Sep 14, 2013 •
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Some people in this world are sufficiently legendary to be recognized only by their first names: Oprah, Sting, and Madonna, for example. In Encinitas, you have only to say the name Maggie for everyone to know who you mean. She arrived from Long Beach in 1970 with one dog, two cats, and a toddler, and immediately set about making a life for herself and her son. Famed for her boundless energy, this young busy mother worked several jobs while still finding the time to study at UCSD, graduating summa cum laude with a BA in anthropology. She continued to work at the university for the next 27 years, winning the Employee of the Year Award for 1993/94. As Encinitas grew, Maggie Houlihan became ever more concerned that it was losing its small-town ambience. Determined to protect the environment and halt runaway development, she ran for, and won, a seat on the city council in 2000. She was returned in 2004 and 2008, with far more votes than any other candidates, each time serving as mayor. Even when her opponents tried to rattle her with underhand tactics, Houlihan always conducted herself with grace and dignity. A great proponent of government transparency and accountability, Houlihan was instrumental in bringing about the Community Participation Plan, which ensures that residents are kept fully informed of all council and committee agendas, and fought hard for the introduction of televised council meetings. Houlihan twice beat cancer, with the same energy and passion she brought to all her undertakings, but when it reappeared in the spring of 2011 she chose not to subject herself to more chemotherapy. Even so, she never quit her job as council member, ultimately participating in meetings via telephone. With Houlihan virtually housebound, the center of political debate in Encinitas shifted to her living room, and the stream of friends and colleagues dropping by each day always found themselves embroiled in lively discussion. Maggie Houlihan died on September 16, 2011, but her legacy lives on—in the environmental issues she so vigorously championed, the animal protection organizations she founded, the many abandoned creatures she housed—from cats to turtles to iguanas—and the government transparency she demanded and achieved. She did it all with such integrity and compassion that she will be forever remembered as one of the true legends of Encinitas.
When Arcadia asked me to write Legendary Locals, the first thing my friends said was “you have got to get Maggie Houlihan.”
The second was “you have got to get her NOW.”
And so I called Maggie, explaining who I was and what I needed from her. She laughed and laughed and laughed. At some point during our long conversation she just happened to mention that she was actually lying on a hospital gurney waiting to have fluid drained from her lungs. Then they whisked her away and her voice petered out.
She was still laughing when she called me back after the procedure: “I told those doctors we’ve just upped the ante. You’re all dealing with a local legend now, I said, so you’re going to have to take really good care of me.”
It seems unbelievable that a whole year has slid by since Maggie’s passing. I had the privilege of being in her orbit for just four short months. I don’t know if there really were cloudless skies during the time I was getting to know her, and learning to let go, but when I look back on those sixteen precious weeks, I remember only sunshine.