Richard Chavez, who helped his older brother, legendary labor organizer Cesar Chavez, build the United Farm Workers into a force in state politics and agriculture, died Wednesday. He was 81.
Chavez died from complications following surgery in a Bakersfield hospital, the UFW announced.
"He was one of those little-known giants within the movement. He was extremely effective," Arturo Rodriguez, the union's president, said Wednesday in an interview with The Times.
Born on his family's farm near Yuma, Ariz., in November 1929, Chavez was a migrant worker as a child growing up in the Great Depression. He left the fields to become a union carpenter in San Jose, then left his trade to help his brother organize farm workers in the early 1960s.
"[He] was there before there was a union," said Paul Chavez, Cesar Chavez's son and president of the Cesar Chavez Foundation in Keene, Calif., which Richard Chavez served as a board member. "The dream of all farm workers was to get out of the fields. He gave up the promise of a more comfortable life to work side by side with my dad and be of service."
Richard Chavez oversaw construction of the union hall at UFW headquarters in Delano, Calif., and was first director of the National Farm Workers Service Center in 1966, providing social services for farm workers. He also designed the black eagle emblem that is the union's insignia in 1962, and put up his house as collateral for a loan that helped capitalize the union's credit union, Paul Chavez said.
He worked for years in the union, organizing the California grape boycott in the late 1960s, and later boycotts in New York and Detroit.
Chavez retired from the union in 1983, but remained active. He obtained a state contractor's license and built custom homes in Los Angeles in the 1990s.
He was also a board member of the Dolores Huerta Foundation and was the longtime romantic partner of Huerta, herself a legend in farm-worker organizing. The couple, who were never married, had four children.
Richard Chavez is survived by 10 children, from his first marriage and his partnership with Huerta, as well as numerous grandchildren and great-grandchildren. He is also survived by his brother, Librado, and sisters Rita Chavez Medina and Vicki Chavez Lastra. His brother Cesar died in 1993.
Services are pending.