Former Oceano CSD director dead at 64, she is remembered

February 21, 2023

Mary Lucey and Nancy MacNeil in 2018

Former Oceano Services District Director Mary Lucey died on Feb. 11. She was 64-years-old. Lucey and her 72-year-old wife Nancy MacNeil died within hours of each other.

Opinion by ACT UP Los Angeles Oral History Project

The ACT UP Los Angeles Oral History Project (OHP) would like to express our shock and deep sorrow at the deaths of co-producers Mary Lucey and Nancy Jean MacNeil on Feb. 11, 2023. We launched this project together in 2021. It was an honor to work alongside these two incredible warriors.

We have a shared history of AIDS activism amongst our group that begins with ACT UP Los Angeles. Mary and Nancy joined ACT UP LA in the Spring of 1990 with a specific goal in mind which was to bring attention to the horrible plight of women with AIDS in prison, focusing on the Walker A Unit Correctional Facility at Frontera in Chino.

Working with the women’s caucus they helped expand ACT UP LA’s agenda toward the issues of women and AIDS.

Mary had recently left the Walker A unit where she experienced the devastating lack of treatment provided to women with HIV and AIDS. Lack of healthcare, inadequate nutrition, abuse, and neglect by guards all contributed to the deterioration of infected incarcerated women.

After the organization’s protest at Frontera, ACT UP LA expanded their actions towards all California prisoners with AIDS. Mary and Nancy’s activism helped lead to the first compassionate release of a prisoner with AIDS, Judy Cagle, allowing her to die at home with dignity.

Having a long history in activism, Nancy MacNeil was active in the Lavender Left throughout the 1980s. Employed at the USPS, MacNeil was a steward for the American Postal Workers Union. She joined ACT UP LA in 1990 after attending the first Women’s Caucus meeting.

Later, Nancy was the founding executive director of WOMEN ALIVE, an organization by and for HIV positive women with a membership of over 500. She also established a treatment focused newsletter and the first National Women’s AIDS hotline. Regarding the Oral History Project, she has said “It is [my] honest hope that this oral history, filled with stories that matter, will inspire and motivate the queer youth to once again rise in power and carry the banner forward.”

Mary Lucey, a loud and proud lesbian, was among the first HIV positive women in Los Angeles to be out about her status. For several years the pair joined the ACT UP National Women’s Caucus fight to expand the CDC’s definition of AIDS to include women’s opportunistic infections.

Following ACT UP LA demonstrations, Lucey was often interviewed for numerous newspapers and magazines including Glamour & Time magazines. In 1994 Lucey worked as the first woman city AIDS coordinator on an interim basis which funded Clean Needles Now, the first needle exchange program in Los Angeles. This program, already started by ACT UP LA, continues as the LA Community Heath Project.

It was estimated at that time to prevent 12,000 new HIV infections each year. Lucey founded the first peer support group for positive women in 1990 and in 1993 co-founded WOMEN ALIVE.

Since then, Lucey had continued to stay involved as a community activist. She won a position on her local community services board representing the town of Oceano on which served for two consecutive terms.

Even till her death Lucey asked, “Where is our vaccine? where is our cure? and why on earth are people still getting infected?”

In 2021, several of us came together to create the ACT UP LA Oral History Project, interviewing original members from 1987 to 1997. Co-producers Jordan Peimer, Helene Schpak, and Judy Ornelas Sisneros will continue to move the project forward and dedicate it to the memory of our comrades Mary and Nancy.