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Classmate Jeff Phillips Inspired the Names Project

Content originally appeared in Stanford Business magazine in June 1994.

Mike Smith brought the AIDS quilt home to Stanford GSB in 1994 where three panels were displayed in the library during AIDS Awareness Week. Smith, MBA ‘86, opened the exhibit with a poignant remembrance of one of his Stanford GSB classmates, Jeff Phillips, an MBA student who died of AIDS-related pneumonia in the fall of 1985.

Smith was a cofounder of the Names Project AIDS memorial quilt with Cleve Jones, a San Francisco activist and politician. “Cleve was the visionary,” says Smith. “I was the one who knew how to make it happen.”

Phillips dropped out of school after only a quarter, diagnosed with AIDS-related pneumonia. He remained close to his friend until Phillips’ death.

The experience made a lasting impression on Smith who while at Stanford GSB helped found the AIDS Education Project and organized Stanford Cares, a campus-wide fund-raising event that netted $45,000 for AIDS research and education. Later, like other friends and relatives of AIDS victims, Smith channeled his grief through the quilt.

“Every single time I walk through the display,” he said, “I hear Jeff Phillips saying, ‘Remember my name.’”

Begun in a San Francisco storefront in June 1987 to remember the names of people who had died of AIDS, the quilt was displayed in Washington, D.C., four months later. It was big enough to cover a city block. In 1994 if it were possible to display the  entire quilt, it would cover 10 football fields and included more than 26,000 panels, each measuring three feet by six feet; it weighs 30 tons. Sections of the quilt have toured all 50 states and raised nearly $1.5 million for direct services for people with AIDS, as well as raising the awareness of countless people about the disease.