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Tahína Planas, attorney and example, dies at 61

Tahína Trinidad Planas Navarro, who for over two decades made a selfless contribution as attorney at the Department of Children and Families (DCF), after a long battle against cancer passed away Sunday, October 23, in Miami. She was 61 years old.

Her body was cremated in accordance to her wishes. A mass will be held Wednesday, November 23, at 6:30 p.m., in Gesu Catholic Church, 118 N.E. 2nd. Street, Miami.

“She was a superior human being, not of this time”, said her husband Pedro Portal, photographer at El Nuevo Herald. “She was a kind woman, intelligent and strong, despite her fragile appearance. A ceaseless fighter, she had the hope and faith to survive until the last moment.”

Born on March 21, 1950 in Santiago de Cuba, Planas lost her mother at an early age. In 1968 she went into exile with her brother Luis, then 12. Her father and brother Leonel should have accompanied them but at the last minute, Cuban authorities denied Leonel his exit permit. Her father died in Cuba in 1980 and Leonel, now 63, arrived to the United States in 1993.

“My sister was an exemplary human being”, said Luis Planas, a chemical engineer aged 55. “She protected me with total dedication. I received unconditional love from her always”.

In the late 1970s, after two and a half years living between Spain and Puerto Rico, Planas established herself in Miami. She became a teacher while studying law at Nova University, where she graduated in 1982. After private practice, she began her work at the legal department of DCF. There she stood out for her dedication and brilliance. In charge of difficult cases involving children, the elderly, the handicapped and the mentally ill, she became known in the Miami courts for the effort she put into the defense and claims of the poorest and neediest.

Carmen Dominguez, her colleague for 20 years, remembers her as a strong advocate of ethical principles and tireless diligence.

"She was highly respected and admired," said Dominguez, now general counsel of the Miami Dade College. "Had it not been for her illness, she would have reached very high positions. Still, she worked until the last minute. She was an extraordinarily generous person. She gave everything of herself. She would not worry about her illness, but rather the pain it would cause us."

After being diagnosed with cancer in 1995, a successful treatment kept her in remission for five years. Since then and during the past decade, she put forth a stoic and even-handed battle, equally impressing doctors, nurses, family and friends. No one remembers having heard her complain. If she spoke of her illness, she did it soberly, without any dramatic overtones. In recent days, when there were visible signs of an imminent end, she went to gatherings with friends where she displayed her witty sense of humor, her proverbial discretion, and her refined and profound spirituality.

Having settled in Puerto Rico with their families, Luis and Leonel, both hold tight to the memory of Christmas gatherings there or in Miami, as the time that allowed them to enjoy a sister who was a cardinal influence and a steadfast support.

"She was a sister who always inspired me," Leonel said. "She always gave me pride, much pride: Pride, example and love."

In the last days of October, Planas was admitted to the University of Miami's hospital. In full control of her faculties, even the day before, she had the fortitude to smile and recite poetry. Around 5:30 a.m. Sunday, October 23, she closed her eyes. Portal, her caring partner of 17 years, was at her side.

"She was self-sufficient, did not like to bother anyone, and left everything arranged to the last detail," said Portal.

She is survived by Portal, her brothers Luis and Leonel, her paternal half-siblings: Esther Maria, in Cuba and Luis de Jesus, in Miami, as well as eight nieces and nephews. In lieu of flowers, Tahina expressly requested contributions to St. Judes Children Hospital at www.stjude.org/makeadonation.

Journalist Marcia Morgado said Planas was a Teacher who taught her loyalty and compassion. They met in the 70's, when Planas worked at Ada Merritt High School, in Little Havana, one of the secondary education centers that played a key role in the formation of the Cuban American community in South Florida at that time.

"She also taught me to be a better person. In recent times, with courage and lucidity she was an example of dignity in the face of adversity", said Morgado. "For those of us who had the privilege of knowing her, she was a space of light in our lives."

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