OrchidMania's founder The author if this blog does not stand in front of a camera too often. Here, we catch him in a rare moment of levity with his friend Jo in Bangkok.

Douglas Thompson Remembers
the First

Who could have imagined ten years ago that an amateur plant sale on the sidewalk of an urban alley would turn into an AIDS fundraising organization famous around the world? Who could have imagined a decade ago that there still would be no cure, that AIDS would become the biggest killer of young Americans, and that emerging nations in Asia, Africa and Latin America would be facing tragedy and economic devastation because of AIDS?

The "World’s Largest Orchid Garage Sale" was born on Mother’s Day Weekend, May 13 and 14, 1989. I had learned not to kill the orchids I was growing and suddenly had too many. San Francisco’s AIDS Emergency Fund needed money, and I thought a plant sale would be a fun idea. I wrote to orchid growers near and far, hoping for help. Although I was unknown in the world of orchids, boxes of plants began to appear. Plants were displayed on two card tables and many upturned cardboard boxes under the blazing May sun. With virtually no advertising, my bookkeeper, my next door neighbor and I raised $9000! I’m still amazed.

OrchidMania has grown enormously since then. We now have our own greenhouse, about 50 volunteers and an energetic OrchidMania South Florida chapter. The hundreds of thousands of dollars we have raised has helped people around the world. We give many volunteers a creative, comfortable way to do something positive about AIDS.

I could probably feel better about what OrchidMania has accomplished if my friends would just stop dying. I've written the names of my friends lost to AIDS -- more than 60 so far -- on the back of an OrchidMania t-shirt. I take it everywhere I travel. It is the most important thing I own. Most of these people were never famous and their names will probably not appear anywhere else but below:

Dan Abbott · Greg Antepenko · Mark Arnold · Randy Arnold · Zon Artman · Eric Bailes · Ronan Berri · Bobby Booth · Neil Capleau · Michael Carter · Tomás Colon· Tim Connit · Carlos Crummett · Jim Curry ·David Davis · John Derousse · Dave Devereux · Eli · Vince Fanucchi · Dan Garcia · Enrique Hermosillo · Michael Hopkins · Leonard Jones · Keith Kamrath · Bill Kercher · Don Lawson · Ron Lentz · Jimmy Legozo · Tom Lindsey · Zach Long · Victor Lopez-Cruz · Paul Lux · John Maboub · Ross Marbury · Harry Marin · Tom McIlvoy · Timothy McBreen · Steve Mehalko, MD · Ira Mer · George Minchaca · Chris Moss · Doug Null · Rand Olwell · Leo One · Rene! · Jimmy Romer · Francisco Sandoval · Paul Schmidt · Jon Shorey · Michael Smith · Rick Sommers · Bill Southard · Scott Stansbury · Scott Stephens · Tony Treviso · Allen Warren · Bob White · Doug Whiteman · Mark Whiting, MD · Darrell Yee · Emmett Yen · John Zacharoudis

It is impossible for me to look at this list (much less add a name to it) without feeling terribly lonely. These are the people I expected to grow old with. But these are also the 60+ reasons why OrchidMania's work has been so important to me.

For me, OrchidMania has been a way to transform my personal anger into something more productive. I retired as OrchidMania's president in 1997 because I spend a great deal of my time in Asia, where the devastation of AIDS is only just beginning. My dream is to continue to provide technical assistance to grassroots AIDS organizations in Thailand, Vietnam (where I started a contraversial condom give-away program that has become a model HIV program), and Cambodia. OrchidMania does not yet provide financial support for my activities there. (I work long enough to afford to travel, then come home when I'm broke.) While gifts to OrchidMania in support of this work are helpful, we hope to find one or more grants to fully establish our programs in Asia.

Note written on 20 May 2014: OrchidMania's 25th birthday was a week ago. I have been living permanently in Bangkok for about 14 years, and commuted between San Francisco and Bangkok for several years before that. The land on which the "Orchid Temple," OrchidMania's greenhouse was built was sold as part of an ugly divorce settlement, and the group decided to dissolve about five years ago. OrchidMania South Florida is still alive and kicking. I am immensely proud of everyone who contributed to the success of  this wacky idea that changed so many lives. OrchidMania has raised more than $1 million, given many of us a way to put our grief to work creatively, provided resources and relief to people with HIV, created friendships that endure today, helped to teach thousands of people how to not kill their orchids and, I hope, saved lives in the process. There is more in my brief bio: www.douglas-thompson.com/things.pdf