Women We Love: ‘Busy body’ reflects on 60 years of public service

Anita Ramirez poses at her at her home Wednesday, Mar. 6, 2019, in McAllen. (Joel Martinez | jmartinez@themonitor.com)

Editor’s Note: In observance of Women’s History Month, The Monitor is recognizing local women who inspire us. This is the second of eight profiles on those who made our 2019 list of “Women We Love,” a series we’ll publish every Monday and Thursday in March.

When Anita Ramirez owned a flower shop near downtown McAllen, she’d give away more flowers than she sold. Nobody left the shop without the flowers they needed, whether they had the money.

She held the same mantra with her time and funds, she said. In her 60 years of working with nonprofits and community organizations, she’s earned a reputation as a pillar of support in the community.

Born in Torreon, Coahuila, Mexico, in December 1924, Ramirez moved to McAllen in the early 40s after marrying a professional baseball player, the late Baldomero Ramirez, who went on to be a long-time McAllen police officer. She didn’t know English at the time and started working at the J.C. Penney in downtown McAllen, where she stayed for 22 years.

McAllen was a much different place then, Ramirez said.

“It was just a ranchito then,” she said in Spanish. “Now there is so much more opportunity — people don’t have to leave the Valley for work or school as much as they used to… There are parts of McAllen I don’t even know anymore.”

Now 93 years old, Ramirez is legally blind but has vivid memories of work she’s done throughout her life. Her flower shop closed about 10 years ago, but before she was a florist, she had already begun a career in nonprofit and advocacy.

She was known in the McAllen community as “La Comadre Anita,” serving as a support resource for those in need, her son Robert Ramirez said. Every Christmas she’d collect used clothes to distribute and consistently helped mothers of newborn babies, he said.

Ramirez said it’d take hours or even days to tell all her stories, but that doesn’t mean she’s forgotten.

“I have so many beautiful memories, but my favorites are the ones where we helped the children,” Ramirez said.

She worked with the League of United Latin American Citizens for 27 years, having served as both member, treasurer, vice president, president and chairwoman of the local chapter.

Ramirez also became involved in politics during the 1990s. She became part of a political action committee that was focused on electing Hispanics to city government in McAllen, which had previously been filled with white businessmen. The committee helped elect McAllen’s first Hispanic mayor, Leo Montalvo, in 1997. She remains a consistent donor to Democratic candidates.

A self-proclaimed “busy body,” she also found her own place in city government. From 1983 through 1991, Ramirez served on the McAllen Beatification Advisory Board. She also served on the McAllen Health and Welfare Committee, McAllen Memorial Library Committee and the McAllen Housing board, just to name a few.

Her McAllen home is full of framed letters and certificates of appreciation she’s earned throughout the years. Even though she’s lost her sight, she could point to a framed certificate she got in 1967 from KBGT Television and Radio (now Channel 4), proclaiming her citizen of the week.

As she reflects on her career, she worries about the coming generation, but she remains hopeful. Her message for future generations is simple: help those around you.

“Nowadays, people seem to have less time, so they don’t help out as much as they used to,” she said. “Remember to see how your community is doing, see how your neighbors are doing, and help where you can.”

PREVIOUS WOMEN WE LOVE PROFILE

Women We Love: Volunteer has rescued more than 500 dogs from kill shelters