Ex-model talks on AIDS

Nov. 18, 1997

By Bridget O'Farrell

Reporter for The Baylor Lariat

LaGena Lookabill Greene, a former Miss Hawaiian Tropic model who contracted the AIDS virus, planned to jump to her death. She planned to go skydiving and not survive the experience, making it look as if it were an accident, but she could not follow through. She was 3,500 feet above the ground when she changed her mind.

LaGena Greene told the rest of her story to a hushed audience in Chapel-Forum Monday morning. Her appearance in Chapel-Forum marks the start of AIDS Awareness Week, Nov. 17-21.

Greene, a native of North Carolina, graduated with honors from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 1984 and moved to Los Angeles to pursue acting. It was there that she met her husband, Danny Greene, when she landed the role of his girlfriend in a film.

The couple began dating, but after a year, she ended the relationship because Danny was not interested in a commitment.

In 1986, LaGena became reacquainted with a friend of six years, Tim Richmond, the 1986 Indianapolis 500 Rookie of the Year. Richmond wooed LaGena with promises of marriage and children.

On the day LaGena accepted his marriage proposal, she engaged in sexual relations with him for the first time. The next day, he simply disappeared.

'He completely disappeared out of my life with no explanation at all,' she said. 'I got a phone call from a stranger saying that he was dying of AIDS.'

LaGena decided to get tested for AIDS out of the fear that she had been exposed to the virus. The test originally came back negative. When reports of Richmond's health were confirmed she went back to the doctor to have another test.

As it turned out, she had only been infected for 11 weeks when the first test came back negative. AIDS sometimes takes three to six months to show up on a test, she said.

Just days before Richmond died, he called LaGena after hiding from her for three years. He denied having AIDS.

According to LaGena, Richmond said he was sorry. When she said she forgave him Richmond said 'thank you.' To LaGena, it was Richmond's way of admitting that he had AIDS.

LaGena remained silent about being infected with the AIDS virus due to the stigma associated with the disease. The only person she shared her secret with was Danny Greene.

'With the diagnosis of AIDS comes the ideas that the person infected is unclean, untouchable, undesirable and unworthy,' she said. 'I didn't want anyone to know that I had this plague.'

After her suicide attempt LaGena had a revelation.

'I felt this great presence that seemed to say 'LaGena, you want to live!'' she said. 'Instead of dying I made the choice to live.'

Greene said she found comfort and a reason to live through her personal relationship with God.

'I used to think Christians were fanatics or losers in life that had some kind of crisis that turned them around,' she said. 'And then I had a crisis that changed my life and because of that, I rededicated my life to Christ.'

Greene stated that abstinence before marriage was the only sure form of protection against the deadly virus.

'Overall she really impacted people,' Miranda Suttles, a Houston freshman said. 'It was really quiet, she really got people's attention. The program was very informational, it made me think twice.'

Greene is currently visiting high schools, universities and churches to tell her story. Her message has been chronicled on '60 Minutes' and 'The Today Show', and she will appear on 'Entertainment Tonight' later this month.

'We really appreciate her message on abstinence and how it can effect life in a positive way,' said Andrea King, a graduate assistant in the health education and wellness office. 'She was a complete inspiration to people through her spirit and strength. She informed students about the realities of AIDS.'

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