Robert Gittelson, an award-winning immigration reform activist who became a prominent voice on Capitol Hill, died peacefully on Aug. 7 in his Tarzana home after suffering a heart attack. He was 54.

Gittelson, who was Jewish, served as a board member of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, the nation’s largest Christian Hispanic organization, and as the organization’s vice president for government affairs. Gittelson — an independent conservative — participated in hundreds of meetings in the nation’s capital in recent years, including with President Barack Obama and his staff, senators, congressmen, to advocate for a legislative solution to comprehensive immigration reform.

“I was saddened to learn of the passing of your husband, Robert Gittelson, and I send my deepest sympathies as you mourn his loss,” Obama wrote to his wife of 33 years, Patricia Gittelson. in a condolence letter dated Aug. 11. “Leaders like Robert remind us that we are our brothers’ and our sisters’ keepers and challenge us to practice what we believe in both words and deeds.”

Patricia Gittelson said her husband — who was retired after nearly 30 years as an apparel manufacturer and importer — became interested in the complex issues of immigration reform through her own work as a Van Nuys-based immigration attorney.


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“He saw all the people coming into my office and all the heartbreak that was going on so he took up the cause,” Patricia Gittelson said, adding that he started an organization called Conservatives for Comprehensive Immigration Reform, which supported creating a path to citizenship for the nation’s 11 million undocumented immigrants. He was also a co-founder of the Evangelical Immigration Table, which brought together conservative and liberal evangelicals. “He would take messages back and forth between the Republicans and Democrats who couldn’t really talk to each other. He was a bridge builder, soft and persuasive,” she said.

Before Gittelson took his position with the NHCLC, he won a Champions of Justice award in 2012 from the organization for his “biblical and humanitarian commitment to the immigrant community.” He also spoke frequently on immigration issues at forums and conferences around the country.

“His commitment and advocacy on behalf of religious liberty, immigrants, righteousness and justice made him a prominent voice on Capitol Hill,” said Dr. Samuel Rodriguez, president of the NHCLC in a statement on the organization’s website. “Robert did justice, loved mercifully and walked humbly before God.”

Family members recalled the father of two, who was partly raised in Encino and graduated from USC, as very calm, kind and family oriented. His brother Gerald Gittelson called him the “best brother anyone could ever want.”

“He touched a lot of lives,” he said. “He was a special and extremely unique person, not your typical 54-year-old guy. He was a rising star in the world of politics and immigration reform activism.”

In addition to his wife, Patricia, and his brother Gerald Gittelson, a Los Angeles journalist and paralegal, he is also survived by two sons: Alex Gittelson, a entertainment manager in Los Angeles, and Jesse Gittelson, a financial analyst in New York City; his sister Beverly Gittelson-Manitsky, a former hotel-amenities designer; and his mother, Anita Gittelson, VP of Wessco International, a hotel-amenities corporation with offices in New York and Los Angeles.