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Helen Chavez, Widow of Cesar Chavez, Passes Away at Age 88

Helen and Cesar Chavez (Courtesy of the Cesar Chavez Foundation)
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Helen Chavez, widow of civil rights leader Cesar Chavez, passed away Monday at the age of 88, reports the L.A Times.Chavez died in a Bakersfield hospital surrounded by her family, according to a statement issued by the United Farm Workers. The cause of death was not given.

As noted by the Times, Chavez was "notoriously reticent and uncomfortable with media attention," but was often thrust onto center stage with her husband. Miriam Pawel, a Cesar Chavez biographer, told the Times that Helen "was not meek in any sense," in spite of her demeanor.

"People use the word 'fierce' to describe her." said Pawel.

Cesar Chavez, along with activist Dolores Huerta, would start the National Farmworker's Association, which later became the United Farm Workers. The union fought for fair pay and safer working environments for farmworkers. Helen worked as its bookkeeper and later as head of its credit union. She was also visible on the ground-level, attending meetings and recruiting new members. She was arrested several times for her efforts.

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"The United Farm Workers wouldn't have been what it is today had it not been for Helen," Huerta told NBC News.

According to the Associated Press, a statement issued by the Chavez family said that Helen's "consistent humility, selflessness, quiet heroism and fiery perseverance were at the heart of the movement she helped build."

Helen Chavez was born in Brawley, California in 1928. She began working in the farm fields when she was 14. She would meet Cesar in an ice cream parlor in Delano, California, and the two were married in 1948. The couple raised eight children together.