"For him to come out of the coma and still function, that is a miracle in itself." Watkins came home to Hueytown to convalesce, and the next year, returned to Annapolis to resume his studies.
He later became president of his class, but the year before he was scheduled to graduate, Watkins' world came crashing down on him again.
"They are very different people, but he reminds me quite a bit of Billy --how positive he is," Burns says.
"He seems to have the public relations skills that Billy had." Although, Watkins is not HIV-positive, he is not afraid to talk candidly to other gay black men about the causes and effects of AIDS and how to prevent it.
"Tommie will be a phenomenal ambassador -- he already is," Max Michael, dean of the UAB School of Public Health, says.
"It was as if he had started back from scratch again," his mother recalls.
Finally, in November 2000, more than three years after the charges against him first became public, the Navy said that it had decided to give Watkins "the benefit of the doubt as to the nature and severity of his misconduct as a midshipman," and that he would not have to repay the money for his education.
Watkins felt vindicated, but the long legal battle -- and the page-one attention it generated -- took its toll on his parents in Hueytown.
I think that's pretty cool." In the early 1990s -- when people with AIDS were living, and dying, in hiding -- Billy Cox didn't go into the closet when he learned he was infected with the disease. He became chairman of the board of directors for Birmingham AIDS Outreach, was named grand marshal of the Alabama AIDS Walk, and, in the final months of his life, opened up for a series of stories in The Birmingham News that documented his fight with the disease that would rob him of his life at 37.
When Cox died the day before Thanksgiving in 1994, many of his friends -- including Todd, who has since become the first openly gay member of the Alabama Legislature and is associate director at AIDS Alabama -- wanted to do something to not only honor his memory but continue his legacy.