ENCINITAS — During this year’s contentious election cycle, Encinitas author Ian Thompson couldn’t help but think of his late wife, former Encinitas City Councilwoman Maggie Houlihan, and the similar battles she faced while serving in office.
“(Maggie) was a fighter and a survivor,” Thompson told The Coast News. “She showed a dogged determination and commitment to Encinitas that came from the heart. The way she saw the city changing drove her to politics. She got in without a lot of money, grassroots, and she fought to maintain community character.”
Thompson’s book, “An Inconvenient Voice: One Woman’s Fight Against Injustice,” chronicles his life growing up in England, working in the Southern California surfing industry and his life with Houlihan in Encinitas until her death in 2011.
Houlihan studied anthropology at Long Beach State University.
As a single mother, she later graduated summa cum laude from UC San Diego, where she also worked as a library cataloguer. After moving to Encinitas, Houlihan and Thompson married near Sunset Cliffs in 1983.
Enter the ‘buzzsaw’
Starting in 2000, Houlihan served on the Encinitas City Council for 11 years, including two terms as mayor (2004 and 2009) under the city’s rotating mayoral system. Thompson described her as a “conservative rebel” with the following mantra: “Of the people, by the people, for the people.”
“She never really needed to raise money from special interests or kowtow to someone with deep pockets,” Thompson said. “It was all grassroots and because there was no special interest money behind her, she could afford to be sincere.”
And that’s when she ran into a “buzzsaw of opposition” driven by developers and other individuals with something to gain from the city — a withering force that Thompson said he hasn’t seen the likes of since.
“It was really quite devastating to someone who wanted to protect the community to the point where they were out to remove her from political office,” Thompson said.
Thompson recalled there were certain individuals actively campaigning against his wife, attempting to intimidate her and silence her views.
At the time, The Coast News reported that David Meyers, a local developer and Paul Ecke’s brother-in-law, even hired a clown to stalk Houlihan around town.
“They were out to remove her from political office,” Thompson said. “There were complaints to the Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC), sticker campaigns and clowns paid to stalk her — all of which was below the belt.”
Thompson acknowledged a correlation between social media today and “hate mailers” in the early 2000s, noting that while the level of vitriol has increased online, “the ability for human beings to use dirt has always been there.”
During Houlihan’s time in office, she strongly encouraged civic engagement and she worked to increase local government transparency, helping launch televised council meetings and making online city documents and electronic notices of agenda items more available to the public.
Houlihan also cared deeply for the environment, helping establish a smoking ban on city beaches, and she is credited with creating the Pet Health Expo and Encinitas Garden Tour. A supporter of the arts, Houlihan also worked closely with the 101 Artists’ Colony for its annual Arts Alive banner event and auction.
Battle of a lifetime
In 2006, Houlihan was first diagnosed with endometrial cancer, which later resurfaced in 2008 after she was elected mayor of Encinitas for the second time.
“(Houlihan) tackled cancer the same way she tackled everything else,” Thompson said. “She never complained, never got emotional about her disease and really moved through it with an optimism that she can get through it, until close to the very end.”
At the time, Thompson advised her to step down from the council and focus on her health, but she refused, attending council meetings via teleconference or wearing a mask while sitting on the dais. City staff members brought documents to the house for her to sign.
“That to me was remarkable because that was true selflessness,” Thompson said.
Near the end of her life when she was confined to a bed, Thompson said he often found people lined up to visit Houlihan at their home. To Thompson’s surprise, Ecke, a longtime opponent of Houlihan’s regarding local development issues, sent flowers to the ailing councilwoman.
“In terms of issues, they were on opposite sides,” Thompson said. “But when she saw the strength of Ecke’s character to rise above those conflicts and send flowers, that surprised me, and I know it surprised her. She felt very encouraged.”
However, Thompson said he was discouraged by the people who chose not to visit Houlihan in her final days, including several of her peers on the council.
After several years of chemotherapy treatment, Houlihan died at the age of 63, which Thompson described as “a great loss to this city.”
All creatures, great and small
Outside of her life in politics, Thompson said one little known fact about Houlihan is that she was an ardent collector of vinyl records, porcelain figurines and Native American art, clothing and jewelry.
“(Native American artwork) was a real passion for her, stemming from her degree in anthropology — she respected the American Indian’s stewardship of the planet.”
But Thompson said Houlihan’s greatest passion was for animals of all kinds. If there was an injured animal in need of assistance, Houlihan tried to care for it. Eventually, Houlihan’s love for animals led to a wide assortment of animals living at the couple’s home.
“We owned a property that was fairly big in Encinitas, and despite my opposition, it was filled up with all manner of turtles, rats, birds and iguanas,” Thompson said. “They were all disenfranchised — three legs, one eye — they certainly weren’t a fashion accessory. They were the great unwashed of the world and she loved them dearly.”
During her time in Encinitas, Houlihan helped the city’s parks become more dog friendly and she also founded the Spray & Neuter Action Program (SNAP) and Wee Companions Small Animal Rescue. After her death, the city honored the former councilwoman by naming a 44-acre recreational area the Maggie Houlihan Memorial Dog Park.
Thompson, who wrote the book primarily for Houlihan’s grandson, described the writing process as a “voyage of discovery,” learning new things about his partner at various stages in her life.
“It was a very satisfying and emotional process,” Thompson said. “It was very rewarding to write because I felt I did my job of representing her life to her grandson. If people read it, and they are entertained by it, inspired by it, laugh and cry — that’s icing on the cake.”
Thompson’s book “An Inconvenient Voice: One Woman’s Fight Against Injustice,” is available for purchase on Amazon. Thompson’s website is www.ianthompsonbooks.com.
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