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Lois Martin, advocate for the 'underdog' on the border, dies in Tucson
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Lois Martin, advocate for the 'underdog' on the border, dies in Tucson

Lois Martin, a tireless advocate for immigrant rights in Tucson, died on Monday. She was 86.

Martin built a large adopted family within the humanitarian aid community in Tucson, her friends say, and stood up for her beliefs with an unfailing energy. She also was an animal lover who raised chickens and lived with her cat, Frankie, at her home in Tucson.

Martin was born on a farm in Oregon and taught social work in Massachusetts for many years, according to her friend Jim Marx, who worked with her at the humanitarian aid group No More Deaths in Tucson.

Before coming to Tucson in 2005, Martin’s work with human rights and education took her to Tanzania, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Guatemala and India, Marx said.

“Her whole life seemed to be a statement about looking out for others, especially the underdog,” Marx said.

She took water to remote areas with the aid group Humane Borders to help migrants survive the brutal trek through the desert in Southern Arizona, where more than 3,300 migrants have died in the past 20 years.

When officials tried to put the brakes on leaving water on federal land a decade ago, “Lois was insistent that we continue,” Marx said, calling her a “feisty, passionate person.”

As a precaution against the Coronavirus (COVID-19), the annual Christmas en el Barrio used a drive-thru style format to handout toys, gift cards and other items to children and families at the Tucson Rodeo Grounds, on Dec 18, 2020. At 9 a.m. when the event officially kicked off there were over 150 vehicles in line. Over a thousand were expected to come through by the end of the day. A limited number of volunteers, which added up to just under 50, were present from Nova Home Loans and other community supporters to help welcome vehicles and organize and distribute over $1,600 worth of toys. (Josh Galemore / Arizona Daily Star)

She also was a fixture on the wooden benches at the federal courthouse in Tucson, taking notes on the proceedings of Operation Streamline, a fast-track prosecution program for migrants that critics say amounts to assembly-line justice.

“She didn’t care about social justice from a distance. She showed up to do the work where it was needed,” said Leslie Carlson, who volunteers with the End Streamline Coalition.

“She also took time to understand the issues in depth and then made well-informed comments or opinions,” Carlson said. “She was kind but also fearless, and a role model for how to continue to make a difference in the world as an older person. I am missing her a lot.”

Just a week before she died, Martin was out placing water in the desert, said Sarah Roberts, a volunteer with No More Deaths.

“She was her energetic self, doing the work all the way to the end,” Roberts said.

After returning from the desert trip, Martin started having trouble breathing and doctors put her on oxygen, said Marx, who spent a few hours with her on Sunday. She decided she wanted to leave the hospital and go home.

“She died the way she lived,” Marx said. “She was very intentional.”

Contact reporter Curt Prendergast at 573-4224 or cprendergast@tucson.com or on Twitter

@CurtTucsonStar.


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