Services will be held Saturday for Avelina Grau, whose husband Ramon Grau Alsina helped organize the famed Operation Pedro Pan and was also a member a prominent Cuban family whose patriarch was twice elected the island’s president.
Avelina Grau, who was 93, passed away in hospice after a brief illness. A public memorial service in her honor will be held at 11 a.m. at St. Coleman’s Catholic Church in Pompano Beach, 1200 S. Federal Hwy.
Along with marrying into the Grau family, Avelina was ahead of her time, studying architecture at the University of Havana in 1943 when few women entered the field. She worked as an architectural draftsman in South Florida for decades.
Born on July 19, 1924, her family was friends with the Graus, who were similar to the Kennedys in Cuba. She met her future husband as a young girl and married him in 1946. Grau Alsina was the nephew of Ramon Grau San Martin, president of Cuba from 1933 to 1934 and again from 1944 to 1948.
After their marriage, Avelina moved into the Cuban Presidential Palace where she led an active social life including entertaining foreign dignitaries as her husband became a personal secretary to his uncle. Her marriage to Alsina Grau produced three children: Ramon, Pilar and Pedro Grau.
But the arrival of Fidel Castro in 1959 changed the course of life for the Grau family, who were staunch Castro opponents. In the early 1960s as Castro set out to close down all Catholic, private and American schools and begin public school indoctrination of Cuban children, Grau Alsina, and his sister, Polita joined a clandestine group of Cubans, Americans, the Catholic Church and the U.S. government in a plan to spirit unaccompanied Cuban children to Miami. By 1962, when the effort ended, 14,000 Cuban children had been flown to the U.S.
Grau Alsina became a key figure in the effort as a holder of the U.S.-issued “visa waivers” obtained by Miami’s Monsignor Bryan Walsh and sent to Cuba, where Grau helped hand them out to Cuban parents desperate to get their children out of the island in the early 1960s.
Grau Alsina sent his wife and children to Miami in 1960 they settled in Pompano Beach where Avelina started her career as she waited to be reunited with her husband. In 1966, Grau Alsina was arrested in Cuba, tried and sentenced to 30 years for his role in Operation Pedro Pan and other anti-government activities.
“In exile, my mother was alone with three children and she had to figure a way to be the breadwinner for the family — so she went to work, something she had not done in Cuba,” said her daughter, Pilar.
Grau Alsina was not released from prison until 1986 along with other famous political prisoners. He was reunited with his family in Miami, where exiles gave him a hero’s welcome. Years after his arrival, Avelina and Grau Alsina divorced. He passed away in 1998. Avelina went on to pursue her love of travel and visited many countries around the world.
She is predeceased in death by her oldest son Ramon Grau and survived by her son and daughter Pedro (wife Sandy) and Pilar Grau and also her nephews, Francisco Grau (wife Etta), Tessa Grau all of South Florida,
In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations be made to VITAS Hospice care.