Last Updated: June 1, 2006

Advocate with 'vision', Dorothy Roth, dies at 83

She held true to 'passion for justice.'

 

By Ron Devlin Special to The Morning Call

 

When Dorothy Roth turned 80 a few years ago, local author Richard K. Brunner wrote a tribute in which he called her ''the lady with the beautiful soul.''

Brunner's words could easily serve as an epitaph for Roth, 83, who died Tuesday evening at the Penn Presbyterian Medical Center, Philadelphia. She had been hospitalized in Allentown and Philadelphia since breaking an arm in a fall at her west Allentown home in April.

 

Practically from the day she arrived in America 59 years ago, South Africa-born Roth worked tirelessly on behalf of those in need.

Her causes, which included better treatment for sex offenders and drug addicts, were not always popular. But for nearly six decades, Roth stood as a kind of moral compass, advocating an idealism based in an enduring respect for humanity.

''She would always speak up for the underdog, taking on challenges others were afraid to fight for,'' recalled Robert Csandl, a friend and fellow advocate. ''Dorothy's humanity showed through everything she did.''

Jack McHugh of Allentown, a longtime friend, expressed shock at the news of Roth's death.

''If ever there was a person with a humanitarian heart, it was Dorothy Roth,'' said McHugh, a former Lehigh County Commissioner. ''A shining star has been put out; she was a true Renaissance woman.''

Roth's activism was rooted in her native South Africa, where as a child she witnessed the racial injustice of apartheid.

For many years, she would talk of apartheid to clients at Treatment Trends, an Allentown drug counseling agency, during Black History Month.

''Our clients would listen intently,'' recalled Csandl, Treatment Trends director. ''They would hold on to every word. They cherished what she had to say.''

Roth was a board member of Confront and its successor Treatment Trends since 1969. Despite increasing frailty in the last two years, she fought for her longtime goal of opening a detoxification center in the Lehigh Valley.

Roth was 22 when she came to America after World War II to marry her wartime sweetheart, Saul Roth, an Army Air Corps navigator in the China-Burma-India theater. They had met only briefly at a canteen for GIs in Cape Town, South Africa, but had continued to correspond. They had been married 51 years when Roth, co-owner of Allentown Bar and Restaurant Supply, died in 1999.

The Roths had two daughters Yolanda Roth Moyer, an orthopedic surgeon in Washington, D.C., and Lydia Roth-Laube, a psychologist in Minneapolis.

''Our mother had this driving vision where the rights and wrongs are,'' said Moyer. ''It was a vision that had nothing in it for her, except the satisfaction of having improved society.''

Roth took her case to the public in hundreds of what she called ''epistles,'' letters to the editor to The Morning Call. Recently catalogued, they fill several volumes of scrap books.

The Morning Call twice honored her in its ''Thank You For Writing'' event. ''Tempo,'' WLVT-TV's news magazine show, did a segment on her letter writing in November.

Roth, an accomplished painter and sculptor who once headed the Baum School of Art, took aim at Muhlenberg College's Arts Center, which she called ''that white building.''

She leveled a barrage of criticism over the aesthetic of sculptures donated to the city by the late Phil and Muriel Berman, and locked horns with the late Allentown Councilwoman Emma Tropiano over the proposal to declare English the city's official language.

Roth told the story of her life in an unpublished memoir, ''Love Safari.''

Brunner, who edited the memoir, sensed Roth was an extraordinary human being from the start of their friendship.

''Her compassion for the helpless and her passion for justice caused her to ride many a hobby horse that sometimes unpopular has bolted, thrown and bruised her,'' Brunner wrote in his tribute. ''But her indomitable spirit compelled her to remount and gallop back into the fray.''

Ron Devlin is a freelance writer.