Adelfa Botello Callejo, a longtime civil rights leader and attorney in Dallas, died early Saturday from a brain tumor. She was 90.
Callejo endured three bouts with cancer, including colon and breast cancer. In an email to friends, her nephew John David Gonzales described her as a “giant among giants who became a Texas legal legend and philanthropist who dedicated her life to the promotion of education.”
Hear what others had to say about her decades-long legacy:
Callejo was born in Millet, south of San Antonio, on June 10, 1923. Her father was from Mexico and her mother was Mexican-American. She picked cotton as a child to help her family make ends meet. At a young age, she learned about discrimination when she noticed there were two cemeteries in her hometown – one for Mexican-Americans who had died during World War II, the other for Anglos.
She would go on to study at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, attending school at night and working as a secretary by day. She was the first Latina to graduate from SMU with a law degree.
She spent more than four decades at the Dallas law firm, Callejo & Callejo, where she took on personal injury, family and criminal law cases. She became known as a fierce civil rights advocate. In April 2013, the Dallas Independent School District opened an elementary school named in her honor.
A community memorial is planned for Tuesday from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Latino Cultural Center in Dallas. The Adelante con Adelfa (Moving Forward with Adelfa) committee is organizing the event. The group says the community is invited to share its thoughts and memories, participate in an open mic session and leave written notes that will be delivered to Callejo's family.
There will also be a viewing Wednesday at Sparkman-Hillcrest Funeral Home from 6 to 8 p.m. Rosary will be at 7 p.m. A mass will be held Thursday at 10 a.m. at the Cathedral Guadalupe in Downtown Dallas.
A.C. Gonzalez, the Dallas city manager, released this statement:
"Adelfa Callejo will be missed, but her impact lives on. She was one of the first in Dallas to effectively challenge the status quo related to barriers for minorities' advancement. She did so always in a thoughtful and respectful manner, but she never faltered and never gave up. Our city is a better place because she cared so much about our community."
The Dallas Hispanic Bar Association on Monday released the following statement:
The Hispanic community lost one of its finest advocates on Saturday with the passing of Adelfa Botello Callejo. Callejo was one of the founding members of the predecessor organization to the Dallas Hispanic Bar Association (DHBA), the Mexican American Bar Association of Dallas. Callejo was a kind, generous soul who was always willing to give her support to individuals in need. But her legacy is much greater than that. She advocated tirelessly for changes intended to give Hispanics the tools needed to lift ourselves up and succeed. She laid the foundation for many of us to achieve, and we mourn the loss of a leader, a mentor, and a role model.
Watch a video of the Adelfa Botello Callejo Elementary School dedication: