Gloria Clemente Martínez and husband José Martínez. Credit: Courtesy / Martínez Family

Maria Gloria Clemente Martínez, whose long battle with leukemia and her love of shoes inspired her to help thousands of low-income San Antonians’ schoolchildren in need of footwear, died Monday evening. She was 76.

Martínez, who went by Gloria, was known for her outgoing personality, her generous spirit, and her love of shoes, her sister Sandy Gutierrez said. Martínez always liked to be involved in the community and was someone who never lost touch with old friends, Gutierrez told the San Antonio Report Tuesday.

“Gloria was the beauty queen, she was always involved, she was the popular one,” Gutierrez said. “She even kept up with her friends from elementary school. That’s the kind of person she was.”

In 2015 Martínez co-founded Zapatos Inc., a nonprofit that provides new shoes to needy school-age San Antonio children. Zapatos served 300 students in its first year operating as a nonprofit and has continued to grow, helping thousands of children since, according to the organization’s website.

The idea for Zapatos came to Martínez and husband, José, as a result of her chemo treatments, said Patricia “Pat” Kendrick, a close friend of Martínez’s who lived two doors down.

“When she was having chemo some years back, her feet would always be up and in front of her in the chair, and she would take a photo of her shoes and post it on Facebook,” Kendrick said.

As Martínez described it on the Zapatos website, an inspirational message accompanied each photo: “I did not want this cancer to define me, so to let everyone know that I was doing well and in good spirits, I continued to post a different pair of shoes.”

While receiving chemotherapy Gloria Clemente Martínez posted photographs of her shoes as a way to show her positive spirit. Credit: Composite – San Antonio Report – Courtesy / Martínez Family

“At some point, she got this epiphany – and she truly believed it was an epiphany – that there were poor kids who needed shoes, so she started Zapatos,” Kendrick said, adding that it was José Martínez, a mariachi, who came up with the name – Spanish for “shoes.”

“Something told me, stop posting your shoes and start putting shoes on kids,” Gloria Martínez wrote on her site.

A devout Catholic who believed in giving back to the community, Gloria felt called to spread her love of shoes, Kendrick recalls.

“Gloria was so smart and such a go-getter that, had she not been the kind of person to do it for a nonprofit and for helping others, she could have been the CEO of a Fortune 500 company,” Kendrick said.

“If getting Leukemia was what started me on this journey, I wouldn’t take another road,” Zapatos’ website declares.

It was this drive and Martínez’s ability to raise funds that helped her grow Zapatos’s reach each year, Gutierrez said. Martínez always had the goal of Zapatos reaching 50,000 donations within the community – a goal that was reached just a couple of months ago, Gutierrez said. 

Gloria Clemente Martínez Credit: Courtesy / Martínez Family

“I was always amazed at her,” Gutierrez said. “During one of our weekly lunches I told her, ‘You have to slow down.’ But that wasn’t her style.”

At the end of her life Martínez was still focused on making sure donations were reaching their destinations, Kendrick said. Kendrick recently delivered three bags of shoes that Martínez herself had marked for delivery.

“José told me, ‘Gloria had these bags ready for you to deliver to the schools after the holidays,’” Kendrick said. “She was still thinking about the kids. That was Gloria. She was very, very sick, and in that state she’s still thinking about filling the shoe orders for kids.” 

A renowned baker, hostess of large parties, and lover of music, Martínez will be most remembered for selfless demeanor, Kendrick said. Martínez never complained about having leukemia or chemotherapy and never gossiped about anyone for any reason, Kendrick said.

“She was excited to see Zapatos’ reach grow each year,” Kendrick said.

Martínez is survived by her husband, three sons and one daughter, grandchildren, and several great-grandchildren.

Lindsey Carnett

Lindsey Carnett is the general assignment reporter for the San Antonio Report.