3 min

Former Positive Living chair Ken Buchanan dies

'He was a real champion for the rights of people even when he was really sick'

"Through a long and stubborn illness, he always found the time to give a smile and assistance to those in the community who needed him," says Barb Snelgrove of Ken Buchanan. Credit: Leah Bromley

HIV/AIDS activist Ken Buchanan is being remembered by members of Vancouver’s queer community as a compassionate, good-humoured and caring man who fought passionately for the rights of those living with HIV/AIDS.

He died at St Paul’s Hospital April 15, leaving his partner of four years, William.

Buchanan spent almost seven years as the chair or vice-chair or treasurer of Positive Living BC, resigning in October 2012 as his health began to fail.

Even from his hospital bed, he continued to support the community and offer insight and guidance in the fight for legal rights, privacy protection and compassion for people living with HIV/AIDS.

Born in Prince Rupert, Buchanan graduated from Prince Rupert Secondary in 1975 and then from the BC Institute of Technology in 1978, according to his Facebook page.

He had been HIV-positive since 2004 and co-infected with hepatitis C, according to his board-member biography on the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network website.

Buchanan drew on his personal experiences to understand the psychological, social and physical challenges people living with HIV face on a daily basis, the site says.

In addition to sitting on the board of Positive Living, Buchanan also chaired its committee on community representation and engagement, the society’s primary vehicle for working for meaningful change in government policy and legislation.

Positive Living chair John Bishop says he will miss Buchanan’s compassion for people, unfailing humour, mentorship, guidance and leadership.

He also praises Buchanan’s patience. “He was always willing to wait for people,” Bishop says. “Until people are willing to make a change for themselves, there’s little you can do, and Ken understood that.”

Bishop says it’s an attitude Buchanan also brought to helping people with addiction issues.

“There were so many areas in which he touched the community,” Bishop says. “It didn’t matter who you were; he was there for you.

“I think Ken saw himself as an average Joe doing what he could do and what he loved. There was no ego attached to the man. We talk about Mahatma Gandhi’s ‘Be the change you want to see in the world.’ I think Ken lived that.”

“He changed people’s lives,” Bishop says. “He worked on an individual basis to effect change.”

Community activist Barb Snelgrove says she’s honoured to have worked with Buchanan on several Positive Living advisory committees.

“On a personal level, there was never a more warm, loving and generous person to be found,” Snelgrove says. “Through a long and stubborn illness, he always found the time to give a smile and assistance to those in the community who needed him.”

In conjunction with his work with the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network, Buchanan worked closely with the legal aspects of criminalization of HIV nondisclosure, serving as a go-to person in cases where Positive Living BC intervened in court cases.

Network president David Eby (on leave) says Buchanan was a “definitive citizen” in the HIV/AIDS community and brought considerable community knowledge to the board table.

“He was a wonderful, very kind, very generous advocate for people,” Eby says. “He was a real champion for the rights of people even when he was really sick.”

“He’s going to be missed by so many people,” Eby says, adding that Buchanan’s advocacy had a national impact. “He was a voice of wisdom on the board.”

Buchanan also sat on the BC Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS’s therapeutic guidelines committee and was a member of the Canadian Treatment Action Council.

Vancouver-West End MLA Spencer Chandra Herbert says he recently visited Buchanan in hospital and was inspired by Buchanan’s desire to assist others even as he faced death.

“Even staring death in the face, he laughed, he smiled,” Chandra Herbert says. “He was always more interested in making sure you were okay, not him. He was inspiring.”

While Buchanan had been living in New Westminster, he had wanted to live out his days in the West End, Chandra Herbert says, and Bishop says Buchanan made that move several months ago.

“It’s people like him that make the world work, the ones who put in extra,” Chandra Herbert says. “It’s a big loss even though we knew it was coming. He tried to live his life by being a good example for everyone.”

A celebration of Buchanan’s life will take place in the Granville Room at the Chateau Granville (1100 Granville St) on Sunday, April 28 at 2pm, Bishop says. In lieu of flowers, donations in Buchanan’s honour can be made to the Positive Living Society of BC.