Gloria Molina, a trailblazing politician who made history as the first Latina elected to the state Assembly, the Los Angeles City Council and the county Board of Supervisors, said Tuesday that she has terminal cancer.
In a Facebook post, Molina, 74, wrote that the cancer, which she said she has been living with for three years, is “very aggressive.” She said she is being treated at City of Hope, a cancer center, and said she feels lucky to have lived a “long, fulfilling, beautiful life.”
“I am truly grateful for everyone in my life and proud of my family, career, my people, and the work we did on behalf of our community,” Molina wrote in the post, adding that she has a daughter and a grandson. with another on the way. “I have an amazing, loving family, wonderful friends, and worked with committed colleagues and a loyal team.”
Molina spent 23 years on the Board of Supervisors, where he represented District 1 from 1991 to 2014. The district stretched from Koreatown, Pico-Union and East Los Angeles to East Pomona and included much of the San Gabriel Valley. .
Molina’s friends and former colleagues called her a fighter, determined to attract more people who looked like her to the white, male-dominated rooms of California politics.
“Gloria is a pioneer,” she said. Antonia Hernandez, the longtime president of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund. “Gloria was one of the first women to open doors for many other Latina women, not only in Los Angeles, but also in California.”
Hernández, who met Molina in 1974 as a young lawyer, said Molina repeatedly urged Latinas to work at all levels of government. She said Molina was the one who urged her to go to Washington, DC, and work for Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Massachusetts).
“She was always calling. She always said that there was an opportunity here,” Hernández recalled Tuesday. “She really encouraged a lot of people to go into public service and politics.”
Miguel Santana, executive director of the Weingart Foundation, said Molina inspired him when he was in high school and he worked for her for 13 years when she was a supervisor. He said Molina, whom he now counts as a close friend and mentor, always stood out on the board as a tireless advocate for women and Latinas.
“She was always an activist in her way of governing,” Santana recalled. “She was willing to take on any just cause.”
Molina began her political life in the 1970s as an activist in the Chicano movement and an advocate for Mexican-American women who were sterilized against their will at USC-Los Angeles County Medical Center. Years later, she fought for the hospital’s replacement after an earthquake, accusing the white supervisors of racism after they said they wanted to see it rebuilt with a smaller footprint.
“It’s sad for me, as someone who loves her and knows her, to know that she’s making a transition in her life,” Santana said. “But I also know that she is incredibly grateful to have had the opportunity to fight on behalf of her community.”
His colleagues said he left an indelible mark on Los Angeles County, particularly East Los Angeles. As a state legislator, Molina was known for mobilizing her constituents to prevent a state prison from opening in a predominantly Latino part of her district that had been hit by highways and other unwanted projects.
She is also recognized as a major force behind the creation of Grand Park, which stretches three blocks between City Hall and the Music Center.
Molina lobbied city and county officials to create a new park in downtown Los Angeles as part of the Grand Avenue redevelopment project, which brought two skyscrapers to a site across from Walt Disney Concert Hall. He also made sure that Grand Park was built before the towers were built.
Supervisor Hilda Solis, who replaced Molina on the board, said she would file a motion next week to name Grand Park after Molina.
“Watching her break through these glass ceilings inspired me,” Solis, who was the first Latina elected to the state Senate, said in a statement. “I remember dreaming of one day serving our community just like she did, with passion.”
Near the end of his term on the Board of Supervisors, he urged voters to defeat Sheriff Lee Baca, who was running for a fifth term at the time, saying he had presided over “an extraordinary cascade of scandals that have exposed the dismal state of the department and the prisons it directs.”
A year later, he launched his own campaign to return to the Municipal Council, but was defeated by then-councilman José Huizar.
Times Staff Writer David Zahniser contributed to this report.