Dr. Mario G. Obledo, founder and president of the National Coalition of Hispanic Organizations and former California Secretary of Health and Welfare, died of a heart attack at his home in Sacramento, Calif., on Aug. 18. He was 78.

Often deemed the “godfather of Hispanic Civil Rights,” Obledo worked to bring justice to the Latin community. In addition to co-founding the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF), he also co-founded the Hispanic National Bar Association. Additionally, Obledo served as national president of the League of United Latin American Citizens.

“With Mario’s passing, we have lost a pioneer, a visionary, a pathfinder,” Antonia Hernandez, former MALDEF president and current president of the California Community Foundation, said in a statement. “Mario G. Obledo touched the lives of countless individuals, my own life included…MALDEF and the community has lost a gentle giant.”

While serving as a past chairman of the National Rainbow Coalition, he aspired to politically unite the nation’s ethnic, racial and religious groups. However, his primary accomplishment was bringing thousands of Hispanics into state government during his tenure as Secretary of Health and Welfare under the leadership of California Gov. Jerry Brown.

“I join San Antonians in mourning a great loss,” Congressman Charles Gonzalez, chair of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, said in a statement. “Mario Obledo was a catalyst of change and a role model to many Latinos, including myself. His legacy will live on in the many important movements and organizations he started.”