EXPIRED: 01/23/10 – Ben Gardiner, 88, was born and raised in Massachusetts, and graduated from Harvard University. After serving in the U.S. Army during World War II, and fighting in the Battle of the Bulge, he joined the Boston Globe, reporting on local theater and classical music
He got married and had a typical life, 4 kids, house in the burbs. But then something happened. He got a divorce, moved to New York and became a model and waiter. Over the next five decades – and as recently as in 2006 – he appeared onstage, on television and in films, often as an extra. Some of his appearances have been in “North by Northwest” (1959), “The Doors” (1991), “The Game” (1997), and “Patch Adams” (1998).
But his biggest accomplishments happened after he moved to San Francisco, specifically the Castro district. Gardiner was best known around the Castro for his trademark J.C. Penney coveralls and long, white hair and beard. He lived on Noe Street in the Duboce Triangle for nearly four decades.
Everybody knew him. And there he became a key player in gay rights and HIV/AIDS issues. In 1982 he chaired the first public meeting on AIDS in San Francisco, and in 1985 he founded AIDSInfoBBS Database (http://aidsinfobbs.org/), the first AIDS information bulletin board in the nation and the oldest public database in the world. He also served as president of the now-defunct Stonewall Democratic Club, and worked on political campaigns, including those for former Supervisor Harvey Milk.
A recovering addict who was sober for 58 years, Gardiner was also deeply involved in helping many others struggling with addiction.
Mr. Gardiner was best known around the Castro for his trademark J.C. Penney coveralls and long, white hair and beard. He lived on Noe Street in the Duboce Triangle for nearly four decades and was a fixture on the tree-lined street, where he collapsed and died Jan. 23.
“Harvey Milk may have been the mayor of the Castro, but Gardiner was the unofficial mayor of Noe Street,” said a longtime friend.
Gardiner collapsed and died while walking along the tree-lined street, dressed in his trademark J.C. Penney coveralls.