She’s advocated for consumers, fought for environmental issues and spearheaded civil rights causes. Now one of Austin’s esteemed activists, Shudde Fath turns 102 on Thursday.
Fath’s been described as the “grande dame of the environmental movement,” and for a long time her living room was known as a hotbed for political activity, as many of Austin’s movers and shakers often met there over the years to shape the city’s future.
“First you got to give a damn about something and then work to make it happen,” Fath said.
Now as a centenarian, she continues to tackle new passion projects.
This fall, Fath and her daughter Betsy Fath Hiller published the book “Russell Lee in Color,” a collection of more than 100 never-before-published color photographs by acclaimed photographer Russell Lee, who is mostly known for his black and white photos.
Lee and Fath’s late husband, Conrad Fath, were best friends and fishing buddies. In 1963, they took a 31-day trip aboard a yacht from New York to Texas, where Lee shot the photos — from shrimp boats in Georgia to mangrove trees in Florida — featured in the new book.
“The world has never seen (these photographs), and it didn’t dawn on me for a long time that we’ve just been sitting on them,” she said.
Fath served on the Electric Utility Commission since its inception until recently and for nearly 30 years served as treasurer of the Save Barton Creek Association. She’s faced many political battles in her life, but believes in pushing forward.
“You won’t win them all, but it’s worse if you don’t try,” she said.
Fath has outlived her siblings, but said her mother lived to be 99 and 10 months. The Austin activist credits good genes as well as a senior exercise class that she attended three times a week for 18 years as the secret to a long life. She joined the class shortly after her husband died to help her get through her grief.
“The best thing I have is my daughter, who is my caregiver,” she said. “We make a good team,” Fath Hiller quickly added.
“I’m blessed and I know it,” Fath said. “I’ve had a wonderful life.”