Springs Art Museum, when we celebrated making our goal with a high five. I keep that photo on my desk to remind me of Barbara’s style, energy, and her warm, radiant smile. I miss her, and I’m so glad to have had that moment of joy with her.

Designers and Boutique Owners Molly Bondhus & Wil Stiles

All heads turned when Barbara and Jerry would stop in our shop. Tourists would lean in with a whisper to ask who she was. It wasn’t just her innate glamour and charisma. It was an exceptional combination of fierce style, fierce intelligence, and fierce strength. Barbara’s commitment to social justice issues – and her ability to reach across the political spectrum to gather support for a worthy cause – were unmatched in the desert. All of us need to take Barbara’s passing as a personal call to step up and take action to improve the lives of others in our community. We’re honored to be included in the fundraising campaign to support The Barbara Keller LOVE Building. To celebrate the 10-year anniversary of the opening of the Wil Stiles shop in Palm Springs, we’re donating $500,000 worth of new clothing to Revivals.

 

In that moment, I was reminded of her strength of character and deep commitment to those she loved. Those qualities created a magnetic energy that attracted so many who benefited from being in her presence.
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PHOTOGRAPH BY MICHAEL CHILDERS

Celebrity Photographer Michael Childers

Barbara was my partner in philanthropy and my mentor. Sixteen years ago, I called her while she was in the south of France to let her know that I’d lost a sponsor for our inaugural One Night Only benefit, but that I still wanted the show to go on. She said, “Give me a day.” Within hours, she called to say Jewish Family Service had signed on, and we partnered with them for 14 years, earning them more than $2 million dollars. As of last year, our new sponsor is The Barbara Sinatra Children’s Center. Without Barbara Keller, One Night Only would not exist. So much would not exist. Together, we produced two Palm Springs Art Museum galas that I believe to be among the best ever. She lived and dreamed about live theatre and the arts. For our community, hers is a devastating loss. But we need to forever remember and be thankful for all she did for us.

Desert AIDS Project CEO David Brinkman

Barbara and I worked together passionately – often daily, sometimes twice daily – on the future of DAP. Once, during a particular period of intense work, I noted Barbara was dressed more casually than usual. She responded to my observation with, “I’m caring for our friend around the clock.” On top of being the matriarch of her beloved family, working long hours as a volunteer leader of DAP, and everything else on her plate, Barbara stepped into the role of mother for a friend suffering tremendous grief. She cared for him 24/7 for days and – had I not noticed – would have said nothing about it. In that moment, I was reminded of her strength of character and deep commitment to those she loved. Those qualities created a magnetic energy that attracted so many who benefited from being in her presence. At a time when lack of human decency is “attempting” to be the new norm, losing Barbara – who inspired me to be the best person I can be, and DAP to be the best humanitarian and healthcare organization it can be – feels unfair and at odds with what the world needs now. We need more Barbara, not less.

Husband Jerry Keller

Barbara was my forever shining star, as she was for so many in our beautiful valley. Her dream was for anyone in need to be able to access DAP’s services. Barbara’s Watch Love Grow Campaign will help make that happen. Please donate to this special fund because you love how much she cared for this amazing organization that gives to so many. Give because you want  to help continue her life’s work.

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Barbara and Jerry Keller

For more information on the Watch Love Grow Campaign, or on The Barbara Keller LOVE Building, reach out to DAP CEO David Brinkman at -760-992-0418. For more information on Desert AIDS Project, visit desertaidsproject.org.