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Abby Marlatt

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Abby Marlatt Obituary

Abby Marlatt, Central Kentucky civil rights activist, dies at 93

By [email protected]">Kristin Bednarski

Former University of Kentucky nutrition professor and human rights activist Abby Marlatt died at home Wednesday. She was 93.

Marlatt was born in Kansas on Dec. 5, 1916. She graduated from Kansas State University, and spent a year as a visiting professor at Beirut College for Women in Lebanon. She received a doctorate in nutrition and food science from the University of California at Berkeley.

Marlatt came to Lexington in 1956 and became a nutrition professor at UK. However, nutrition wasn't her only concern: She had a passion for community action and an interest in civil rights.

She would drive UK students to meetings for the Congress of Racial Equality, regularly attended protests and even put her house on Tahoma Road up as bond when CORE members were arrested. Marlatt also led protests to end segregation in local restaurants and theaters.

Her actions did not sit well with UK officials, who were getting complaints and even losing funding because of Marlatt's activities. In 1961, Marlatt met with UK's president at the time, Frank Dickey, who warned her about her actions.

"I said, 'That's too bad, because I have to do what I think is right to change the situation,'" Marlatt said she told Dickey.

Later, Marlatt was involved with anti-Vietnam War efforts and was demoted from head of the UK home economics department. Although her tenure was threatened, she kept teaching and continued her activism.

In the mid-1960s, Marlatt supported programs to eliminate poverty. In the late '60s, she was involved with federal programs that loaned money to help non-profit agencies build facilities for people of retirement age.

Marlatt retired from UK in 1985. She served on the board of Bluegrass Community Services, which provides meals for senior citizens. While working there, Marlatt became friends with Esther Rigby. Rigby, now 80, moved into Marlatt's Tahoma Road home when Marlatt's health began deteriorating in 1999.

Marlatt and Rigby shared many interests and attended concerts, conferences and meetings together. Rigby said one of Marlatt's hobbies was music, and Marlatt played the dulcimer in a folk singing and dancing group made up of friends.

Marlatt was a board member for the Community Action Council, which is dedicated to combating poverty, and was also a member of the Unitarian Universalist Church for more than 50 years.

Marlatt received numerous awards. She was honored for her humanitarian deeds in 1985 by the National Conference for Community and Justice. That year she was also awarded the highest honor at UK, the Sullivan Medallion, for her service to the community. She was inducted to the Kentucky Civil Rights Hall of Fame in July 2001.

Marlatt was never married and did not have children. Her closest survivor is a first cousin once removed.

A memorial service for Marlatt will be held at the Unitarian Universalist Church on Clays Mill Road. Arrangements are pending with Milward Funeral Directors.
Published in Lexington Herald-Leader on Mar. 4, 2010
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