For many in the Treasure Valley and throughout Idaho, Marilyn Shuler was the conscience of community.
Shuler — who died early Friday morning at age 77, surrounded by family at a Boise hospital — knew what it was like to face limitations after a childhood diagnosis of polio. She gained the insight to become an iconic champion of human rights in the Gem State. She lives on in the minds of countless underprivileged and marginalized Idahoans because she found herself on the outside one day, too, and knew the feeling.
“I know going from a healthy, ordinary kid overnight to a social isolate I’m sure that gave me great empathy with others who — because of the color of their skin or their religion or disabilities or sexual orientation — are also seen in an unfair way,” Shuler told the Statesman’s Katherine Jones during a 2009 interview.
She oversaw the building of the Idaho Anne Frank Human Rights Memorial next to the Boise Greenbelt, served as president of the Idaho Human Rights Education Center and directed the Idaho Human Rights Commission for 20 years. She leaves behind this legacy of service, advocacy and gracious interaction — and an unforgettable smile — that dozens referenced on social media channels since the news of her death.
And she was one of us here at the Statesman, serving a stint as a community member on the Editorial Board in 2003. Lindy High, another ed board alum who knew Shuler and who still contributes commentary for us, once wrote that Shuler was “the exemplar of what one person can do to advance human rights for all of the state’s citizens.”
Two of our current board members knew Shuler well.
Martin Peterson recalled her as “always enthusiastic and gracious. Always willing to listen to the other side and never shy about voicing her disagreement in a patient and polite way.”
“Although she was involved in a plethora of public causes, she was at her finest as the director of the Idaho Human Rights Commission. Few Idahoans have had the impact on our state that Marilyn had,” Peterson said.
Mike Wetherell recalled: “She was outstanding on so many levels, including her personality, commitment, sense of humor and simple humanity, that I know I will miss her and I know numerous individuals will as well. She leaves behind a legacy that few can match. She has earned her place in Idaho history as a moral giant who represented the best human nature has to offer.”
Mayors, governors and her legions of close friends chimed in likewise through the day Friday.
“Marilyn was an absolute giant in the fight for human rights,” said former Gov. Cecil Andrus. “I benefited greatly from her consistently wise counsel. Marilyn brought real grace, great intelligence, the highest degree of integrity and genuine moral leadership to her decades-long leadership of human rights efforts in Idaho.
“Her death is a huge loss for all Idahoans committed to the cause of human rights, but I take heart in knowing that Marilyn's message to us will continue to be, as it always has been, simple and profound: fight on, do the right thing and be courageous in pushing back against hatred and bigotry.”
Though she is gone, the courage and example of Marilyn Shuler is there for all of us to emulate. Because of her, whenever we identify discrimination in any of its ugly forms, we know what to do.
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