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Ben Maddock, UFW organizer and confidant to legendary labor leader Cesar Chavez, has died at 87.

He joined the U.S. Marine Corps in 1956, and the United Farm Workers in 1969. Legend and friends say he lived in a barn for part of his early childhood, and grew up on his family’s small citrus ranch in rural Woodlake in Tulare County. Farming was in his blood and callouses were on his hands, but Ben Maddock would go on to fight for the rights of the least powerful individuals in California's rich agricultural industry.

Working alongside labor leader Cesar Chavez, Maddock helped Chavez to organize massive vineyard strikes and international boycotts, win historic legal protections for farm workers and negotiate and administer union contracts that once were unheard of.

Maddock, who became a trusted confidant to Chavez and a key figure in the union, died July 9 at his home in Wasco. He was 87.

"Ben was a crucial figure — one of those who literally helped build the UFW from the late '60s to the late '80s," longtime UFW spokesman Marc Grossman said in an email.

Maddock was closely associated with farm worker organizing, negotiations, contract administration and strikes in the greater Delano area, Grossman recalled.

"Ben, an Anglo native of rural Tulare County ... was part of the rainbow of farm workers that once existed in the valley," Grossman said.

Born on June 27, 1934 in Tulare, Maddock graduated from Woodlake High School in 1953. Following his service in the Marines, Maddock began working as a tile setter.

Guided by a desire for fairness and workers' rights, Maddock led a strike by his fellow tile workers. The labor action turned out to be successful, but Maddock was blackballed by the employer, Grossman wrote in a tribute to Maddock.

Eventually his interest in making things better for workers led the budding labor activist to the UFW's offices at "Forty Acres," outside of Delano.

He committed to volunteer with the union for a couple of months, Grossman said. Instead, he stayed for 22 years.

Maddock oversaw distribution of the union newspaper, El Malcriado. Declining to go to La Paz at Keene when Chavez moved UFW headquarters there in 1971, Maddock became a union organizer in Delano.

There was skepticism, Grossman said, as Maddock didn't speak Spanish. But he proved that he could do it.

At a funeral Mass held Thursday in Wasco, former UFW President Arturo Rodriguez delivered the eulogy. He had flown from San Antonio, Texas to attend the service.

Chavez's son, Paul Chavez, president of the Cesar Chavez Foundation, also attended, as did farm workers and union staff holding UFW flags. Grossman was also there and he supplied a transcript of the eulogy to The Californian.

Rodriguez began by addressing Ben Maddock's widow, Maria Maddock.

"Ben was a friend, a mentor, a teacher and a trusted advisor to Cesar Chavez and to so many of us during his 22 years with the United Farm Workers," Rodriguez said. "Your loss is our loss too."

As mourners listened, Rodriguez related story after story.

"I first met Ben in Detroit when we were organizing the second grape boycott in 1973. Ben came fresh from the bitter and bloody '73 grape strike in the Delano area — and from marrying Maria.

"I was just a green, idealistic young organizer who recently graduated from college," Rodriguez recalled.

The former union president said he considered himself fortunate to learn from Maddock about organizing, about strategizing and about building a campaign.

"Those lessons have never left me," he said.

"For months, we had been picketing in front of A&P supermarkets throughout the Detroit metro area — in the hopes of having them become the first major supermarket chain to remove table grapes from their shelves.

"A&P management had been threatening to arrest us if we kept picketing inside their parking lots," he remembered. "So one Saturday, Ben helped all of us prepare our plan. We had to be ready to quickly take action if arrests occurred."

When the first picketers were arrested, they turned out to be George and Sylvia Delgado and their two daughters, Teresa and Christina, who were 4 and 2, respectively.

They were also Cesar Chavez's granddaughters.

"The next morning, on Sunday, the front page of the Detroit Free Press featured a photo of Teresa and Christina being held by their parents while all of them were under arrest," Rodrigues said. "That spectacle brought much public scorn on the management of A&P."

It also became a turning point in the boycott, and Maddock's organizing had helped make it happen.

Maddock returned to Delano in 1975 to lead the field office at Forty Acres, Rodriguez said. His work would be critical to the success of marches, boycotts, and the enactment of what became the Agricultural Labor Relations Act.

According to Maddock's family obituary, Maddock left the UFW after 22 years. He was hired as a field representative for the California School Employees Association, where he worked until his retirement.

Ben and Maria moved to Wasco to be surrounded by family. In his later, quieter years, Maddock was known for his love of Christmas lights, playing board games and card games with nieces and nephews, bird watching, gardening, and watching the Dodgers.

But his years with the UFW helped define his values and his life.

Among the mourners at the funeral, Grossman said, were dozens of current and former UFW colleagues who worked with Maddock.

"They came from across California and out of state," he said. "Many held small union black eagle flags at the church and cemetery."

A large UFW flag draped the casket and after the graveside service was carefully folded into a triangle and presented to Maddock's widow.

Many years have passed since those heady days, and the Forty Acres property is now recognized as a National Historic Landmark.

"There were giants who walked those Forty Acres" Rodriguez told the gathering on Thursday. "Names like Kennedy and Chavez and Reuther.

"There are also countless other giants who walked those grounds," he said. "Too many of them are lost to history. One of them is Ben Maddock. Let us ensure his name is never forgotten."