LatinoJustice PRLDEF mourns the passing of Sara Rios

The entire family at LatinoJustice PRLDEF, our staff, our board, our students and our clients, all mourn the loss of a wonderful spirit, activist, attorney and foundation officer, our very own Sarita Elena Rios.

Sara passed away September 10th after battling ALS for three years while teaching and inspiring us along the way. She was an attorney and legal director at the Puerto Rican Legal Defense & Education Fund where she addressed the exploitation of Latino workers and guided our docket for years.

She continued to support and look out for us when she went to the Ford Foundation as a program officer and went on to support incredible social justice movements domestically and internationally. She then relocated to take care of her family in Toledo, Ohio while leading the Ruth Mott Foundation in her state.

All of these accomplishments were a prelude for what came next as she fought the increasingly debilitating disease of ALS, staring down medical professionals along the way, and making life-long friends of her beautiful caretakers.

“Few of us can exhibit the kind of courage that Sarita displayed as she was nearing the end of a committed and memorable journey on this earth,” said Juan Cartagena, President and General Counsel, LatinoJustice PRLDEF. “It is a testament to her family and to her warrior spirit. It’s a reflection of how she touched everyone, how the workers behind the scenes in the lobbies and the kitchens of the powerful foundations she worked in, knew her name. We saw it in the compassion of her nurses. We felt it when we looked into her eyes, active and intense even from her wheelchair to remind us that as long as we can breathe we have a commitment to do good. To serve. To pave the way for dignity for the most marginalized amongst us.”

LatinoJustice PRLDEF is immensely proud of our affiliation with Sara Elena Rios. She represented our clients, guided law students to legal careers, and then ensured our survival and renewed growth while at the Ford Foundation. She was always proud of her PRLDEF roots as we were proud of her subsequent accomplishments.

“We were blessed with the presence of Sara Rios as our Director of Litigation for several years,” said Foster Maer, Senior Attorney, LatinoJustice PRLDEF. “A daughter of migrant workers who had settled in Toledo Ohio, the oldest among her 7 sisters and 1 brother, her world views were grounded in her own life experiences and her soul’s aspirations. She taught us to think with our hearts as well as our minds. Her warm demeanor, and sharp intellect, established the ultimate role model for us all here at LatinoJustice PRLDEF. We will profoundly miss her.”

“Sara Rios was a true warrior for the good,” said Sonji Patrick, Director of Education, LatinoJustice PRLDEF. “She dedicated her life to fighting for the disenfranchised and the underrepresented. She was also one of the most down-to-earth people you will ever meet. Sarita was virtuous, tireless, honest and sweet. She will be sorely missed.”

“While those of us lucky to know her grieve for all we've lost, we also celebrate the tremendous impact she made during her life,” said Diana Medina, Director of Development, LatinoJustice PRLDEF. “Sara fought for justice as an activist, attorney and foundation officer. She taught us so much about passion, integrity, commitment and strength. During her last months she reminded us that as long as you have breath in your body you have the ability to effect positive change.”

We share our condolences with her family and her caregivers. And also with the following corps of devoted and lifelong friends who helped make the most of Sarita’s last years, kept the rest of us connected to her, and helped bring her to New York City for days of celebration, song and laughter: Evette Soto-Maldonado, Carmen Calderon, Geri Mannion, Mayra Peters-Quintero, Foster Maer, Elba Galvan, Mary Sobecki, Joyce Klemperer, and Margie Fine.

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