Colleagues and friends of former congressional staffer Michael Taylor Riggs will gather Thursday for a Washington memorial to remember the longtime public health policy advocate.
Riggs, who died last month in Tuba City, Ariz., at the age of 42 from an unspecified illness, was a staffer for former Rep. Ronald V. Dellums, D-Calif., and Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif., both of whom represented Oakland and parts of the East Bay.
Riggs was a member of the Navajo Nation tribe and an Arizona native, born in Tuba City, who worked in Dellums’ district office before heading to Washington in 1998. According to colleagues and media accounts of his life, he made his most lasting mark as a staffer working on public health issues, helping shape legislation Lee co-sponsored that had wide bipartisan support: the Global AIDS and Tuberculosis Relief Act of 2000 and the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief.
“Michael Taylor Riggs was an incredible colleague and friend, and he was taken from us far too soon,” Lee said in a statement provided to CQ Roll Call. “Not only was he ceaselessly passionate about expanding access to care for people living with HIV all across the globe, his life is a beautiful example of a life well-lived. His dedication to service will not be forgotten and he will be deeply missed, not only by his friends and family, but by the AIDS advocacy community, my district in California, and communities around the world.”
During his time in Washington, Riggs also worked for the U.N.’s World Health Organization, the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights and the Global AIDS Alliance.
He moved back to Tuba City in 2010 and became involved in community and tribal affairs. Shortly before his death, he helped organize a hike that his father, Earl Riggs, founded to commemorate the Navajos’ “Long Walk,” a traumatic forced migration of the tribe in 1864 from their traditional lands in Arizona and New Mexico to Bosque Redondo, N.M.
The hike, an approximately 17-mile course, starts at Navajo Mountain, Ariz., and ends with a boat ride to the Rainbow Bridge in Lake Powell.
“I think a lot of it has to do with what my father and those folks who have been on this hike for a very long time, essentially our elders, impart to the children,” Riggs told the Navajo-Hopi Observer in April. “They may or may not have known about the Long Walk, but during the hike they learn the importance of it.”
At the time, Riggs said he was working on a three-year plan to arrange sponsorships and partnerships for the hike, which is held annually on the Memorial Day weekend. He died on Friday, May 24, the beginning of the Memorial Day weekend.
“Michael was a networker, perfectly suited for Washington, D.C. life, but he brought a love and sense of family to everything he did,” read the eulogy his close friend Keely Varvel wrote for his funeral.
The memorial event at Busboys and Poets (2021 14th St. NW) will be held Thursday from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. Riggs’ colleagues have arranged for those interested to make donations in his honor to Native Americans for Community Action in Flagstaff, Ariz., a local charity.
Visitors get their first look at the American Veterans Disabled for Life Memorial, which opened to the public on Monday, Oct. 6, 2014. The new memorial is located off Independence Ave. SW between the Rayburn House Office Building and HHS. Buy photo here.