LOS ANGELES — Memorial services for longtime community advocate Marva Smith Battle-Bey will take place this weekend.
A public viewing will be held from 3 to 7 p.m. April 15 at Angelus Funeral Home, 3875 Crenshaw Blvd., and a memorial service will be held at 11 a.m., April 16, in the Council Chambers of Los Angeles City Hall, 200 N. Spring St. Parking is available at City Hall East.
Battle-Bey, the longtime president and CEO of the Vermont Slauson Economic Development Corporation, died April 7. The cause of death was not announced.
Battle-Bey had worked for almost 40 years to strengthen the economy in South Los Angeles.
The Vermont Slauson Economic Development Corporation came about after Sears announced it was closing its South Los Angeles store in 1979.
As part of a citizen advisory committee established by then-Mayor Tom Bradley in response to the Sears’ closing, the economic development corporation began in 1981.
The corporation provided the first major retail investment in the neighborhood since the 1965 Watts riots. During Battle-Bey’s time as executive director, the organization became the owner of two shopping centers, developed and financed six supermarkets and rehabilitated hundreds of housing units for low and moderate-income residents. The nonprofit has also created more than 3,000 jobs for local residents and operates a Business Enterprise Center.
In 2008, Battle-Bey took advantage of the community’s changing demographics to negotiate with El Super, part of a large Mexican grocery chain, to open a store in South L.A.
“No words can adequately describe what Marva has meant in our lives,” said William A. Holland, vice president of the corporation’s Board of Directors, in a statement. “We are forever grateful for the opportunity to work with her. Marva left a company that only she could have built, and her spirit will forever be the foundation of [our organization].”
Battle-Bey grew up in Detroit, Michigan, with two brothers and a sister. Her upbringing in the 1950s and 1960s was similar to that portrayed in shows like “Leave It To Beaver” and “I Love Lucy,” said her sister Gloria Gilmore, 67.
Battle-Bey received a scholarship to Michigan State University, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in urban planning. She later received another scholarship from USC, where she earned her master’s degree in urban and regional planning, another master’s in public administration and a Ph.D. in urban studies.
While in school, she became an early champion of diversity when she created “An Evening of Soul,” a program designed to share the best of African-American culture with her fellow students, staff and faculty. Upon graduation, she served on the precursor to the USC Black Alumni Association, using her leadership skills to raise scholarship money for students of color, and, in particular, African-American students.
Gilmore described her sister as “bubbly and happy,” yet at the same time a “workhorse who put her occupation before herself.”
“She was a very warm, loving person,” Gilmore said. “She was calm; things did not upset her. I was the hyper one.”
In addition to leading the Vermont Slauson Economic Development Corporation, Battle-Bey also served as president of the Black Women’s Network, an organization dedicated to economic development, networking and wellness.
She was the recipient of numerous awards, including the Economic Justice Award from the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and an NAACP Image Award.
She also was named one of the “Most Powerful African-American Women in Los Angeles,” by the Los Angeles Times and LA Focus newspapers.
Battle-Bey is survived by Dr. Stephon F. Battle-Bey, her companion of 30 years; her sister Gloria Gilmore, and brothers Doward Smith and Troy Rials of Detroit, Michigan.