State of mourning declared for Gloria Nelson
by Mindy Aguon
Guam - The island is mourning the passing of a pillar of our community who worked tirelessly to educate Guam's children, advocate for the man'amko and ensure the government served the people. Acting Governor Ray Tenorio has ordered a state of mourning and flags be flown at half-staff in memory of a woman who left an indelible mark on Guam's history.
A teacher. An advocate. A voice of reason. An organizer. A hero. Just a few of the many ways people will remember Gloria Borja Nelson. "She went out of her way to help people in need of assistance," recalled Senator Judi Guthertz, "people that needed some direction in their lives and some protection in their lives."
Nelson passed away Sunday afternoon at the Guam Memorial Hospital, surrounded by her family and close friends after battling cancer for several years. Senator Guthertz recalls countless memories of her longtime friend. Over the years Guthertz watched as Nelson took people into her home, gave them a direction for their future and helped them on their way. "Whatever she did she was committed to doing and saw it through to the end. Even though she was suffering in the last couple years and in the last few months she didn't stop helping people and continued to the very end."
From a very young age, Nelson followed her calling and desire to help others. For decades she did so in the classroom teaching and shaping the lives of thousands of the island's schoolchildren. Her commitment to ensuring students excelled in education led her to becoming the director of education.
The senator continued, "Mrs. Nelson ran a very good school system. She worked very closely with her principals, with the teachers, with the staff of the school system, with the parents. She was all over that school system every day and worked hared to make sure that doe was progressing under her leadership."
Guthertz says nelson became a mentor to her after the two sat on the elected school board together with the late Ione Wolf, adding, "She taught me a lot about education, about people and being able to work with people. And help people."
Nelson was passionate about helping others and once committed to something, she didn't back down and never gave up. That was evident in her thirteen-year fight for retirees in the cost of living allowance class action lawsuit that garnered her the nickname "Lola Cola". Her service to the community continued with Nelson's voice on the Consolidated Commission on Utilities.
Guthertz called her the voice of reason on the CCU, fighting for the disadvantaged and common people. "She will continue to inspire," she said. "People will read about her in our history books."
Nelson will also be remembered for her numerous contributions to the Democratic Party of Guam. Despite her illness, Nelson would still pick up the phone and seek support and offer words of encouragement. Executive director Carlo Branch says Nelson's life was the picture of what it means to be a Democrat, telling KUAM News, "She fought for people who had no voice. She lived a lot of her life for the community and she continued to give of herself even she didn't have much to give."
Branch added, "She never lost sight of her students. She never lost of the retirees. She never lost sight of the people struggling just to make it through the day and that was the heart that she brought to the party and we're going to struggle without her."
Whether it was feeding the hungry, providing shelter for the homeless, teaching children, fighting for cola, mentoring hundreds, or organizing a political rally, "Auntie Lola", as she was fondly known, did it with all her heart. "Mrs. Nelson was out there," said Guthertz. "Even if you didn't see her, she was out there. Her voice was there. Her efforts were there."
Her great legacy is carried on in her family. She is survived by her husband, former senator Ted Nelson and their children and grandchildren. Rosaries and mass are being held nightly in her memory at the Agana Cathedral beginning at 6pm.
Following the general election, the Democratic Party of Guam is expected to hold formal elections for the chair and vice chair positions.