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

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

Miss Marlatt was born Dec. 5, 1916, in Kansas. 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.

Miss Marlatt came to Lexington in 1956 to be 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 drove UK students to meetings for the Congress of Racial Equality, regularly attended protests and put up her house as bond when CORE members were arrested. Miss Marlatt also led protests to end segregation in restaurants and theaters.

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

Miss Marlatt would later recall: "I said, 'That's too bad because I have to do what I think is right to change the situation.'"

Later, she was involved with efforts against the war in Vietnam and was demoted from head of the UK home economics department. Although her tenure was threatened, she taught until 1985 and continued her activism.

In the mid-1960s, Miss 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.

She served on the board of Bluegrass Community Services, which provides meals for senior citizens. While working there, Miss Marlatt became friends with Esther Rigby. Rigby, 80, moved into Miss Marlatt's home when Miss Marlatt's health began to deteriorate in 1999.

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

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

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

Miss Marlatt never married and had no children.

A memorial service will be held later at Unitarian Universalist Church. Milward Funeral Directors is in charge of arrangements.

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