Ruth Coker Burks (The Cemetery Angel)

Ruth Coker Burks was a young mother in her 20s when the AIDS epidemic hit her home state of Arkansas in the early 1980s. She took it upon herself to care for AIDS patients who were abandoned by their families, and even by medical professionals, who feared the disease ( She hasn’t talked much about that day until recently. People always ask her why she wasn’t afraid. “I have no idea,” she said. “The thought of being afraid never occurred to me until after I was already deep into the AIDS crisis. I just asked God, ‘If this is what you want me to do, just please don’t let me or my daughter get it.’ And He didn’t. (”

It’s hard to convince people these days that one lonely person can budge the vast stone wheel of apathy. The truth, though, is the same as it ever was: One pair of willing hands might inspire thousands or millions to push. That’s the way the world is changed: hand by hand. One person who found the courage to push the wheel is Ruth Coker Burks. Now a grandmother living a quiet life in Rogers, in the mid-1980s Burks took it as a calling to care for people with AIDS at the dawn of the epidemic, when survival from diagnosis to death was sometimes measured in weeks (

You want to talk about an amazing woman, Ruth Coker Burks is one of the most impressive. She voluntarily took care of AIDS patients when the stigma against them was strongest, she didn’t take her own mortality into account, she simply helped those who needed her the most. Those whose own families did not want them and she stood by their sides as they drew their last breaths, she comforted them, and they she buried them. “I’ve buried over 40 people in my family’s cemetery, because their families didn’t want them,” Coker Burks says (

This woman had no medical background, yet she became involved with AID’s patients after visiting a friend in a local hospital and noticing nurses pulling straws as to who would visit the only AID’s patient in the ward. Ms. Burks continued with her calling for thirty years. She is now 55.

“Someday,” she said, “I’d love to get a monument that says: This is what happened. In 1984, it started. They just kept coming and coming. And they knew they would be remembered, loved and taken care of, and that someone would say a kind word over them when they died. (”



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