United Farm Workers union leader Richard Chavez has died. The 81-year-old brother of civil rights and labor leader Cesar Chavez and longtime partner of activist Dolores Huerta died in Bakersfield, following complications in surgery.
Before Richard Chavez became involved in the movement, he started out as a carpenter. Miriam Pawel says that when she first met Chavez, one of the first things he said was "I really was on my way to being middle class. I had a life and I had a profession." Pawel wrote about the UFW in her book, “The Union of their Dreams.”
Pawel says that Richard was a skilled carpenter who built the house he lived in. However, when his brother Cesar decided to form a farmworkers union, he called on his family to help, and Richard took up the call. "Richard moved his family to Delano, gave up his job and from 1966 on worked full-time for the UFW for subsistence wages, like everyone else."
Pawel says Richard was the pragmatic brother. At board meetings, "he would say, 'you need to be realistic, Cesar. You know, not everyone is like you.'" Pawel says that Richard felt a responsibility to say things that others wouldn't be comfortable saying. "He was very respected and really loved within the movement, partly because of that," says Pawel.
Richard was involved in the UFW's construction projects and worked on acquiring the Forty Acres complex in Delano, the union's first headquarters, which recently became a national historic landmark.
Richard retired from active involved with the UFW in 1983, but was on the board of the Chavez Foundation and remained involved in events and fundraising.
Pawel says that Richard believed in the school of organizing that says the organizer is the person in the back of the room. "He didn't need to be in the front, he didn't need to be pushed forward. He was there because of his brother, he was there because he believed in the cause and in the principle, but he was not, did not need to be the face of it."