Luke Tierney spent six years working with us at Positively Irish Against AIDS, better know as PIAA, from 1990 – 1996. He was a trustee at the beginning, helping to get the organization off the ground and then moved on to become head of the client services team. For all of us at PIAA, Luke was considered the heart of the organization.
Luke’s incredible ability was his empathy with everyone that walked through PIAA’s door- no matter what their background. One of the amazing and unusual achievements as an agency in London in those days, was the diversity of clients – gay men, drug users, men, women, all coming together in that space. And much of that success was down to Luke. He made people laugh, he made them feel proud of their Irishness, and most of all helped them accept their HIV status.
One of his greatest strengths was his work with families – it was oft commented on that we were the only HIV agency in London that had aunties and grannies coming in to visit. Luke’s approach, was to recognize the importance of Irish family life- it can condemn you forever but when it’s behind you the support is amazing. Luke worked hard to get the families to support those who felt they were lost, but so wanted to go home especially at the end of their lives.
Luke was really gifted in building close relationships with people – he knew everyone who was anyone in the network of organizations’ we worked with. He built personal links and connections with ease and was incredibly knowledgeable about what each organisation could do to help the complex and highly mobile client base of Irish people with HIV that came to PIAA for support. When we were faced with closure in 1996 we tried to capture this wealth of knowledge in a database we christened “Luke’s brain” which proved to be a vital resource in the HIV sector for many years after PIAA ceased to exist.
For anyone remembering working with Luke it will be his wonderful sense of humour that comes to the fore. PIAA was one the saddest places to work with so many tragic stories. Luke helped keep us energized and motivated with his witty, sharp and hilariously funny stories. Through all of his irreverence and mischievous fun he never stopped having empathy with the emotional and physical difficulties that people were going through and that drove his work ethic.
Luke made an important difference to improving the lives of individuals, and using his considerable charm and intelligence he shifted attitudes to HIV and drug users, both at home in Ireland and in London. In those early days of HIV, many people got to die a ‘good death’, surrounded by family and friends, thanks to Luke’s passionate commitment to helping others. His loss is deeply felt by all of us who had the privilege to work with him.
Oonagh O’Brien and Siobhan Riordan