With a background in nursing and education, Dr. Gebbie was the chief public health official in the states of Oregon and Washington before joining the Clinton administration as coordinator of the Office of National AIDS Policy. She was often referred to as the country’s “AIDS Czarina”.
Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome, or AIDS, had claimed the lives of approximately 200,000 Americans at the time and was the leading cause of death in people ages 25 to 44. It was particularly prevalent among gay men.
dr Gebbie had previously served on a presidential commission on AIDS during the Reagan administration and led a national AIDS task force of state health officials. But she said neither Reagan nor his Republican successor, George HW Bush, took the disease seriously as a public health crisis.
“I would never have been here in the Bush or Reagan administration,” she said in 1993. “They didn’t care about AIDS.”
After her appointment, both supporters and critics of Dr. Gebbie agrees that her mission was poorly outlined by the White House, giving her little chance of making a breakthrough in the fight against AIDS. She only had 30 employees, and her office was not next to the White House in the Executive Office Building, but across 17th Street NW, 10 floors above a McDonald’s franchise.
Although dr Gebbie was dubbed the AIDS Czar, he had little control over the federal government’s AIDS response and little influence over the direction of research and spending. Her primary responsibilities were to coordinate research and communications between several federal agencies, including the US Public Health Service, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the National Institutes of Health.
During this time, Larry Kramer and other AIDS activists led confrontational demonstrations at the NIH and across the country. They disrupted national newscasts and once covered the home of Republican Senator Jesse Helms (NC) with a giant condom.
Larry Kramer, writer who raised alarm against AIDS, dies aged 84
“To the very active AIDS advocacy groups, particularly those on the East Coast, I am an uninfected, straight, white woman from the Northwest,” said Dr. Gebbie. “How could I possibly be their hero in this epidemic?”
dr Gebbie recognized that AIDS is not just a medical problem, but also poses a variety of societal challenges.
“It leads you to pretty much every complicated human issue that you have to deal with,” she told the Los Angeles Times after joining the Clinton administration. “What does human sexuality mean? What is the balance point between the rights and duties of an individual and the rights and duties of a community? What responsibility do we have towards people at the end of life?”
Despite this, she helped establish mandatory HIV/AIDS education programs for all federal employees and advocated for more research funding. She also oversaw the development of the first federally-funded public service advertisement that mentioned condoms, and urged Americans to “talk much more openly about sexual activity.”
“I could choose to have all children remain sexually abstinent until they are 23 and married, but I know that choice is not real,” she told the Oregon newspaper in 1994. “And that’s why I think we have an obligation to give children information about condoms and safe sex practices. We have an obligation to give them the information that can help them live.”
After 13 months, Dr. Gebbie back under pressure. Critics said she was overwhelmed with the job, in part because she had too little guidance from the White House and couldn’t build support on Capitol Hill. (The Office of National AIDS Policy was shut down under President Donald Trump but was revived by President Biden last year.)
“This was a new job with almost nothing written about what it was supposed to be and the expectations were too high,” she said in 1994. “Some people will never be happy with this position unless it is that.” Job of a real tsar who can command viruses, money and jobs.”
Kristine Elizabeth Moore was born on June 26, 1943 in Sioux City, Iowa. Her father was an Army officer and her mother was an administrator with the US Fish and Wildlife Service. She spent part of her childhood abroad, as well as in Montana and New Mexico.
She received a nursing degree from St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minnesota in 1965 and a master’s degree in nursing from the University of California, Los Angeles in 1968. Earlier in her career, she was a hospital administrator and taught nursing at UCLA and St. Louis University. She helped develop standards of care that were adopted nationwide. She received her PhD in Public Health from the University of Michigan in 1995.
dr Gebbie was Oregon’s senior health official from 1978 to 1989, and then served as chief of the Washington state health department until 1993. After her year as an AIDS coordinator in Washington, Dr. Gebbie is a professor of nursing at Columbia University and directed the school’s Center for Health Policy from 1994 to 2008. She later served as dean of the Hunter-Bellevue School of Nursing at New York’s Hunter College for two years before retiring to Australia, where she became an associate professor was at several colleges.
Her marriage to Neil Gebbie ended in divorce. Her 27-year-old husband, Lester Wright, died in April. Survivors include three children from her first marriage, Anna Gebbie of Binghamton, NY, Eileen Gebbie of Urbana, Illinois, and Eric Gebbie of Portland, Oregon; two stepsons, Jason Wright of Portland and Nathan Wright of Tacoma, Washington; a sister; 10 grandchildren; and a great granddaughter.