Tonight's news on the death of Richard Chavez reminded me of the saying that death comes in threes.
This past month, the Chicano community has lost three important figures — artist Gilbert "Magu" Luján, three-time Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter, columnist and Los Angeles Times editor George Ramos and tonight, Richard Chavez, kid brother of Cesar Chavez, who also dedicated his life to the United Farm Workers union.
From the Bakersfield Californian:
Richard and Cesar Chavez grew up in Arizona in the 1930s and, when their family lost the farm they owned, they moved to California where they worked in fields, orchards and vineyards up and down the state.
In 1949, according to a biography of Richard Chavez released by the UFW Wednesday, the two brothers left farm labor to work in lumber mills. In 1951, Richard Chavez started a carpenter's union apprenticeship program in San Jose and got work framing suburban homes.
By 1952 he had moved to Delano and was president of the Delano chapter of the Community Service Organization, a Latino civil rights group.
He continued to work as a carpenter, building schools, homes and other structures as his brother Cesar began to build the organization that would become the United Farm Workers union.
By the early 1960s, Chavez was donating all of his free time to his brother's cause, the UFW biography states, and in 1966 he quit his job to commit himself full-time to the farmworker movement.
Richard Chavez worked as a union organizer, planning grape boycotts in New York and Detroit in the 1960s and 1970s and also negotiated and administered union contracts.
Chavez retired from the union in 1983, his biography said, but stayed active in the Cesar Chavez Foundation and the Dolores Huerta Foundation as well as building a tract of homes in Tehachapi and custom homes in Los Angeles.
It was Richard Chavez, Rodriguez said, who brought him into the union and became his mentor.
"He taught me how to be strong and, at the same time, caring," Rodriguez said. "I've got to tell you that, when I came into the organization, I had no intention of this being my lifetime work. But Richard had a way" of changing minds.
Camila Chavez, executive director of the Dolores Huerta Foundation, said her father taught her about activism and social justice.
But he didn't do it by sitting around a table talking about the theory of how to care for other people.
"It wasn't that he told us that. It was that he showed us that," she said. "If you see homeless people, and you have take-out with you, you give it to them. Or maybe he would invite them into our home for dinner."
Rev. Chris Hartmire, who helped rally the religious community behind the UFW during the early years of the union, remembered Richard Chavez as having a heart for people.
"He's just a totally good human being. Caring. Open. Willing to speak up on issues in the union when other people weren't," Hartmire said. "He and Cesar were very close but they were very different. (Richard) wasn't as driven. He cared a lot about justice for farmworkers and making life better for people. But it wasn't a fire in his belly."
After Cesar's death in 1993, Richard Chavez crafted the simple wooden coffin that carried his brother to rest in the La Paz compound in Keene — the UFW's current headquarters, said Rodriguez.
"He made Cesar's coffin from scratch. He was a great carpenter," Hartmire said. "That was what his gift was."