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Farewell to Marla Ruzicka

By Kim Knox

No one can heal the wounds that have been inflicted. You just have to recognize that people have been harmed.

— Marla Ruzicka, 1976-2005

The memorial for Marla Ruzicka was like Marla — full of laughter, joy, sadness, and a great deal of love.

Marla, who was 28 at the time of her death, founded the Campaign for Innocent Victims in Conflict. Its mission was to count the number of civilian Iraqi casualties and to ensure that life-saving assistance was provided to civilians in need.

Marla Ruzicka and CIVIC's Iraq Country Director, Faiz Ali Salim — who was the father of a newborn — were killed in Baghdad on April 16, while driving down the dangerous Airport Road. Marla went to Baghdad in February 2003 and found her life's work there. She helped to convince Congress to set up a $20 million fund to assist Iraqi civilians impacted by the U.S.-led invasion of their country. The last photo taken of Marla provides an example. Marla is holding a little girl named Harah, who was orphaned at the age of three months; her entire family died when their car was hit by U.S. rocket attack.

Marla also charmed staff and representatives of Congress as she worked to get an appropriations bill of $17 million passed for aid to Iraqi and Afghan civilians.

A memorial for Marla Ruzicka was held at the Women's Building last week. Her father and mother, who are Republicans from Lake County, began the ceremony. Everyone was touched by her father's simple words: "Marla was the apple of my eye. And I vow to be a better person for Marla."

Friends, mentors, mentorees, and colleagues spoke about Marla's love, joy, dedication, thirst for knowledge, and persistence. A colleague told the story of when she took Marla and others to a civil disobedience event in Texas. Since the colleague was from the area, they stayed at her family's home. The colleague's parents were not very happy about the idea of civil disobedience in general or about these people who had come to live at their home while they planned a protest. But in the end, Marla charmed the parents and convinced the colleague's dad to join in dancing to a 1960s tune.

Jake McGoldrick, Chris Daly, Jeff Adachi, and Ross Mirkarimi attended the memorial. McGoldrick talked about Marla's great love for everyone. Daly talked about her endless ideas, adding, "Marla had the energy of three people." Adachi recalled that at the beginning of his long campaign for public defender, Marla gave him courage by telling him, "You are going to win!" Mirkarimi talked about a long ride with Marla to her home in Lake County and how she filled and scrambled his brain with all of her ideas and energy.

But the most poignant moment came with the contribution of Maya Danaher, the teenage daughter of Kevin Danaher and Medea Benjamin. Marla stayed with Maya’s family while she was volunteering for Global Exchange. Maya talked about how she celebrated her birthday by going to Lake County with Marla to visit Marla's family. With tears in her eyes, Maya said, "I didn't know the numbers of people who loved her. I want to call her up and ask her, why didn't she tell me that all these people love her?"

The memorial was wonderful, but for a long time something was missing. No one mentioned the loss of Faiz Ali Salim, who was with Marla in the car. As a native of Iraq, he was instrumental in aiding the civilians as well — and he probably knew the dangers better than Marla.

Marla would have been proud of how the void was filled. The last speaker was the only one who remembered Faiz. And the last speaker was Marla's twin brother, Mark, who added, "We are going to make sure that Marla's work continues."


To donate to CIVIC, go to their website, www.civicworldwide.org, or write the Campaign for Innocent Victims in Conflict, 1605 Connecticut Ave NW 3rd Floor, Washington DC, 20009.