Dr. Nicholas Rango, Headed State AIDS Institute

Dr. Nicholas Rango, director of the state Health Department's AIDS Institute since 1987, died of AIDS at his Manhattan home Wednesday. He was 49.

Dr. Rango was the architect of the state's five-year plan to combat AIDS. He fought for prevention grants, special AIDS units in hospitals, residential AIDS care, primary care and medications for people without insurance, and enhanced Medicaid payments to encourage physicians to treat people with AIDS. Under Dr. Rango, the institute grew from a staff of 102 and a budget of $ 33 million to a staff of 352 and a budget of $ 134 million.

Yesterday, Gov. Mario Cuomo said Dr. Rango's "ferocious struggle against the disease has been a beacon in the storm.

"He created new treatment models, and sometimes by the force of his personality forced into being new housing and community-care programs," Cuomo said. "He has made an enormous difference in the lives of thousands of HIV-positive New Yorkers, their families and friends."

Part bureaucrat, part academic and part activist, Dr. Rango was relentless to the point some called rude. In a recent battle, he fought for AIDS money to be shifted to minority organizations at the risk of alienating more established organizations founded by gay men. But his self-deprecating humor and his dedication typically repaired bridges even as they burned, said Dr. David Rogers, chairman of the state AIDS Advisory Council.

"He was an unrelenting scrapper," Rogers said. "His intense commitment to improving the lives of people with HIV just shone through even when he was being profoundly annoying."

Dr. Rango did not know he was infected with HIV, the human immunodeficiency virus that causes AIDS, when he took the state job. He disclosed his illness this year and continued to work from home and from his hospital room. He said his greatest fear was that government officials and the public are losing a sense of urgency in combating AIDS.

Dr. Rango grew up in Youngstown, Ohio, and received his medical degree from Northwestern University in Illinois and a doctorate in sociology from Columbia University. He also was a Robert Wood Johnson Clinical Scholar at Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center from 1975-1978.

Survivors include his mother, Doris Rango, and brother Arthur, both of New York City, and his sister, Ann Ursula Watkins, of Warren, Ohio.

(Newsday, November 12, 1993, Friday, NASSAU AND SUFFOLK EDITION )

 Return to Columbia AIDS Memorial List