By MICHELLE MILLER
Many young people grow up having high expectations and goals when thinking of their futures. Henry Nicols, of Cooperstown, was not an exception. At the age of 19, during a television appearance, Henry told ABC's Peter Jennings that he wanted to become President of the United States. If Henry had not lost his battle against AIDS in 2000, he would have been eligible to run for first-time candidacy this year. This is why his father, Hank, vowed to get his son's story out to the public before Aug. 9, 2008, which would have been Henry's 35th birthday.
Hank accomplished his goal; and his book, ``Henry for President,'' is currently being sold locally at Augur's Book Store and the Book Nook. The book is also available at Amazon.com and the publisher's Web site, createspace.com/3344051. It lists for $19.95, but the publisher has provided the author with a discount code _ AM97FL6M _ so the community that gave his family so much support can take advantage of the courtesy, according to Hank. Several copies of the book will also be available at the Village Library of Cooperstown and the Cooperstown Central School library.
Hank's book is about his family's life-and-death struggle in the early days of the AIDS epidemic. Henry was born with the genetic disease hemophilia and was infected with the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) from one of the more than 400 blood transfusions he received as a child.
Henry was 26 when he lost his life. While on his way to a Boy Scout weekend, Henry was in a serious one-car accident, which his father said most people would have probably survived, but because Henry was very sick at the time, his immune system could not fight the injuries. Henry died 11 days after the accident.
Jennings laughed at Henry when he said he wanted to become the president, said Hank. However, Hank said Jennings apologized for laughing and afterwards told Henry he was not laughing at him, but with him.
``I think realistically he (Henry) knew he would not be alive long enough to be president, but he wanted people to know someone's life is not over because they have AIDS.'' said Hank.
According to Hank, Henry told Jennings that he felt it was a problem that most people who think of someone with AIDS has a ``life expectancy of a gold fish,'' and he wanted to let people know that is not true.
In 1985, when the family first discovered Henry had been infected with HIV, they decided to keep the news a secret and sought treatment more than 200 miles away in New York City so it would attract less attention. However, in November 1990, Henry was diagnosed with ``full blown'' AIDS and was told he would have less than two years to live. Henry, who was a senior at CCS at the time, decided he no longer wanted to keep the secret. Collaborating with then-superintendent of schools Douglas Bradshaw, he organized a press conference and on March 8, 1991, his story went public. Henry revealed he would use his illness as a leadership project to earn the coveted Eagle Scout award from the Boy Scouts of America.
Unlike those who had preceded him, such as Ryan White of Kokomo, Ind., and the Ray brothers from Arcadia, Fla., who were shunned by their communities, Henry was embraced and protected by his hometown of Cooperstown _ he went from being an unknown and secret AIDS patient to becoming a local hero and an international AIDS advocate.
Henry was featured on the cover of ``Parade,'' magazine, and had stories written about him in ``People'' magazine and numerous other news journals. He was also a featured guest on "Good Morning America." Henry and his family were featured in the 1993 HBO documentary "Eagle Scout: The Story of Henry Nicols."
Henry and his family traveled around the United States and the world to set up AIDS support groups. They worked in Ireland, Canada and Japan and met with university students in 42 states in the United States to educate and support those with AIDS. Henry completed the requirements to be an Eagle Scout and was awarded the Eagle Scout Badge. He was awarded the first-ever Ryan White Award by the National Hemophilia Association, testified before Congress and met with New York Gov. Mario Cuomo and Arnold Schwarzenegger, then presidential physical fitness advisor to George H. Bush. Henry also met with Presidents Bush and and Bill Clinton to discuss AIDS-related issues.
Hank and his wife Joan continue to advocate for those with AIDS. Hank, a former high school social studies teacher, police officer, police chief and a hospital administrator, continues to travel around the world to speak about AIDS. He said he takes about a dozen foreign trips a year. Joan works at Bassett Hospital in transfer services. The couple cannot be seen without their red ribbons on their collars each day. They also both wear silver bracelets with the red ribbon emblem. They said they do this to encourage people to ask them why, and the why is their son, Henry.
``Henry changed the world,'' said Hank and Joan in a public announcement. ``He could have changed it even more, but now that has become our responsibility.''
Henry's sister Diana is currently Cooperstown's police chief. His other sister, Jennifer Nicols Curtis, is a professor of public health at SUNY Cortland, and is still an activist spreading the word about the dangers of AIDS and sexually transmitted diseases generally.
By MICHELLE MILLER