MALDEF Honors the Life of Richard E. Chavez, Farmworker Justice Advocate and Civil Rights Hero (Nov. 12, 1929 - July 27, 2011)

Community mourns loss of iconic United Farm Worker leader, brother to Cesar Chavez, and partner-in-life to Dolores Huerta

Los Angeles, CA - The civil rights community has suffered a major and heartbreaking loss; Richard E. Chavez, long-time advocate for farmworker and civil rights and brother to Cesar Chavez, has passed away in Bakersfield, California. He was 81.

Richard Chavez lived a rich and full life dedicated to laying the foundations for future generations and building up the community and people around him. By trade, Richard was a carpenter and building contractor; he has been credited with building the United Farm Workers of America’s headquarters at the Forty Acres complex in Delano, California.

And yet Richard laid foundations in our communities and in the civil rights movement that will prove to be stronger and longer-lasting than the concrete and timber that compose the buildings he helped build. Richard joined the United Farm Workers of America as a young man and dedicated the rest of his life to chasing the dream envisioned by him, his brother Cesar Chavez and others of a day in which farmworkers and all Latinos would achieve full access to justice.

Through his tireless efforts seeking greater justice for farmworkers, for Latinos and for all citizens and residents of our country, Richard used his time and talents to help build and sustain a justice and civil rights movement that continues strong to this very day. A symbol of Richard’s contributions, the UFW's black Aztec eagle symbol - also designed by Richard - continues to fly high as a statement of the enduring impact of Richard Chavez on the movement, the community and the nation. For his life's work, in 2010 at the Washington, D.C. Awards Gala, MALDEF honored Richard Chavez alongside his partner-in-life Dolores Huerta with the Lifetime Achievement Award for Excellence in Community Service Award. ¡Si Se Puede!

A full biography can be found below.

The following quotes can be attributed to MALDEF leadership, staff, and supporters.

Thomas A. Saenz, MALDEF President and General Counsel

"Richard Chavez was a gentle and unsung hero of the farmworker and broader civil rights movements. His quiet and reassuring presence will be greatly missed."

Eva Longoria, MALDEF Board Member, Actor and Activist

"My dear friend Dolores Huerta and her children are in my thoughts and prayers during this difficult time. The impact and spirit of Richard Chavez' dedication and commitment to the underserved will live forever."

David Damian Figueroa, MALDEF Vice President of Development and Communications

"Richard was my paisano from Yuma, Arizona and a very dear friend. I will forever cherish all of the times I was privileged enough to spend birthdays and holidays together. He and Dolores Huerta always welcomed me like a member of their family. I will miss him and always remember his incredible zest for life."

Gina Montoya, MALDEF Vice President of Education and UFW Foundation Board Member

"Richard Chavez was a hard-working champion dedicated to improving the quality of life for farmworkers. He never sought the limelight, but worked tirelessly to support and serve farmworkers in whatever capacity he was needed. A behind-the-scenes hero, his life of public service and contributions to our community will never be forgotten."

Biography - Richard E. Chavez, National Farm Workers Service Center

Richard Estrada Chavez was born November 12, 1929 in Yuma, Arizona. When he was eight years old Richard’s family was forced into migrant farm work when the family farm was lost to taxes during the Great Depression and migrated to California.

As a child Richard worked alongside his family in the fields while also attending over sixteen schools. As an adult Richard established a career as a carpenter. As such he served to establish the Self-help Housing Program with the American Friends Service Committee and served on the State Rural Housing Commission. He was a past president of the Delano Chapter of the Community Service Organization.

In 1966 Richard gave up the security of his carpentry job and joined his brother, Cesar Chavez, as a full time volunteer for the United Farm Workers organizing and fighting for farm worker civil rights.

In his long career with the United Farm Workers, Richard has served in many capacities. From 1972 to 1984 he served as Third Vice-President of the Union. He was in charge of negotiations and field Operations, administering collective-bargaining agreements secured for farm workers through the struggle of farm worker strikes and boycotts. Richard worked on both the grape and lettuce boycotts as the Director of the Detroit, Michigan boycott in 1972-73 and the New York City Boycotts in 1973-74. He also served as Director of the Martin Luther King Jr. Fund, a UFW service program for farm workers and Executive Director of the National Farm Workers Health Group that ran primary health clinics for farm workers.

Richard Chavez was the first director of the National Farm Workers Service Center, and continued until his passing to serve the Service Center as a board member. The National Farm Workers’ Service Center builds affordable housing for farm workers and La Campesina, the farm worker radio network.

Richard was a skilled carpenter and building contractor. Many of the UFW offices, clinics and service centers have been designed, built and remodeled by Richard Chavez.

Richard also served on the Board of the Cesar E. Chavez Foundation and attends speaking engagements on behalf of the foundation and the United Farm Workers Union.

Richard Chavez is survived by ten children, seven stepchildren, and three great grandchildren. He lived in Keene, California.

Founded in 1968, MALDEF is the nation’s leading Latino legal civil rights organization. Often described as the “law firm of the Latino community,” MALDEF promotes social change through advocacy, communications, community education, and litigation in the areas of education, employment, immigrant rights, and political access. For more information on MALDEF, please visit:

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