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Originally published January 5, 2010 at 7:43 PM | Page modified January 6, 2010 at 1:46 PM

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Obit: Theresa Marie Gandhi, activist with social, environmental agenda

Theresa Marie Gandhi, a Washington state environmental activist and poet who married into the family of Indian political leader Mahatma Gandhi, died Sunday.

Seattle Times staff reporter

Although Theresa Marie Gandhi, a follower of Mother Teresa who married into the family of Mahatma Gandhi, did not gain the fame of those world leaders, she made a large impact on environmental and social issues in Washington state.

She campaigned for environmental causes on Whidbey Island and Puget Sound, walked across the country in support of world peace, crafted a "Bill of Rights for Planet Earth" and wrote seven volumes of poetry.

Ms. Gandhi died of liver failure in her Island County home in Clinton Sunday evening. She was 63.

As part of her focus on preserving wildlife and the environment, Ms. Gandhi fought against the use of herbicides on roads on Whidbey Island and Navy training off Washington's coast. She gained notoriety for her wit and dramatic ways of expressing her point, family friend Debra Malmos said.

"She would show up to city-council meetings in a gas mask and an orange vest and orange pants and orange shoes," said Malmos, of Everett, who met Ms. Gandhi in 1998. "She knew how to make a public spectacle and she liked doing that."

Born in Coulee Dam, Okanogan County, in 1946, Ms. Gandhi studied religion at the University of Washington and The Evergreen State College. Her first foray into environmental and political issues came in a 1979 campaign to defeat Gov. Dixy Lee Ray after the governor announced her support for the installation of the proposed Northern Tier Oil Pipeline in Puget Sound.

Ms. Gandhi would come to be feared politically on Whidbey Island, said her son, 43-year-old David Miles, of Clinton.

"They referred to her as the little lady with the knitting needles," Miles said. "Because if she didn't like your political agenda, she would come and hang out on your doorstep with a couple knitting needles and a couple thousand petition signatures."

In 1984, she married Yogesh Gandhi, great-grand-nephew of the famous political leader, a year after meeting him in Los Angeles. The couple walked across the United States and met with President Reagan and other leaders. Ms. Gandhi became heavily involved in the Gandhi Foundation, which advocates Gandhian social values.

Ms. Gandhi was also known for her poetry and spirituality. She served as a pastor in the Universal Church of the Master, which emphasizes individual spirituality. In her last weeks, she focused on her "Bill of Rights for Planet Earth," a social contract centered on how to take care of the planet.

"Pretty much everything that Al Gore got a Nobel Peace Prize for, she's been saying that stuff since I was 4 years old," Miles said. "She had an amazing ability to see the possibility of tragedy and the possibility of serenity and know how to get from one to the other. She was an amazing woman."

Outside of her work, she enjoyed mystery novels, ice cream and playing with her poodle, Shaktipaw, Miles said.

Besides her son, Ms. Gandhi is survived by daughter Colleen Lehmkuhl, of Wallington, Wyo.; mother M. Dolores Fitzgerald, of Port Orchard; stepmother Mary Duncan, of Kirkland; siblings Maureen Fitzgerald, of Olympia, Michele Simpson, of Port Orchard, Jamie Fitzgerald, of Driggs, Idaho, Lani Glasser, of Kirkland, Roland Duncan, of Ferndale, Whatcom County, and Linda Dolsted, of Bothell; and four grandchildren.

Friends and family will gather for a small memorial service on Whidbey Island later this week, Malmos said. Her ashes will eventually be scattered in the waters of Puget Sound's Manchester Bay in Kitsap County.

Brian Rosenthal: 206-464-2311 or

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