Ramona Ripston, who led the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California nearly 40 years, died Saturday in Los Angeles at age 91, ACLU officials said.
Ripson had been in failing health for several years and died at her Los Angeles home Saturday morning, ACLU SoCal spokesman David Colker said.
“Ripston was an impassioned, outspoken, ever-persistent champion of civil rights and civil liberties, taking on issues including racial discrimination, police practices, the rights of immigrants, women’s rights, LGBTQ rights and education equity,” the ACLU said in a statement.
“She had two things that are all too precious in this world — a vision of a better future and the courage to pursue it,” current executive director of the ACLU SoCal Hector Villagra said.
“Ramona was a fierce and unrelenting opponent of injustice and oppression, who often drew the ire of those who stood in the way of reform,” national ACLU executive director Anthony Romero said. “But no one could deny her unflinching commitment to the protection of civil liberties and the improvement of people’s lives.”
Ripston served as director of the ACLU SoCal from 1972 to 2011, except for 18 months beginning in 1986 when she was vice president of the western region for the organization People for the American Way.
Under Ripston’s direction, the ACLU SoCal won a 2006 legal decision to prevent police from arresting people who slept on sidewalks when they had no other place to go. “If you don’t have food on the table or a bed to sleep in the promises we make to people about equity and justice are just illusions,” she said.
Ramona Ann Ripston was born Feb. 18, 1927, in Queens, New York to a Roman Catholic father and Orthodox Jewish mother. She received a bachelor’s degree in political science from Hunter College in 1948. She found it difficult to find a job in that field so she worked as a model and then a department store buyer.
She began volunteering at the New York Civil Liberties Union, joining the staff in 1965.
Ripston married five times and defied tradition when she never took her husbands’ names. “I always felt strongly about that,” she said. “Of course, I didn’t know I’d be married so many times, so that turned out to be a good thing.” Her fifth husband was U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Stephen Reinhardt, who died last March.
Her survivors include daughter Laura Ripston and son William Caplin. Son Mark Caplin died in 1994.