Josie Montoya, tireless defender of the poor in wealthy Orange County, has died.
Montoya, 60, of Anaheim, fought against police brutality, domestic abuse and discrimination against illegal immigrants and the homeless. She founded two Anaheim youth centers, a food program and counseled thousands of needy people. She died early Saturday of complications from diabetes at Kindred Hospital in Brea, relatives said.
"I'm tired," she told one of her grandchildren Friday evening. "I'm just very tired."
Family members, friends and admirers--who for the last few years had seen her go straight from her hospital bed to the streets to distribute food to the homeless, or entertain schoolchildren or wage another march on City Hall--seemed stunned she was gone.
"Our community was uniquely blessed to have Josie working in our backyard," said state Sen. Joe Dunn (D-Garden Grove). "The pride of our neighborhoods was largely built on the passion and unselfish motivation of this incredible woman."
Montoya won dozens of awards through nearly four decades of community work, from President Jimmy Carter to the local Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. None of it fazed her.
"She mixed and mingled with the rich and powerful, but she was most comfortable with the poor and disenfranchised," her younger sister, Rita Canales, said.
Canales said Montoya was proud of changes she brought to the Anaheim Police Department, including having patrol car numbers enlarged and requiring officers to hand out business cards on request so residents could identify individual officers. She had forms to register complaints against police placed in local libraries because, she said, poor Latino residents were routinely intimidated when they tried to fill them out at police stations.
Montoya, who often lived on just a Social Security check, was famous for emptying her pockets to homeless people and children. One day, she saw a family standing in the rain begging, her sister said. They stayed in Montoya's living room for three months and are now citizens with a permanent home here.
In recent years, Montoya acted as watchdog for the impoverished Jeffrey-Lynne neighborhood while city officials renovated dilapidated housing stock there. Montoya was worried that longtime low-income tenants would be permanently displaced.
"She never stopped challenging city leaders to answer a tough question about treating everybody with equality and dignity and respect," Anaheim Mayor Tom Daly said.
Montoya is survived by a daughter, Jessica Castro; a son, Raymond Montoya; eight brothers and sisters; and five grandchildren. A funeral Mass will be said at 10 a.m. Friday at St. Boniface Roman Catholic Church in Anaheim, with burial at Anaheim Cemetery.
Contributions to defray funeral costs and to continue her work can be made to the LULAC chapter in Garden Grove--Josie Montoya Fund. Call Benny Diaz at (714) 636-7576.