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Richard Estrada Chávez dies

FORTY ACRES -- Richard Estrada Chávez, who worked alongside his older brother César E. Chávez to help build América's first major farmworker union, was remembered Monday for his contagious smile, love of golf and an optimistic attitude.

"He was everyone's favorite uncle, even those who were not his nieces and nephews," said his nephew Fernando Chávez.

Fernando listed "about 400" children, grandchildren, nieces, nephews and godchildren among his family members.

Tío Richard, as he was known by those close to him, died July 27 at a Bakersfield hospital following complications from elective surgery.

More than 2,000 -- including U.S. Labor Secretary Hilda Solís, former state Sen. Art Torres and actor Ed Begley Jr. -- showed up for a memorial funeral at Forty Acres.

The tributes came from many.

"Throughout his years of service, Richard fought for basic labor rights but also worked to improve the quality of life for countless farmworkers," said President Barack Obama.

"He was a quiet hero and his legacy will be his passion for justice," said Solís.

"Richard Chávez was a gentle and unsung hero of the farmworker and broader civil rights movements. His quite and reassuring presence will be greatly missed," said Thomas A. Saenz, president and general counsel of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF).

"The impact and spirit of Richard Chávez's dedication and commitment to the undeserved will live forever," said actress Eva Longoria.

Chávez, who learned carpentry skills when he went with César to work at a lumber mill in Crescent City in the early 1950s, is credited for designing the black Aztec eagle that became an iconic symbol of the United Farm Workers.

He also helped construct many buildings at the UFW's Forty Acres compound, negotiated labor contracts and organized grape boycotts. In 1966, he gave up carpentry to earn $5 a week with the union.

Fernando Chávez, now a lawyer, said his father had requested that Richard build a simple, pine coffin for his funeral.

When César died in 1993, Richard immediately went to work on building that coffin.

"I promised your dad that I would build him a coffin," recalled Fernando about his conversation with Richard. "He built it out of love and affection for his brother."

Among the items that were placed on the altar at the memorial service were a hammer, a César Chávez book, a UFW flag, a Chinese wok, a sombrero, and a golf club.

"When people asked César he started the union in Delano, he would say it was because Richard was there," said Dolores Huerta.

"Richard did not have one single enemy," said Huerta, who had three children with Richard.

Richard Estrada Chávez

Born/Nació: Yuma, Arizona

Date/Fecha: Nov. 12, 1929

Children/Hijos: (with Sally G. Chávez) Richard 'Chato' Chávez Jr. (deceased), Federico G. Chávez, Dorothy Chávez-Velázquez, Becky Chávez, Susana Chávez, Lupe Chávez-Gilbreath. (with Dolores C. Huerta) Juana V. Chávez, María Elena Chávez, Ricardo Chávez Jr., Camila Chávez.

Stepchildren/Hijastros: Celeste Head, Lori De León, Fidel Huerta, Emilio Huerta, Vincent Huerta, Alicia Huerta, Ángela Cabrera.

Send e-mail to: jesparza@vidaenelvalle.com

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