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Activist Was 'Grande Dame' of State Politics

By Lloyd Jojola
Journal Staff Writer
    Charlotte Toulouse was a "grande dame" of the state Democratic Party and a champion for children, women, the elderly and those with disabilities.
    Toulouse, an Albuquerque resident, died March 15 of natural causes. She was 84.
    "She was a homemaker, she was a politician, she was a diplomat, she was a lobbyist ... she was the center for the Southeast Heights political area," Charlotte Mary Toulouse described her mother.
    "She was sort of the grande dame of Democratic politics."
    Toulouse's leadership positions were numerous. She served with the PTA, on the Governor's Committee on Children and Youth and as a member of the Disability and Health Program Advisory Committee and Statewide Independent Living Council.
    And she was a Democratic Party stalwart.
    Former Democratic Gov. Bruce King remembered Toulouse for her "ingenuity" and as a political organizer who would "stick to whatever she set out to accomplish."
    "She was just a person who never quit 'till after the final whistle of the campaign and election was over. She would work clear on through election day," King said.
    Toulouse was a long-standing member of the state central committee and served as a delegate to three Democratic National Conventions.
    Born in Marysville, Kan., Charlotte Mae Johnson Toulouse was a teenager when she moved to Albuquerque to stay with relatives— a geographic change intended to deal with her asthma.
    She was a University of New Mexico freshman when a State Fair carnival ride literally put her in the arms of her future husband, James R. Toulouse.
    "They were each with somebody different, and they were on (an amusement ride) and my mother fainted," Charlotte Mary Toulouse said. "And her date was so embarrassed, he didn't want to take them off the ride, so my dad carried my mom off the ride.
    "She liked him better than her date, and that was it."
    Charlotte and James Toulouse, who would become a noted civil rights attorney, had five children; all girls.
    Trent Toulouse, a grandson, said there were two people in his grandmother.
    There was the loving, caring, responsible woman who was the "backbone of the family," he said.
    "And then there was the one who was an advocate," he said. "She was politically active in everything."
    Her activism, which included lobbying at the state Legislature, transformed at different points in her life.
    When her children were young, she fought for children's rights; as her daughters became older, she pushed for the state Equal Rights Amendment; and when a stroke left her using a walker, "she became an outspoken advocate for the rights of the disabled and the elderly," her family said.
    Trent Toulouse said his grandparents believed everybody needed a chance to be spoken for.
    "It was a belief in fairness and justice that saw them both through— my grandfather in the legal realm and my grandmother in the political realm," he said.
    James Toulouse died in 2002.
    In 1993, the couple was honored with the "Keep the Dream Alive" award given by the Martin Luther King Jr. Cultural Celebration Committee. In 1997, she was picked as one of UNM's outstanding alumni. And in 2000, the Southwest Conference on Disability established "The Charlotte Toulouse Award for Contributions to Communication Between People With Disabilities and Disability Researchers."
    Anyone who walked into Charlotte Toulouse's home instantly became family, and when they left, they had to give her a hug. She also gave comfort to those who needed it, her daughter Charlotte Mary Toulouse said.
    A celebration of Toulouse's life is set for 2 p.m. Tuesday at First Presbyterian Church, 215 Locust NE. A reception will follow at the church.
    Memorial contributions can be made in her name to TVI Foundation, Scholarship Fund, 525 Buena Vista SE, Albuquerque, NM, 87106 or to The Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, 120 Wall St., New York, NY, 10005, Attn: Donations.