Mary Jo Hoyt, a skilled nurse practitioner known for her courage and generosity and for her pioneering work in the fight against AIDS, unexpectedly died on November 7 at St. Luke’s Hospital in Kansas City. The cause was heart failure stemming from a lung infection.

Mary Jo was a most beautiful and empathetic soul. Her career took her from Kansas City to Central and South America, and from Greenwich Village in New York City to Botswana, Tanzania, Zambia, India, South Korea, Thailand, and especially South Africa, where she traveled many times to help train colleagues treating HIV/AIDS patients. In New York City, in the early days of the AIDS crisis, she was a dedicated volunteer at Bailey House, which provided shelter and care to AIDS patients at a time when even many doctors feared treating people with the disease.  Her patients were often left homeless with nowhere to turn. She quickly became a tireless advocate for their proper treatment. Mary Jo continued to fight hard against all forms of injustice throughout her life.

Early in her career, Mary Jo provided nursing care in poverty-stricken areas of St. Lucia and Venezuela. In Venezuela, she provided medical care to people living in unimaginable poverty.  Without resources and with very little physician support, she tended to the many sick and dying people that she encountered.  She once carried a severely malnourished baby—in a box on her head—across a riverbed that had filled with raging flood water caused by heavy rain. From 1991 to 1999, she was the director of the women’s health program in the Division of HIV Medicine at St. Vincent Hospital in New York City. From 1999 to 2003, she was a research program manager in the pediatrics department at Rutgers University’s College of Medicine and Dentistry in Newark, New Jersey, and until 2019 worked in various capacities for Rutgers’ School of Nursing to train medical professionals in AIDS treatment, both internationally and domestically. After returning to Kansas City in 2019, she worked for the Kansas City, Mo. Health Department/HIV Services as a clinical evaluator until her retirement in 2020. In retirement, she volunteered as a court-appointed special advocate (CASA) in Jackson County, Mo., working as an advocate for children who had been abused or neglected.

Mary Jo’s professional expertise was prevention of mother-to-child HIV transmission, and from 2011 to 2017 she chaired two CDC expert panels on that subject, and was a longtime partner on a CDC task force dealing with mother-to-child HIV transmission. She developed pioneering clinical guidelines and training for medical professionals aimed at allowing HIV-positive women the freedom to make their own choices about childbearing. In 2015, she happily accepted a green “superhero” cape for that work from the “Love Superhero Hall of Fame,” which honors unsung heroes.

Mary Jo was born on March 2, 1957 to Bernadette (Lyon) Hoyt and Robert Guy Hoyt in Kansas City, Missouri. She attended St. Louis parish elementary school and Bishop Hogan High School in Kansas City, Missouri. She graduated from St. Luke’s School of Nursing and became a Registered Nurse in 1983.  Mary Jo also earned a B.A. in Psychology from the University of Missouri in 1983 as well as a B.S. in Nursing from Webster University in Kansas City in 1986. She then earned a Master of Science in Nursing as a Family Nurse Practitioner from Columbia University in New York City in 1990.

Mary Jo is survived by her husband, Judge John M.Torrence, a Circuit Judge in Kansas City; her son Jack Hoyt Landry (and his partner Lienne Harrington); Molly Torrence (John Lindquist); Brian Torrence (Hannah Moen); Lt. Joseph Torrence, USN (Lt. Rozel Hernandez); siblings: Michael (Mary Ellen Schoonmaker); Timothy (Dot Crowl); Mary Teresa (Patrick Durkin); Anne (Art Scavone), and Sarah; stepmother Mig Boyle; brother-in-law Dr. Ralph Torrence, M.D. (Carolyn) and sister-in-law Mary Ellen Patton (Don). Mary Jo is also survived by numerous nieces and nephews as well as great nieces and nephews. She was previously married to David Landry of Denville, N.J. Her brother James died in 2012.

In her final days, Mary Jo was grateful to Dr. Vincent M.Lem, M.D., and the nurses in the Surgical Intermediate Cardiac Care unit on the 4th floor at St. Luke’s Hospital-Plaza who cared for her—“my pals,” as she called them. A memorial service will be held in Kansas City on March 4, 2023, location and time to be determined.

In lieu of flowers, donations can be sent to Unbound, the charity that Mary Jo worked with in Venezuela. Unbound supports and partners with families living in poverty in 19 countries. Donations can be made via unbound.org.

 

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