Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world's grief.
Do justly, now.
Love mercy, now.
Walk humbly, now.
You are not obligated to
complete the work, but neither
are you free to abandon it.
- the Talmud
Hilary Chiz, who transformed ACLU-WV into the professional organization it is today as its first-ever executive director, died Sunday, October 22, 2023 in Asheville, N.C. She was 78 years old.
Hilary was remembered by friends and colleagues as a fierce supporter of civil liberties, particularly the separation of church and state. A West Virginia newspaper columnist once dubbed her “Santa’s evil twin” for her efforts to remove religious holiday iconography from government buildings. She accepted the title with pride.
“She lit the ACLU fire in me,” said her longtime friend, Dawn Warfield, who eventually became an ACLU-WV board member. “She is the whole reason I got involved and became a card-carrying member. She was a force of nature. Anyone who came within her sphere of influence was changed forever. I loved her dearly.”
Warfield explained that Hilary “shepherded in a new era” at the West Virginia affiliate: “Before Hilary, it was a loosely collected group. We had no staff, just volunteers on the board. But after they hired her, she moved us into the national model.”
Joseph Cohen, who served as executive director from 2016-2022, called her “an unapologetic fighter for justice.” He said she regularly wrote him notes of encouragement during his tenure that “got me back in the fight.”
“I’m one of the countless people who can say they met Hilary on a picket line,” Cohen said. “Several years later, I followed in her giant footsteps … Every week a different activist would tell me about some cherished memory they had with Hilary getting into good trouble together. All the best people loved Hilary.
“Hilary’s was a life well lived,” he continued. “By the sheer force of her will, she made the world a better place.”
Rachel Dash, another longtime friend, said: “Hilary was a kind, direct and an intensely committed friend and social justice activist who kept her sense of humor through it all. And she was a lot of fun.”
Dash recalled the 1999 ACLU-WV Bill of Rights Dinner where UMWA President Cecil Roberts was being given an award. Outside, environmental protesters chanted and held signs, angry that a supporter of mountaintop removal mining was receiving an honor. Dash said Hilary was “delighted” the award had sparked so much free speech and civic engagement.
“My friend was beaming as she headed outside to bring a large tray of appetizers to the presumably hungry environmental protesters who were missing their own dinners to exercise their rights,” she said. “This was Hilary, always the gracious, vivacious, welcoming host.”
Hilary Chiz was born July 23, 1945 in Birmingham, Alabama, to parents Sol and Bertha (Krantz) Luks. She was a 1963 graduate of Shades Valley High School and earned a bachelor’s degree in English Literature from Colorado College in 1981.
She grew up Jewish in the deep south, in suburban Birmingham. Her Judaism instilled in her a deep sense of social responsibility, family, and community. It also informed her political beliefs throughout her life.
Hilary dedicated herself for decades to the struggle for peace and economic justice. She began her career at Delta State University in Cleveland, MS as an associate editor of Delta Scene magazine and later, while working for American Friends Service Committee, Created Equal, a magazine focusing on gender equality in public education. Her tenure with the American Civil Liberties Union took her to the Mississippi, Georgia, and West Virginia affiliates from 1985-2001. She also worked with Legal Services Alabama in the mid-90s. From 2001 to 2013, she was a specialist with the Civil and Human Rights Department of the United Steelworkers union in Nashville (2001-2006) and Pittsburgh (2006-2013).
She retired in 2013 to Asheville, North Carolina. In her retirement, she enjoyed gardening, collecting art, cooking, and attending music festivals. She was an avid volunteer for organizations like ACLU of North Carolina, Garden Opportunities, Health Equity Coalition, and Racial Justice Coalition. She also was a guardian ad litem, a volunteer advocate for children in the court system.
She is survived by her brother, Marc Luks; her daughter, Liz Chiz (spouse: Richard Metawi) her son, Scott Chiz (spouse: Leslie Giompoletti) and many nieces, nephews, great-nieces, and great-nephews whom she loved very much.
The family plans to hold a celebration of life at a later date.