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Whidbey Island activist Theresa Marie Gandhi dies
Activist poet Theresa Marie Gandhi, a strong voice on environmental causes for many years on Whidbey Island and beyond, died late Sunday, Jan. 3, friends of the family reported Monday. She was 63.
Gandhi, a Clinton resident, was born in Washington and attended the University of Washington and, later, the Evergreen State College.
In 1983, she married a relative of Mahatma Gandhi, the spiritual and political leader of India during the country's independence movement, and the family name opened many doors to the great-grand niece-in-law of the famed Indian pacifist. She met with Pres. Ronald Reagan in the Oval Office and also frequently spoke with other national political leaders.
Gandhi had a decades-long dream of becoming a U.S. senator, and began her long career as an activist when she cajoled Washington State University to sell a co-operative preschool for $1; the building eventually became an alternative high school.
A primary focus for her activism was centered on the earth and the environment. Gandhi campaigned against Gov. Dixie Lee Ray after the Democratic governor gave support to the proposed installation of a Northern Tier Oil pipeline in Puget Sound.
Gandhi was also a central figure in the "no spray" efforts to limit the use of harmful herbicides on state highways a decade ago.
"Teresa was the spark plug behind the campaign to end the spraying of toxic chemicals along island roads," said close friend Marianne Edain.
But Gandhi's strident opposition to issues often carried a glimmer of levity, such as the time she chastised county commissioners over their new wetlands regulations in early 2008, a stuffed toy in the shape of a large fish under her arm as she testified.
“I’m a fish out of a wetland. My children will die, with no stream water, to grow my fry."
“To kill my kind, you pave its way. Do you not know the cost to you, under the ESA?”
Most recently, Gandhi had been involved in the fight against the expansion of Navy training off the coast of Whidbey and Washington state because she was worried it would harm whales and other marine life. In protest, she wrote a letter to the editor that was labeled an obit for "Granny," the last whale on the planet, killed by the Navy's use of sonar.
A a "Hanford Downwinder," Gandhi had long recalled the impact that radiation exposure had on her health, including heart disease, two types of cancer and a life-long thyroid dysfunction. According to her blog, she recently suffered a long bout with the swine flu.
A family friend said Gandhi died Sunday evening from liver failure after a long-running bout with hepatitis C.
A member of the Green Party, Gandhi campaigned for Democrats on multiple occasions, but a politician's stance on an issue was always paramount to her.
She campaigned extensively for Barack Obama for president, for example, but wrote to him in November to say she was withdrawing her support because of a White House deal with the pharmaceutical industry on the cost of prescription drugs.
A highly spiritual person, Gandhi was a reverend in the Universal Church of the Master. A prolific writer as well, she turned to blogging in recent years, mostly on political topics.
Still, she found time to share lighter moments with those who knew her.
Edain said Gandhi was the kind of woman who could manage to stay upbeat even when feeling gloomy. She was quite a sight in her flaming-pink straw hat.
"She could be wild and crazy at times, but she was always there for me in a pinch," Edain recalled. "And she was the only person I knew who had a toy poodle as a legally registered service dog," Edain said. "He kept her smiling and that was the service he performed."
Gandhi's favorite music ran the gamut from Pete Seeger and Johnny Cash to Jim Nabors and Elvis spirituals; she was also a "Star Wars" and "Lord of the Rings" fan, but loved movies with an environmental justice bent, too, such as "Erin Brockovich" and "Silkwood."
Memorial arrangements are pending.