When AIDS crisis hit home, these coworkers stepped up
A Wells Fargo team member stepped in to lead Shanti Project, a valuable community organization that helped San Franciscans respond to the AIDS crisis in the 1980s.
In 1981, doctors began reporting cases of a relatively unknown immune disease with few treatment options, no known cure, and deadly outcomes. Quickly the disease spread to become a worldwide pandemic responsible for millions of deaths.
Researchers identified the disease as a contagious pathogen that attacks the immune system: the human immunodeficiency virus, or HIV. Without treatment, the immune system declines to a final stage — AIDS, or acquired immune deficiency syndrome — where the weakened body becomes easily infected with potentially lethal diseases and infections.
For Wells Fargo team members, the AIDS crisis was not just something in the newspaper. Their friends, partners, neighbors, and even coworkers were dying from the disease. Team members responded by donating time and money to support local organizations, including the San Francisco-based Shanti Project.
Shanti Project responds
Started in 1974, Shanti Project, named after the Sanskrit word for “inner peace,” pioneered a system of volunteer-based emotional and practical support for people suffering from terminal and chronic conditions. Volunteers made home visits to provide companionship and home care, like cleaning and driving, that sick patients often could not manage. Shanti staff organized support groups that provided a place for the sick and their loved ones to find friendly faces and consolation.
Shanti Project quickly mobilized to help the first diagnosed AIDS patients in the fall of 1981, but the scale of the crisis required more support. In 1982, Shanti dedicated its services exclusively to helping people diagnosed with AIDS. The organization worked closely with San Francisco General Hospital as it developed Ward 86, the world’s first clinic dedicated to HIV/AIDS patients. Shanti became a crucial part of a patient-first treatment that focused on well-being, not just health, by collaborating with medical staff and other community partners. This San Francisco model of AIDS care quickly became the world’s standard of treatment for HIV/AIDS patients, and Shanti become a world-renowned institution.
From a small organization with a handful of volunteers, Shanti grew to 68 staff members and over 600 volunteers by 1988. The sudden growth of the organization, and its impact on the world stage, was felt deeply by workers and volunteers. As one reflected in 1988:
“This year while presenting the Shanti support model at the International Conference on AIDS in Stockholm, I realized that the AIDS community, worldwide, was truly in awe of the work done by the Shanti Project staff and volunteers. This audience contained world-renowned physicians, Nobel Prize winning researchers, members of the educational elite, and basically the collective brain trust of the world, all eager to learn what we do that is so special.”
Rapid growth created difficulties, however. By 1988, the city of San Francisco threatened to pull its funding of Shanti as allegations of poor management began to emerge. Despite the dedication of an army of volunteers and the life-changing support for the people they served, administrative issues threatened to end the Shanti Project.
The board appointed Douglas P. Holloway, a member of Shanti’s board who worked full time as an executive vice president of Wells Fargo, as their chairperson to steer Shanti Project through its troubled times and enter a new period of progress.
Impact on the LGBTQ community
While anyone can be infected with HIV or AIDS, at first there was a disproportionate impact on the LGBTQ community in the U.S. Between 1981 and 1985, 98% of AIDS patients in San Francisco identified as gay. As Shanti shifted its focus to caregiving for AIDS patients in the 1980s, its organization adopted a strong LGBTQ culture. When Doug Holloway entered into Shanti’s leadership, he did so believing that it would mean publicly acknowledging his sexual orientation.
After decades of not discussing his personal life and his same-sex partnership at work, Holloway became the first openly gay executive at Wells Fargo. He became a role model and inspiration for other LGBTQ team members at Wells Fargo and helped support a new generation of bank leaders interested in building an inclusive culture.
Putting business skills to work for the community
Holloway started at Wells Fargo in 1971 as a loan examiner. He quickly rose to become the bank’s Chief Loan Examiner in 1979. His department assessed the bank’s loan portfolio to identify and minimize risks. He established policies and procedures to guide lending decisions. He advised senior executives of solutions to sudden adverse trends and interest rate changes.
Holloway enjoyed putting his management skills to work in the community. He volunteered at the Irwin Memorial Blood Centers and eventually served as the organization’s president while working at Wells Fargo. He served as the director and chair of the Finance Committee of the American Blood Commission in Washington, D.C. At the bank, he was able to combine his management skills with his interest in community building as the chair of Wells Fargo’s Corporate Responsibility Committee from 1981-1984. The committee designed new programs and initiatives to help the bank achieve its goal of being a community partner for positive social change.
In 1988, Holloway joined the board of Shanti. He had been looking for a new community organization that might benefit from his years of volunteer and business experience. One month after joining, Shanti “blew up,” as Holloway described it. Amid pressure for independent review and administrative changes to address structural and organizational problems, the executive director stepped down and Holloway stepped forward.
While working his full-time job at Wells Fargo, Holloway took on the responsibility of providing daily management of the Shanti Project for several months until a new executive director could be found. “I was coming to work at 5:30 A.M. and getting home at 10, 11 o’clock at night,” Holloway later recalled, adding, “It’s amazing that doing this type of thing has caused me to become a more organized and focused individual. I’ve been wondering where did I spend all of this time before?”
Team members respond
Influenced by their personal experiences, team members led Wells Fargo to respond to the AIDS crisis. They advocated for changes to medical leave policies to allow time off to care for sick partners. Team members pioneered one of the nation’s first corporate educational and training programs to support the return of a team member from medical leave in 1983. It went on to become a model for other businesses hoping to establish a culture of support and inclusion.
Team members at the Wells Fargo Foundation guided the bank’s charitable giving policy to be one of the first in the nation to donate to HIV/AIDS research and treatment organizations, including Shanti Project. Today, Wells Fargo continues to support Shanti Project, which provides services to all people with terminal, life-threatening, or disabling illnesses or conditions.
Shanti benefited from his experience and dedication during his time as chair of the board from 1989-1991. Holloway is credited with implementing procedural guidelines and streamlining operations. He helped restore public confidence and increased its operational budget from $2.7 million to $4.5 million. He also oversaw an expansion of services to serve more diverse communities.
In 1989, Wells Fargo recognized Holloway’s service to Shanti with its President’s Award for Social Service. With four other finalists, Holloway received a commemorative award from the bank president and $2,500, which he donated to Shanti Project.
When he retired as Shanti’s chair of the board to become a chair emeritus in 1991, Holloway summarized his experience by saying:
“It has been an extraordinary privilege to serve on Shanti’s board, to make a contribution to the AIDS crisis by helping develop policy and by helping to insure that much needed services continue to be delivered to people with AIDS. I am sure that I won’t be able to resist continuing to serve in some capacity in the future.”
Holloway’s prediction proved true as he returned to lead the board as chair again in 1993, about the same time he retired from Wells Fargo as an executive vice president. He died in 2013, and is today remembered fondly for his commitment to his community and his love for helping others.