Kristin Pilar Muñiz, 57, died unexpectedly of a heart attack on October 4, 2020 while exercising near her home in Arlington, Massachusetts.
Kristin devoted her life to loving her family, working for justice, and having fun. She had an ability to connect with people of all walks of life, from students and faculty at Harvard University Law School to indigent clients she often met for the first time in courthouse holding cells. Kristin could find common ground and see the good in everyone she met. She had the unique ability to get people talking through her exceptional warmth and empathy.
Kristin spent much of her life and career fighting for racial justice and equality, as a public defender, a member of the Unitarian Universalist church community, and in her personal life. Kristin and her husband Will shared a commitment to using the law to make the world a better place. She also loved being a mother and brought the same passion to raising her three children, Benjamin, Daniel, and Maya. Kristin enjoyed each of her children’s accomplishments as they grew from babies into young adults. Kristin and her family enjoyed traveling together whether to Puerto Rico or to a family cabin in Maine. She had an irreverent sense of fun and a knack for creating a good time around her, whether singing with the band at her own wedding, playing Rumpelstiltskin in a children’s theater performance, or cracking up while playing hide-and-seek with her 7-year-old nephew Theo this past summer.
Born in New York City on September 25, 1963 and raised in Montvale, New Jersey, Kristin attended Pascack Hills High School. She described herself as coming from a multi-ethnic background. Her mother immigrated from Cuba and her paternal grandfather was from Puerto Rico. In 1983, Kristin was able to travel to Cuba for a month with her mother Greta to see where her mother grew up in Havana and to meet her grandfather, Gerardo Pinks. She graduated from the University of Bridgeport in 1985 and earned her J.D. from Boston College Law school in 1988.
It was during her first year of law school that she met William Matlack. Kristin and Will met in a Constitutional Law class and enjoyed talking about how they planned to use their legal training in the public interest. She and Will became partners and later married in 1991. They settled in Dorchester and moved permanently to Arlington in 1999.
Kristin became a public defender after graduating from law school. She worked for 11 years as a trial attorney in the Boston and Roxbury public defender offices. Upon the arrival of her third child in 1999, she switched jobs and became a full-time Mom. After raising her children for 8 years, Kristin was ready to return to her professional life and in 2007 became a Clinical Instructor at Harvard Law School. For 10 years, she trained and supervised law students to defend low-income clients facing criminal charges in the Roxbury and Dorchester District Courts. She had a special place in her heart for younger people starting out in their legal careers, and made special efforts to teach and mentor her Black and Brown students, especially first generation college/law students like her.
In 2017, Kristin returned to the public defender office as Attorney in Charge of the Roxbury and then the Boston office. She said of her work: “As a public defender for decades, I have treasured my relationships with my clients. I see the world through their eyes and they are the ones, without a doubt, who have taught me the most about race, fairness, diversity and justice.”
Kristin will be remembered by all who knew her for her openness, warmth, and compassion, her commitment to social justice, and her sense of joy. One friend, speaking for many, recently wrote, “Kristin was my soul sister, and one of the most authentic, brilliant, vibrant, compassionate and fun-loving people I've ever known in life.”
Kristin is survived by her husband Will, sons Benjamin and Daniel, daughter Maya, mother Greta Muñiz, and brother Gerard Muñiz. Kristin also leaves an extensive family of cousins, in-laws, nieces, nephews, and friends. Her father, Joseph Muñiz, died in 1995.
A celebration of Kristin’s life will be held on Saturday October 17th at 1:00 pm on Zoom
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In lieu of flowers, the family asks that you consider a donation to one of the organizations below that support the racial and social justice issues Kristin cared most deeply about.
1. The Massachusetts Bail Fund. The Massachusetts Bail Fund pays up to $5000 bail so that low-income people can stay free while they work towards resolving their case.
2. The Center for Teen Empowerment, Inc. The Center for Teen Empowerment, Inc. helps low-income, urban youth hone their understanding of the social problems they face and use their talents and skills to create change in their own lives and in their communities. Kristin knew Executive Director Abrigal Forrester well and personally supported his work in the community.
3. Haley House Bakery Café Social Enterprise Restaurant. Haley House has grown organically in response to the harsh realities of social inequality and injustice since 1966. They remain committed to the important work of nurturing community through their bakery cafe.
4. The New Commonwealth Racial Equity and Social Justice Fund. This recently created fund was founded by a coalition of Massachusetts Black and Brown executives. It will give grants to community-based organizations in MA, focusing primarily on Black- and brown-led nonprofits, social entrepreneurs, and social impact organizations and initiatives.