Cecilia D. Esquer, "An Incredible Leader"
We are here to celebrate the life of an incredible woman. Everyone here, and thousands beyond this
room, have been helped, taught or inspired by Cecilia. Some of us fit into all three categories!
Cecilia changed Arizona. Our State is a much better place because she passed this way.
Andrea and Marcos, like you, I have always been intimidated by your Mom. She seemed to always have a
clear sense of the right direction, never distracted from pursuing what mattered no matter what was
crashing around her and she was wise. Long before the term "wise Latina" became part of the Supreme
Court confirmation process, she exemplified sabiduría.
I found some parts in Cecilia's memoirs puzzling precisely because she always seemed so self assured.
In her book, your Mom talks about her inferiority complex and the albatross she carried around her neck.
Not to challenge her reflection, but for me, along with most of the outside world, that bird was invisible.
But the fact she struggled so much against outside misconceptions makes what she accomplished all the
In her lifelong quest to break down barriers, Cecilia had some impressive weapons. First and foremost
her remarkable family, Elias, Andrea and Marcos shared her commitments and supported her at every
turn. That cannot have been easy!
She was born and grew up in Superior, Arizona. Enough said. There must be something about the water
in Superior that produces dynamic leaders. Especially women leaders! She came to law school with a
young family and a host of community commitments, demands on her time outside the class work that
went way beyond those of her classmates. But she carried the extra burden and knocked that barrier
down too. In law school, we saw someone confident, focused and serious. Needless to say, many
classmates did not share these qualities (Jose Rivera and yours truly come to mind), but she maintained
her standards throughout the three years.
Twenty five years later, I asked Cecilia to take the job as Chief Counsel of the Public Advocacy Division at
the Attorney General's Office because of precisely the qualities I saw in Law School flavored by her
remarkable career. Having taught the legal assistant course at PC (Phoenix College) made her
exceptionally good at utilizing paralegals and legal assistants in cutting costs and increasing office
efficiency. Her time with the Legal Services Corporation made her aware of the national scope of many of
the issues we faced in the Arizona market. Her time with Ortega and Moreno in private practice proved
her a skilled legal practitioner. It was a bonus that her constant involvement as a social activist meant
she would never hesitate to take on the "Big Boys" of corporate and political power.
But, the first challenges at the AG's office required a different set of skills. We faced the first budget
reduction requiring layoffs in the history of that agency. True to form, Cecilia got to work and did the job.
She immediately found who was producing and who not. It turned out one very popular attorney had not
been in a trial for 22 years. That didn't cut it for Cecilia, despite many letters and appeals he was gone.
And, she brought that extra dimension, her wisdom to the task so that the Division came out smaller but
more productive than before the cuts.
If there was a failure in Cecilia's career, it was retirement. She definitely flunked retirement. She was
supposed to be retired when she took on the management of Jim Walsh's campaign for Corporation
Commissioner in 2002. She told me she would only do the Division Director job for two years. Of course, I
didn't believe her. But with two months to go on the two year deadline, she very gently suggested I find
her replacement. I pooh poohed the thought, but asked Andrea if her mother was serious. Andrea
assured me she was and I had better start looking now.
Cecilia left the AG Office right on schedule, but she was way too intertwined in our community to retire.
Her list of outside commitments just got longer.
Cecilia was a remarkable leader, but when not leading, she never hesitated to work in the trenches. She
never asked someone to do a job she would not unhesitatingly do herself.
In 2006, with the campaign for reelection as AG looming, she told me she would coordinate the clean
election $5 contributions. She didn't ask me if she could, mind you. I didn't ask if she would. She just told
me what she intended to do! As a social activist, she had experienced too many times the
disappointment of having good candidates and worthy cases tripped up by a failure to execute the
basics. Nothing is more apparently simple yet difficult and error prone than collecting and filing $5 forms.
Cecilia was justifiably proud that in the Walsh campaign she was recognized for the best filing in the
state. Fortunately for me, when she offered I knew enough not question her, not to say that with her
experience she should be part of my strategy group or a senior advisor to the campaign. I just said "yes
Cecilia" and got out of her way. Who says a non Latino can't learn?
The same thing happened as the 50 year anniversary of the Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of
Education came up. Cecilia appeared in my Office one day to ask what we were doing to mark this critical
day. I had to confess a complete absence of thought, we had been really busy and the anniversary had
not been a priority. She did not comment on this appalling lack of perspective, she just pulled out a draft
article on the historic importance of the decision she had prepared. Over the next months, we worked on
that draft together and posted it to the AG website in time for the anniversary. It is there today and I
hope you will take a look. It is a fine piece of work I am proud to be associated with. Thanks Cecilia.
Attention to critical detail, never hesitating to step up and do the job, perspective on what really matters.
That was Cecilia.
Just a few weeks ago, in the final weeks of the gubernatorial campaign, she was in my headquarters
making phone calls. Most of the other volunteer callers were half her age; none had her rich campaign
experience. I would never have asked her to do such a basic job, afraid of insulting her. She came in and
did it, no muss, no fuss, no ceremony.
And, I have to mention the magic trail mix. Cecilia knew that every campaign and every candidate is
unique and that they have highly unusual food demands. Erratic or missed meals and energy lags are
endemic to every campaign. She not only recognized this, she is the only person I know who did
something about it! She designed a unique combination of fruits, nuts and candy for my campaign. It was
perfect! I devoured the Mix in a few days, but I still treasure the container as a reminder of Cecilia's
consideration and attention to critical details no one else understood.
Cecilia was a passionate combatant with an abiding sense of humanity and good humor that could never
be vindictive. When she engineered an effort during the delegate selection process for the 1974 midterm
Democratic Convention that beat my Dad for a delegate at large position, the Republic crowed that the
defeat was because "Sam Goddard was too liberal for the party". Cecilia immediately sent a letter
making it very clear to that idiot of an editor that it had been a tactical not an ideological victory and the
Party definitely embraced Sam's ideals. Most people in the warm glow of a victory would never have
made that effort. But Cecilia was never most people.
It has been our privilege to know Cecilia Esquer. To fight alongside her, to learn from her, to be inspired
by her. With her, in spite of imposing odds, we definitely won more than we lost. She was an incredible
leader, with a style we will not see again and greatly miss.
Elias, Andrea, Marcos we mourn your loss with you. This is all our loss, but yours most of all. Thank you
for sharing so much of your wife and your Mom with us. Her community, her city, her state are much the
better for her efforts and your sacrifice. May God bless you and give you the strength to carry on. Gracias.
Published by the Hispanic Institute of Social Issues in Phoenix, Arizona
|HISTORY IS ABOUT
"Cecilia was a remarkable leader,
but when not leading, she never
hesitated to work in the trenches.
She never asked someone to do a
job she would not unhesitatingly do
Photo courtesy of the Esquer Family
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Cecilia Esquer Memorial – Remarks by Terry Goddard, Arizona Attorney General – Saturday, December 11,
2010 - Newman Center, ASU