TOM BRADLEY NEVER WANTED TO BE A hero. When the Bayport—Blue Point (N.Y.) public school teacher tested HIV-positive in 1986, he was determined to keep his illness as private as he had kept his homosexuality. But when his insurance company refused to pay for the treatment that his doctor recommended last year, Bradley decided he had no alternative but to fight back publicly. He died of AIDS this Sept. 29 at age 47, but left a legacy: a major legal victory for AIDS patients.

In early 1990 Bradley's doctor advised him to undergo a $150,000 bone-marrow transplant to replace his weakening immune system. Bradley had a donor, his identical twin brother, Bob. But three days before the operation was to take place, Tom's insurer, Empire Blue Cross and Blue Shield, refused to pay for the procedure, arguing that it was "experimental" for AIDS patients.

Outraged, Bradley sued. Parents and students where he taught gave him moral support and contributed to his defense fund, and on July 31, 1990, the New York State Supreme Court ruled that the insurer could not deny Bradley his operation. Tragically, the decision came too late to help him. By the time Bradley checked into Johns Hopkins Oncology Center two weeks later, he had developed CMV retinitis, an AIDS-related infection. Had his immune system been destroyed—a necessary step in preparation for the transplant—the infection would almost certainly have killed him. Devastated, Bradley went home and continued to teach until this spring.

Tom's family was with him at Roosevelt Hospital in New York City when he died last month. "I leaned down and told him, 'Tom, you're dying,' " says Bob, choking up. "He closed his eyes and let out a sigh. I whispered to him, 'I love you.' He said, 'I love you too.' It was just like he wanted it. He had his mind, and most of all, he had his dignity."