Grave Spotlight

In a way, cemeteries are like libraries. They contain the final resting places of thousands of people, each with their own separate and unique story. Some of these people are famous, and their stories are well known. Most are not, but that doesn't make their life any less interesting or their stories any less worthy of being told and remembered.

Periodically, we'll spotlight a different Los Angeles-area grave. Every person has a story, and we will use this space to tell their story, through their final resting place.

Linda Glenn Luschei Hunio
b. Jan. 14, 1958, Lincoln, Nebraska
d. June 4, 1994, Los Angeles

Stephen Jay Hunio
b. June 6, 1958, Los Angeles
d. Feb. 10, 1996, Los Angeles

This isn't a typical entry in "The Stories Behind the Stones" series, but it's an important story, a tragic love story, a story of society and the not-too-distant times that needs to be told and remembered. I didn't research or write the stories below. They all came from the Los Angeles Times in the 1990s, and they tell the story of Linda and Stephen Hunio in a way that I cannot.

Looking for Love and Living With HIV Aren't Incompatible

Los Angeles Times
By Scott Harris
July 6, 1992

Linda Luschei met the love of her life in June, 1983. She was at the Beverly Center, sitting at the bar of the Hard Rock Cafe with a girlfriend, when Michael walked up and said she looked like the only woman there who was not pretending to have a good time. Two years later, Michael and Linda were married.

Not long after their wedding, Michael fell gravely ill. A case of chronic hepatitis, treated with blood transfusions before and after their marriage, was causing severe internal bleeding. Surgery was performed and declared a success -- but, as the doctors put it, there were "complications."

The day before Michael died, a blood test determined that he was infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. Soon, Linda was found to be infected as well.

For four lonely years she kept her condition a secret, "terrified" that she would be shunned by employers, insurers, even loved ones. "I felt I had lost so much. What else might I lose? What if my family and friends ran away? I thought I'd have to be selfish and live a lie for awhile."

But when Linda got around to confiding the sad details, nobody important ran away. Life went on. Life got better.

And early last year, Linda took a bold step:

LOVEABLE, PRETTY BLONDE blue-eyed SWF, 33, intelligent, warm, funny. I'm HIV-positive, seeking together SWM for platonic or other relationship. Call ...

When Linda placed her personal ad in the LA Weekly, her intentions were sincere and experimental. For some time, the small circle of HIV-positive women that Linda counted among her friends wondered what would happen if one of them laid it on the line like that. Would anyone dare call?

Love in the time of AIDS is a complicated matter. However implausible romance might seem, Linda and her friends agree that their condition does not foreclose the prospects of love and sexual intimacy.

Examples abound. They knew married couples that remained devoted even though one spouse became infected. Within their circle there is Ann Copeland, who with Linda co-founded Women At Risk, a nonprofit HIV services agency. Ann married a longtime suitor whose ardor for her did not dim even though, during a hiatus in their relationship, she became infected by another man.

Linda and her friends realized that some nice, heterosexual, HIV-positive guys might hope to meet women such as themselves. One group called Friends for Life holds monthly potluck dinners expressly for that purpose. And another HIV group, Being Alive, has been printing more personal ads from straights in a matchmaking newsletter called "Connect."

HIV inspires celibacy in some people for several reasons. They fear they may transmit the virus. They fear rejection. And with their immune systems compromised, they fear encountering other sexually transmitted diseases, or HIV reinfection. But Linda and her friends, as well as many doctors, agree that if proper precautions are taken, sex with HIV is OK. Studies have shown that female-to-male transmission is very rare -- and a condom substantially reduces the risk.

A few years after Michael's death, Linda dated a workaholic engineer who, she said, took a scientific approach to the matter, reading up on HIV and "calculating the risks." Linda now jokes that no two people ever had safer sex -- that, emotionally, "it was like we were in separate rooms." Eventually they went their separate ways, but not before the relationship taught Linda there was still reason for hope.

The moral equations of sex are complicated by the virus. One of Linda's girlfriends with HIV says she sees no obligation to inform a prospective sex partner about her condition; just make sure he wears a condom.

That might work for her friend, but not for Linda. What she wants, she said, is not just sex, but a relationship. How would a guy feel, she asks, if after a few weeks of romance you suddenly say, "by the way, there's something I've been meaning to tell you ..."

So Linda tries to be upfront about her condition without being alarmist. That is why Linda's ad declared that she is, first of all, "LOVEABLE."

That she is HIV-positive, Linda says, is secondary.

Linda figured that a few men might call the 900 number listed with the ad to leave a message on the voice mail system. As it turned out, more than 60 men left 72 messages. Linda was stunned.

Not all fit the description of the "together" man that Linda desired. The "creepy" calls, she said, came from men who were obviously interested only in sex and seemed to think, "Aha! Now here's a desperate woman."

But most men sounded sincere. A few were HIV-positive; the vast majority were not. Overwhelmed by the response, Linda returned calls to about 25 men and felt guilty about not returning several others. Always, she would ask them why they called. Their answers, she said, carried a common theme: That placing the ad was "a very gutsy thing to do ... and if you were that honest, you're somebody I'd like to know."

She met about 10 callers, dating a few more than once. One man, after a few outings, became obsessive and harassed her. One time, when she checked her voice mail, she was greeted by the sound of a man hissing, "Sinner, sinner!" She suspects it was the man she jilted.

Two other men proved to be good companions -- and steady dates for a period of several months. One was HIV-positive, the other HIV-negative. Linda's co-workers teasingly referred to one as "Friday," the other as "Saturday." Over time those relationships ran their course, evolving from romantic to platonic.

So this SWF finds herself available -- but busier than ever in her duties with Women At Risk. Their task, she says, is not only to alert women about the risk of HIV, but to show them that living well is the best revenge.

And, for Linda, it is also a way of honoring Michael.

"He was someone who absolutely grabbed everything from life," she said. "And really, that's what I'm doing now."

Obituary: Linda Luschei Hunio; Advocate for Women With HIV, AIDS

Los Angeles Times
June 11, 1994

Linda Luschei Hunio, a founder of Women at Risk, a Los Angeles advocacy and support group for women with HIV and AIDS, died Saturday of complications from the virus. She was 36.

Under her maiden name -- Linda Luschei -- she had been a frequent speaker in the cause of educating women about the risks of HIV infection while helping them confront ostracism. With a few female friends, Mrs. Hunio founded Women at Risk, based in Culver City. As an advocate, she lectured before students, church groups and health professionals, and was featured on TV and radio talk shows. In 1993, the city of Los Angeles honored her with a Lifetime Achievement Award for her efforts. Often, she told her own story.

A graduate of UCLA, Mrs. Hunio was working in the publishing industry in New York when she married Michael Ruggere in 1985. After his unexpected death a few months later, she learned she had HIV, having contracted the virus from her husband. He had evidently and unknowingly contracted HIV from transfusions before blood was tested for the virus.

For five years, she once told The Times, she kept her condition secret from all but a few confidantes, terrified of society's ignorance and bigotry. Overcoming those fears, she learned to caution women of their risk and urged those with HIV to seek joy in their lives. Her quest for love and companionship prompted her to place an ad in the L.A. Weekly personals identifying herself as HIV-positive. She dated several men as a result, both HIV-positive and negative.

In her last two years, her quest was answered by Stephen Jay Hunio of Los Angeles, who is also HIV-positive. They were married in March, a few days before Mrs. Hunio's illness required her to enter the hospital.

The Changing Face of AIDS : "We Felt So Cheated at the End"

Los Angeles Times
By Steve Hunio, 37, Woodland Hills
June 16, 1995

How I got HIV I'll never know.

I found out I was positive by a fluke. In 1990 I needed a health certificate so I could go on location for a film company. I got a blood test for diabetes, which runs in my family, and said, "Test me for everything while I'm here."

A few days later the doctor called: "The good news is, you don't have diabetes. The bad news is, you test positive for HIV."

I was stunned. I walked around in circles, staring at the pavement cracks.

I've never figured out where this came from. I never did IV drugs or gay sex. The women I've had relationships with were mostly girl-next-door types. I've been sexually active since I got out of prep school in 1976, but in those days pregnancy was what we worried about.

I'd been living with a woman for three years when I found out I had HIV. She tested negative, and she stayed with me for another year after that. I was 32 when she left. I buried myself in my work.

Soon a friend introduced me to a very beautiful, very bright woman named Linda. She had contracted AIDS from her husband, a professor, who died without ever finding out how he got infected.

We got closer and closer and finally said "I love you." By then Linda was feeling ill. A port was inserted in her arm to make injections easier. I remember she was so worried that I wouldn't be attracted to her anymore. So I kissed her, and I kissed it, and I said it didn't matter. And I meant it.

I proposed to her on New Year's Eve, 1993. In January I left my job because she was getting sicker and I wanted to spend all my time with her. On March 26, we were married in a storybook wedding with all our family and friends. There wasn't a dry eye in the house. You can see from her picture what a beautiful bride she was. Three days after the wedding, she entered the hospital. I stayed with her until she passed away on June 4.

I still love her so deeply and always will. We were fortunate to find each other, but we felt so cheated at the end. We knew she would be the first to go. But by God, we thought we had more time. We wanted an idyllic little married life if only for a month or two.

She was very wise, and she left me with a game plan, which is to enjoy every single day I have left. In the midst of my grief I have been trying.

Callous AIDS Seals Love Stories One by One

Los Angeles Times
By Scott Harris
Feb. 18, 1996

When it became obvious his son, his only child, did not have long to live, Bob Hunio reached for the instructions that Stephen had prepared. Steve, at 37, had known for some time that AIDS would claim his life.

This was Friday morning, Feb. 9. The father saw the list of names, friends to be notified upon Steve's death. Bob Hunio decided to call them now and invite them to their Woodland Hills home, to say goodbye.

Soon, friends began to arrive.

Bob Hunio shared this story a few days later. Only once had I met his son. Stephen's wife, Linda, had been a friend of mine. At her funeral in the spring of '93, I shook her bereft husband's hand and offered condolences.

The next day, I wrote about their joyous, sad love story. It bears repeating.

Linda and I had gotten to know each other a few years before that. I was covering AIDS, working on a story about the spread of HIV among heterosexuals, well before Magic Johnson's disclosure stunned the world. At one point I had met Ann Copeland, co-founder of Women At Risk, an HIV education and support group.

Ann was 40ish, strikingly attractive and stylish -- an unlikely symbol of the cause. She had contracted HIV during a brief relationship with a man she later learned was bisexual. When I told Ann my interest in how HIV complicates that fundamental human pursuit -- love -- she said you've got to meet Linda, the other founder of Women At Risk.

Linda Luschei's story was extraordinary. She was just a newlywed when her first husband fell gravely ill. In previous years a chronic illness had required several blood transfusions. The day before he died, it was discovered he had HIV. Soon Linda discovered she was infected.

For five years she kept her condition secret, confiding only in her father. After meeting other women with HIV, Linda stepped out of the closet.

She was a woman of great spirit, intelligence, candor and wit. And she was lonely. So she put a personal ad in the LA Weekly, stating that she was HIV positive as routinely as the fact that she had blond hair and blue eyes.

She was stunned to receive more than 60 calls, most of them sincere. She wound up steadily dating two men. One had HIV, the other didn't. Her friends dubbed them "Friday" and "Saturday."

Over time Linda and I fell out of touch. A couple of years passed. One day I decided to call Women At Risk, hoping to reach her. It was Ann who called back. Her tone was grave.

Ann knew I had a lot of catching up to do. The Linda I knew was vibrant and healthy. Now, Ann told me, Linda was very ill, bedridden, her eyesight robbed by the virus. She was surrounded by family.

But at least Ann could share some comforting news -- and that was Steve.

He was neither Friday nor Saturday. Steve was every day. He and Linda had met through a loose network of friends with HIV. Friendship became love, and on New Year's Eve 1993, with Linda's health worsening, Steve proposed.

They were married on March 26. It was, as Steve would later write in The Times, "a storybook wedding with all our family and friends. There wasn't a dry eye in the house. You can see from her picture what a beautiful bride she was. Three days after the wedding, she entered the hospital. I stayed with her until she passed away on June 4."

Linda Luschei Hunio was interred on a shady slope at Forest Lawn in Glendale. Last Thursday, Stephen Jay Hunio was interred at her side.

A day before the service, Bob Hunio, 64, reflected on his son's short life. Steve lived life "fast forward." He was so bright, but it took him awhile to grow up. Bob and Edi Hunio -- they've been married 40 years -- always loved their son. But Bob admitted there was a period "I wasn’t sure I liked the rascal."

All that changed in recent years. Before Linda, there'd been a girlfriend who had stayed with Steve even a year after he'd learned he had HIV, though she was uninfected. She helped Steve grow up, Bob said. Still, when Steve met Linda, "He was a diamond in the rough. Linda really polished the edges. ... I think Steve learned his bravery from Linda."

In November, a brain tumor, one of AIDS' many possible complications, put Steve in the hospital. Aware that death was approaching, Bob and Edi brought their son home to nurse him until the end. It was better this way, Bob says, both for Steve and for them. Nurses told the Hunios it was unusual for AIDS patients to die at home. Bob said he is convinced that being with Steve eased the grief for him and his wife.

Bob Hunio made his calls. About 40 friends and relatives dropped by to see Steve and his parents over the next two days. Steve appeared to be unconscious, his breathing growing more difficult. On Saturday afternoon, friends crowded into the bedroom. Bob said it felt as though everyone there was connected by some sort of human electricity. Bob held one of his son's hands and his wife held the other.

"We kissed him, told him we loved him, and to let go whenever he wants, to meet Linda in heaven. ... My wife said, 'My God, he looks like a little wounded bird.' I said, 'Steve, it's OK. It's OK to let go. Fly away into heaven and meet Linda.'"

Even the Hunios' whippet, a bashful dog, burrowed his way through the crowd and jumped on the bed, as if to say farewell.

"Stephen died a few minutes later. It was amazing. It was utterly amazing."

Later, Bob Hunio and his son's friends drank Scotch and shared happier memories.

I learned about Steve's death a couple of days later from another of Linda's friends. At a time when we're cheering Magic Johnson's comeback, Liz's call proved sobering.

She didn't just have news about Linda's husband. The day after Steve died, AIDS also claimed the life of Ann Copeland. She was 47.

Previous Grave Spotlights

Back to main page