Louis Rhodes, a longtime civil liberties advocate with a distrust of government power, died Sunday after a three-year battle with Alzheimer’s disease.
Rhodes spent 17 years as executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona, serving from 1979 to 1996. Once a backer of the staunchly conservative former Sen. Barry Goldwater, R-Ariz., Rhodes led the ACLU’s battles for better living conditions in Arizona’s prisons and against the state’s declarations of “Bible Week” as an improper infringement on the separation of church and state.
Rhodes’ advocacy often made him the bane of government officials. But he earned their respect with his pleasant manner and ability to keep policy debates philosophical rather than personal, said Rivko Knox, who was president of the ACLU’s Arizona affiliate while Rhodes was its executive director.
Rhodes, who did not drive, sometimes carpooled to public events with the politicians he would be debating, said Knox, who is also a current member of the board.
“He had the ability to speak with great passion about what he believed in, which was civil liberties, but in such a way as to never alienate anyone,” Knox said of Rhodes. “He was able somehow to get people who totally disagreed with what he was saying to listen. There was no personal animosity. He was a unique character in that way.”
Under Rhodes’ tenure, the ACLU argued against the state’s death penalty and challenged confinement conditions such as overcrowding and the use of chain gangs in Arizona’s prisons.
Rhodes, 59, is survived by his wife, Barbara, and three brothers.
Memorial services are scheduled for 11 a.m. Saturday at the Whitney & Murphy Funeral Home, 4800 E. Indian School Road.