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Marty Nathan: her passionate activism and warmth stretched across the decades

Northampton climate activist Marty Nathan.
Carol Lollis
Daily Hampshire Gazette / gazettenet.com
Northampton climate activist Marty Nathan.

Marty Nathan, a western Massachusetts civil rights and environmental champion, died Monday at age 70.

Nathan's activism stretched across decades.

She protested against the Vietnam War and against the Ku Klux Klan in 1979 in Greensboro, North Carolina, where her first husband was shot and killed by Klansmen and American Nazis.

In 2012 she co-founded Climate Action Now.

She was a retired physician who had worked at the Baystate Brightwood Health Center in Springfield. She also helped start a medical clinic, "La Cliniquita," that serves immigrants and others, at Brightwood.

State senator Jo Comerford said Nathan took the bus to work because she believed investing in public transportation would help address global warming.

"She had the ability to just characterize an issue so plainly," Comerford said. "And then say it with great grace and warmth and a passionate galvanizing that would make people want to come with her on that journey."

State representative Lindsay Sabadosa said Nathan was a mentor who drew connections between issues.

"For Marty, it was never just a question of focusing on the climate. It was always a racial justice issue," said Sabadosa. "And it was never an issue of just racial justice, but access to health care and access to fair wages."

Sabadosa said Nathan was also a warm and loving friend.

"She had an uncanny ability to look at people and see what was going on inside of them," said Sabadosa. "So. if you were having a bad day, Marty would look at you and say, 'Why don't you come sit down and we'll have some soup?'"

Nathan's husband, Elliot Fratkin, also mentioned food when describing his late wife.

"She had a garden. She would feed anybody who came into the house,"  he said. "She was very outgoing, very warm. She was loved by a lot of people."

Those who knew Nathan said the best way to honor her memory is to be active, protest, write letters to lawmakers and continue her work. 

Nathan died of pneumonia, lung cancer and congestive heart failure, according to her family.

The family is planning a public memorial in the spring.

Correction: A previous caption included the wrong date for Marty Nathan's death.

Nancy Eve Cohen is a senior reporter focusing on Berkshire County. Previously she served as the editor of the Northeast Environmental Hub, a collaborative of public radio stations and has had journalism assignments around the world.
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