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Jim Drake, 63; Aide to Chavez Helped Spread UFW’s Message

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Jim Drake, a key aide to United Farm Workers Union founder Cesar Chavez and an integral part of the organization from its inception in 1962, has died at the age of 63.

Drake, who devoted his life to bettering the cause of laborers, died on Labor Day at Brookshire Medical Center in Pittsfield, Mass., of lung cancer.

“Whatever the need was, Jim was there. He became our ambassador at large for the union and Cesar relied on him very much,” said Dolores Huerta, co-founder and veteran vice president of the UFW. “He had a very, very big heart.”

Born in Blythe, Calif., Drake was a newly ordained minister when he joined the California Migrant Ministries in the early 1960s to aid those laboring in the state’s vast fruit and vegetable fields. He quickly encountered Chavez and began helping to organize workers.

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Huerta said Drake distributed union fliers and newsletters to various communities, raised money to pay rent and buy food for strikers, recruited union members and became operational director of the grape boycott. Although he was a staunch advocate of nonviolent protest and activism, Huerta said, Drake often faced physical danger.

But Drake’s greatest contribution, Huerta said, was that he and his Migrant Ministries legitimized the UFW and its cause with people who, Huerta said, “thought we were crazy, just nuts.” Drake, she said, essentially vouched for the UFW and spread its message across the country.

Drake left California in the late 1970s to serve needy workers across the country. He founded the Mississippi Pulpwood Cutters Assn. to aid workers in negotiating with the major paper manufacturing companies.

In 1983, he signed on with the Industrial Areas Foundation, an international federation of broad-based community organizations, and remained with that group until his death. His organizing activities led him to a group called Valley Interfaith in the Texas Rio Grande Valley, where he worked to provide water and sewage facilities.

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Next came organizing South Bronx churches in New York City in a campaign to build 800 units of affordable housing and open a model public high school.

In 1995, Drake moved to the Boston area to establish the Greater Boston Interfaith Organization. He spent the rest of his life working through it to provide affordable housing, improve schools and organize immigrants to assure their civil rights.

Drake is survived by his fifth wife, Miriam Rabban, four children from two previous marriages and two grandchildren.

A memorial service is scheduled for Oct. 6 at 1 p.m. at Covenant Presbyterian Church, 6323 W. 80th St., Westchester. Memorial donations may be sent to the Industrial Areas Foundation, 220 W. Kinzie St., Chicago, IL 60610, or to either the Berkshire Medical Center or the Bronx Leadership Academy at this same address: Box 258, Spencertown, NY 12165.

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