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Gale Martin, 66, advocate for battered women

Gale Martin had a fiery streak that just wouldn't yield when social injustice reared its head.

Whether it was rounding up women in 1968 and storming a downtown Boston hotel bar that refused to serve women unless they sat at a table, or getting the International Ladies Garment Workers Union to help her unionize a nonprofit battered women's shelter in San Francisco, Ms. Martin was having none of it.

''She was a rabble-rousing feminist with a very big heart for social justice," said Susan Drake, a friend and longtime co-worker.

Ms. Martin died Dec. 25 at her home in Pascagoula, Miss., of respiratory failure. She was 66.

It was Ms. Martin's passion for ending violence against women that brought her the most satisfaction, and notoriety. In the late 1980s, Ms. Martin helped run a women's advocacy group and battered women's shelter in Mississippi while working as an administrative assistant to Garnett Harrison, a lawyer active in a number of high-profile domestic and sexual abuse cases in the Gulf Coast area.

''If you were against her, she was a bitter pill to swallow," said her daughter Dana Horgan, of Pascagoula. ''You had to deal with her whether you like it or not."

Ms. Martin fled Mississippi in 1988 after federal authorities learned that she had helped secret abused children of battered women through an underground network of homes, according to her eldest son, Daniel Horgan, and Dana.

''She was this magnet even in her own family and [among] friends," said Daniel, who lives in Ipswich. ''That advocacy wasn't always high profile: it was her, on the phone, with somebody who needed some good . . . help."

Born in New York City, Ms. Martin grew up in Fall River. After high school, Ms. Martin traveled in Europe for a year before settling in Beacon Hill, where she attended secretarial school for two years. She married James C. Horgan and moved to West Roxbury in 1960. The couple had four children.

The marriage ended in divorce, and James Horgan died in 1997, according to Daniel.

He remembered that in the mid- to late-1960s, it was common for his mother to gather the children after church on Sunday and head to some protest in which they would be expected to carry picket signs.

''It was always a new advocacy," said Daniel of the various causes for which they marched.

In 1969, Ms. Martin moved to southern California, where she lived for six years and remarried. She and her second husband, LaVern Wiederhoff, moved to Pascagoula to work at the shipyard. The couple divorced in 1981.

She returned to the Boston area in the early 1990s to be close to her grandchildren and spent the next decade working as a volunteer coordinator at Help for Abused Women and their Children in Salem. Ms. Martin would talk with new volunteers, people she called ''soldiers in her army to eradicate domestic violence," and taught them how to lead support groups and handle hot line calls, said Drake, assistant director of the center.

Ms. Martin also led a weekly support group for women who were victims of violence. While known as a caring and heartfelt person, she wouldn't shy away from speaking candidly to victims about the consequences of domestic abuse.

In the Salem organization's newsletter, Drake wrote: ''I told her when she retired that she was the soul of HAWC. Her job was to remind all of us why we were at HAWC. Volunteers still relate that it was Gale's passion, stories, and incredible wisdom (and humor) that left an indelible mark and forever changed their views about social justice and violence against women. Many survivors credit her with saving their lives."

Ms. Martin's colleagues often picked her brain about how to deal with a difficult situation or went to her when they needed someone to spring into action, said Drake.

''She was an incredible advocate and an incredible teacher," he added.

In 2002, Ms. Martin retired and moved back to Pascagoula.

In addition to her daughter and son, Ms. Martin leaves two other sons, Thomas Horgan of Vernon, Miss., and Michael Horgan of Stoneham; a daughter, Johanna Kenworthy of Beverly; a brother, Drape Martin of Raleigh, N.C.; and seven grandchildren.

A private service has been held.

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