Ralph Abascal, 1983 recipient of the State Bar's Loren Miller Service Award and noted public interest attorney, died March 17 at his home in Berkeley after a long battle with cancer.
Abascal, 62, served as general counsel of California Rural Legal Assistance (CRLA), directing attorneys throughout the state and representing its low-income and disenfranchised residents.
Mary C. Viviano, director of the State Bar Office of Legal Services, called Abascal a "visionary," "inspirational" and "a mentor for thousands."
"It is impossible to capture the essence of Ralph, who meant so much to so many," said Viviano. "He was one of the most brilliant, creative, dedicated attorneys in the country -- yet he was also very human. I feel privileged to have known him." The bar's Board of Governors adjourned its March meeting in his memory.
Through Abascal's efforts representing farmworkers, the pesticide DDT was banned in the early 1970s, as well as the short-handled hoe, a symbol of the workers' cruel treatment.
Despite his illness, Abascal was most recently involved in a successful move to block provisions of Proposition 187 which exclude illegal immigrants from public colleges.
In 1995, the American Bar Association presented him with one of the nation's most prestigious honors, the Thurgood Marshall Award. He was cited for his work in the area of environmental justice, fighting for equal protection for the poor.
The son of immigrant parents from Spain, Abascal was born in San Francisco. He graduated from San Jose State University and earned a master's in business from the University of California, Berkeley.
While working on a doctorate in economics, he saw the movie "Inherit the Wind" -- based on the 1921 Scopes evolution trial -- and moved to the legal profession.
He was admitted to the bar in 1969, after graduating from Hastings, where students recently approved a proposal to tax themselves $10 each to fund the Ralph Abascal Fellowship for public interest lawyers.
He is survived by his wife, Hastings professor Beatrice Moulton, and his 14-year-old daughter, Pilar.
Memorial donations may be made to the Ralph Abascal Fellowship, in care of the Impact Fund, 1604 Solano Ave., Berkeley 94707.