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Sally Rowley, jewelry maker and freedom rider, dies at 88
A photo provided by Jane Fitzgerald, Sally Rowley at the Reid Park Zoo in Tucson, Ariz., April 5, 2019. Rowley, who fought for civil rights, learned to fly and sold her art on the streets of San Francisco, died from COVID-19 at a nursing home, where her family said their goodbyes through a window, in Tuscon on May 14. She was 88. Jane Fitzgerald via The New York Times.

by Simon Romero

NEW YORK (NYT NEWS SERVICE).- Sally Jane Rowley’s birth name was Sara, but she preferred Sally. She found it more fitting for her free-spirited approach to life, which involved fighting for civil rights, living as a street artist and learning how to fly.

“My grandmother was a one-of-a-kind person,” said Anika Pasilis, 20, a journalism student at the University of Arizona. “She despised injustice and cherished freedom, for herself and for others.”

Rowley died of COVID-19 on May 14 after the virus spread into the Tucson, Arizona, nursing home where she lived, Pasilis said. She was 88. Her family said their goodbyes through a window at the facility.

Rowley was born Oct. 20, 1931, in Trenton, New Jersey, to Emos and Sara Rowley. Her father had a paint company, her mother was a homemaker. She could have followed the rules, stayed on the East Coast and quietly raised a family.

Instead, Rowley, an admirer of aviator Amelia Earhart, went to Stephens College in Missouri, where she learned how to fly small planes. Her first job out of college was working as a flight attendant for American Airlines.

While working as a secretary in New York in the early 1960s, Rowley joined the freedom riders, the civil rights activists who rode interstate buses into the South to challenge segregationist policies. She was arrested in Jackson, Mississippi, in 1961 and served time in the Mississippi State Penitentiary.

After that experience, Rowley went to an art opening in New York and asked to meet Felix Pasilis, the painter whose work was featured in the gallery. He was broke so she gave him $10 to take her out, said Anika Pasilis, their granddaughter.

They never married on paper but lived as partners in Mexico, where Rowley learned fluent Spanish, and in Hawaii. After moving to Northern California, she made jewelry, selling her wares on the streets of San Francisco.

Felix Pasilis died in 2018 at 95. Rowley is survived by two children, Sofie Pasilis and Oliver Pasilis, a stepdaughter, Beatrice Figueroa, and six grandchildren.

© 2020 The New York Times Company

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