February 21, 2004 by

Mary Diaz


Categories: Extraordinary People

mdiaz.jpgWhen Mary Frances Diaz became the executive director of the Women’s Commission for Refugee Women and Children in 1994, she had a staff of four, a $450,000 budget and plans to save the world.
Over the next decade, the tireless advocate dedicated herself and the organization to aiding refugees and internally displaced women and children. She hired 16 more people and generated an operating budget of $4 million, which was then used to provide basic essentials to refugees living in war-torn countries.
During the course of her career, Diaz wrote articles, lobbied governmental bodies, faced landmines and lions and fought for the rights of women and children living in the most horrific conditions. For her efforts, the United Nations High Commissioner Ruud Lubbers gave Diaz the 2003 UNHCR Award for the Promotion of Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Refugee Women.
Diaz studied international relations at Brown University. After graduation, she worked in the production department of Action News at WPVI-TV in Philadelphia and spent her off-hours helping refugees settle in the city. She earned a master’s degree in international education from Harvard University in 1988, then dedicated a decade of her life to the Catholic Charities in Boston. She later taught social sciences as an adjunct professor at New York University’s School of Continuing and Professional Studies.
Diaz died on Feb. 12 of pancreatic cancer. She was 43.
(To make a memorial contribution to the Mary Diaz Fund for Refugee Girls, click here.)

4 Responses to Mary Diaz

  1. Glenn Kessler

    I knew Mary at Brown. Our paths never crossed again after graduation, but her poise and spirit always stuck in my mind. When I read the obituary, my heart sank–though it took a Goggle search to confirm this was the same Mary Diaz who impressed me so much 24 years ago.

  2. Ben Erwin

    I only met Mary a handful of times. But I was struck by her warmth and clear voice. She seemed a very decent person, and I found out that she died completely by accident. I was shocked.
    Blessings to all her friends and loved ones who must feel this more than I. The world, the NGO community, and the movement for human rights has lost someone important.

  3. John Radel

    Mary was my dear friend and high school classmate. Mary was, and always will be, a very special person – that she went on to dedicate her life to helping others in need and became a highly successful advocate for refugee women and children are testimony to her compassion and selflessness. Mary and her family define the spirit of love, faith and charity. Mary’s passing is a tragic loss but she will live on in our memories and forever inspire us to bring help and hope to others, as she has done. My thoughts and prayers go out to Mary and her loved ones.

  4. jesse johnson

    Mary Diaz ,was a friend of mine, like John Radel, we knew a different Mary Diaz from age 11 to 17, as we spent junior high and high school together. We knew the fabolus young girl who grew to become the Director of the Women’s Commision. She was the best of us, in that she choose a career not for personal fotune or gain, but to serve others.
    John if you see this, contact me
    Randy, Ted, Charlotte, Janet and possibly Sandy and Dahlia will meet at Mary’s Memorial serve next week in NYC

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