LIFESTYLE

Cesar Chavez's widow Helen Chavez dies in California at 88

Cesar Chavez and wife Helen Chavez, during a European tour promoting the grape boycott in London in 1974.

Cesar Chavez and wife Helen Chavez, during a European tour promoting the grape boycott in London in 1974.  (ap)

Helen Chavez, widow of civil rights and farm labor leader Cesar Chavez, died Monday at age 88.

Chavez died at a hospital in Bakersfield, California, surrounded by many of her children, grandchildren and great grandchildren, according to a family statement released through the United Farm Workers, the union her husband founded. No cause of death was given.

Born in the town of Brawley in the California desert near the Mexico border, she met Cesar Chavez in the mid-1940s and married him in 1948, after he left the Navy.

In the early 1960s, the couple left a comfortable middle-class existence in East Los Angeles to organize farm workers in California's Central Valley. There, Chavez, along with Dolores Huerta, founded the National Farm Workers Association, which later became the UFW. His work would make him a deeply revered figure for Mexican-Americans and activists.

Cesar Chavez died in Arizona in 1993.

The couple had eight children, and Helen Chavez had to care for them alone for long stretches while he was traveling, his speaking and organizing skills in great demand. They lived in Delano, California, where she often did farm field work herself while he was gone, sometimes with her children working alongside her.

She also played a quiet but influential role within the union, according to her family.

"Her consistent humility, selflessness, quiet heroism and fiery perseverance were at the heart of the movement she helped build," the family statement said.

Helen Chavez generally kept a low profile and did not speak often in public or in the media. But she made public appearances to honor her husband and his cause.

Last year she appeared at her husband's graveside and accepted a folded flag as he was bestowed with military honors he had not been given at the time of his death.

On Tuesday, Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton sent out a statement saying Helen and Cesar Chavez spent their life fighting for farmworkers.

"Cesar and Helen’s determination and tirelessness in the face of countless obstacles helped countless workers who wanted nothing more than to be treated with respect and dignity to stand up and fight for their rights," Clinton said. "Helen's drive, her desire to see justice, her indomitable spirit, and above all her love guided Cesar through his years of activism, and her perseverance will never be forgotten."