Yet another obit...

Dateline: Wed 16 Feb 2011

Fellow blogger Gary Welsh of Advance Indiana took note of a recent obit in the Indianapolis Star for one Ed Walsh, a founder of the Bag Lady Bus Tour, an accountant, a community activist and a great partier -- and finally a member of Alcoholics Anonymous.

My friend and onetime colleague Will Higgins wrote this obit; it is an ongoing feature once called "A Life Lived," and it was the brainchild of Tim Franklin, formerly the exec editor of the Star who beat it out of Indy when Gannett took over.

Marcella Fleming first wrote the feature and won a first prize for column writing for her efforts. Will, who occasionally contributes to this series (all too infrequently) always does a masterful job.

Here's the obit, which ran Feb. 13 and which I read at least three times...and thanks, too, to Coby Palmer for fleshing out his friend. Drum roll:

By Will HIggins

There were two Ed Walshes: the party guy with a penchant for vodka and fast living, and the disciplined accountant fixated on a noble cause.

In the early days of AIDS in Indianapolis, Mr. Walsh used both skill sets to improve the lives of those with the disease.

Mr. Walsh, or "Wanda" to friends, died Jan. 24 of cancer at age 60, said Coby Palmer, a longtime friend and fellow AIDS activist.

In 1981, the two friends, along with Gary Johnson, were sitting around wondering how they'd spend Halloween when they hit on the idea of chartering a bus and hosting a sort of rolling costume party. They'd bounce between gay bars. They'd dress as women.

As it turned out, they needed two buses because about 70 people signed up.

The idea initially was simply to have fun, but early on the "Bag Lady Bus Tour" became a fundraiser for HIV and AIDS. The tour, held every year since, is believed to be nation's first fundraiser for those with the disease and, in Palmer's view, is very much a reflection of Mr. Walsh.

"Ed just loved to party," Palmer said, "and Ed said, 'We're not doing a fundraiser unless it's fun.' He always said that."

Edward Joseph Walsh was born in Memphis, Tenn., and grew up in Auburn, where his dad ran a hardware store. After graduating from Indiana University, he moved to Indianapolis and went to work for shopping mall developer Melvin Simon and Associates in its finance department.

Ten years into the Bag Lady tours, Mr. Walsh himself was diagnosed with AIDS. He panicked.

"He started partying like there was no tomorrow," said Joe Sigler, another longtime friend.

"Back then, people were dropping like flies," said Palmer, who was diagnosed with AIDS several years before Mr. Walsh. "He thought he had six months to live."

The chances of surviving AIDS are much better now.

Mr. Walsh retired from Simon, but not before asking a favor of co-founder Melvin Simon: Could he borrow Market Square Arena for one night? It was the home court of the Indiana Pacers, the Simon-owned National Basketball Association franchise.

"Ed always gave 100 percent to the company and to this community," said Simon's brother, Herb.

They turned over Market Square for an AIDS fundraiser. The grand venue transformed the "Garage Party," a small benefit for locals, into a mega-party/fundraiser, drawing guests from throughout the Midwest. A trendy disco singer named Sharon Redd was hired to perform; a Toyota was raffled off.

The money from such Walsh-inspired soirees went to local AIDS groups that were then in their infancy, such as the Damien Center and Indiana Cares. Mr. Walsh helped the groups beyond partying on their behalf.

With his expertise in finance, he handled their applications for tax-free status and as a board member and treasurerhusbanded their dollars carefully.

"He really kept hold of the purse strings," Palmer said. "He really kept things going."

Mr. Walsh had a dark side, too. He battled alcoholism most of his adult life, friends said, and while soused he could be acid-tongued.

But his boozing also added to his lore, at least in retrospect.

There was the time he rented a limousine to take him around to the bars on his birthday. Early in the evening, he fell in a bar and got a bad cut on his head. Mr. Walsh ordered the limo driver to take him to a hospital emergency room -- and wait.

After his head was stitched up, Mr. Walsh had himself delivered back to the bars.

He moved to Palm Springs, Calif., in 2004, and there quit drinking, at least for the most part. He sometimes attended three Alcoholics Anonymous meetings in a single day.

"He really cleaned up and lived very happily," said Sigler, who often visited him from Indianapolis.

His favorite word became "content," Sigler said.

"I'd say, 'How you doing?' and he'd say, 'I'm content.' "

"A Life Lived" takes a look back at the lives of people in our coverage area. To nominate someone for this feature, please contact the reporter at (317) 444-6043 or


Matt Stone [unverified] said:

Another great obit also ran in the Star:

2011-02-16 19:13:25

hendy [Member] said:

We need more Wandas out there. May he rest in the peace he deserved.

2011-02-16 21:06:16

Tell The Truth [Member] said:

Ed was a legend. Sixty. Way too young.

2011-02-17 05:03:55

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