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Iris Alexander, noted peace activist, organizer

Feb. 18, 1928 – Nov. 19, 2014

Iris Alexander, a dedicated peace activist and community organizer, died Tuesday in her Buffalo home. She was 86.

Born in New York City, Ms. Alexander’s activism was shaped after she achieved notoriety in a 1947 Time magazine article while a 20-year-old student at the University of Wisconsin. She had been evicted from a rooming house after being spotted sitting on the stoop with an African-American.

“This is no place for intermixing of races,” her landlord told her.

Ms. Alexander, then head of the campus social relations committee, vowed to take her case to court.

“I am not afraid of sticking my neck out and getting my name smeared all over,” she was quoted as saying. As a result, she received letters of support from all over the country, including one from former first lady Eleanor Roosevelt.

Her activism took her to the March on Washington in 1963 and into protests against the Vietnam War, and against many wars afterward.

She moved to Buffalo in 1964 and earned a master’s degree in social work from the University at Buffalo, later teaching at the college level. She also worked as a social services specialist and senior counselor for the Buffalo Department of Human Resources.

She was close friends with other local activists, including the late photographer Milton Rogovin. Family members noted that her compassion for the less fortunate moved her to donate to more than 40 nonprofit and charity organizations each year.

A devoted member of Women in Black, a group that holds weekly peace vigils at Elmwood Avenue and Bidwell Parkway, she also was an active member of the Buffalo Peace Center. Her commitment took her to Cuba several times with Pastors for Peace.

She also was a supporter of the Buffalo Arts Commission, and served as a volunteer usher at many Buffalo theaters, including Shea’s Performing Arts Center and the Irish Classical Theater – continuing even when she was using a cane.

In 2009, Ms. Alexander was honored as a “woman of peace” with an award from the Indigenous Women’s Initiative, and in 2010, she received a Peace in Action award from the Western New York Peace Center. Her motto, according to family members, was, “Work for peace.”

Survivors include three children, Michael Wakshull, Nancy Leon and Deborah Wakshull; three grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

Ms. Alexander donated her body to the UB School of Medicine. A memorial service is being organized.

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