It is with a heavy heart that the Cato College of Education announces the passing of Dr. Theresa Perez, Professor Emerita, Department of Middle, Secondary, and K-12 Education. Dr. Perez dedicated 14 years to UNC Charlotte, where she established the Teaching English as a Second Language program and served as a tireless advocate for educational equity.
Theresa Perez lived her life out loud. She was beloved and strong, an uncompromising advocate for the people she adored and the ideals she stood for. The first word of Theresa’s obituary is Mother, and she embraced those characteristics with all of us---protective, tenacious, formidable, a teacher who loved deeply, a force to be respected. She was our mentor, our friend, a visionary and activist who drove our work forward in challenging and effective ways. She impacted our lives with her passion, her encouragement, her solid and unrelenting mission to make life a better place for everyone she knew and loved. We are proud to have shared her journey, and we carry her with us in our own.
- Dr. Lan Kolano and Dr. Jeanneine Jones, professors in the UNC Charlotte Department of Middle, Secondary and K-12 Education
Dr. Theresa Perez, mother, trailblazer, iconic educator, and community activist has died at the age of 85. The cause of her death was ALS. Dr. Perez died at her home in Fresno. She fought a fearless battle with courage and grace against ALS, one that could only be rivaled by her sheer will to transform the educational system so all children could have equal access to education.
In 1975, Dr. Perez was the first Latina to run for the Fresno County Board of Supervisors. Although she was unsuccessful in this bid, the following year she embarked on a journey that would change the direction of her life. At age 43, after having seven children, she took a two year leave from teaching in the La Raza Studies Program at CSUF, when she moved to Stanford University with her three youngest children to obtain her Ph.D in Curriculum and Teacher Education. In 1980, upon completion of her doctoral program, she returned to Fresno to serve her community as a Professor at CSUF and a community activist until 1998 when she was invited to teach at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte (UNCC). At UNCC, she continued to focus on issues of gender and equity in the classroom. After 14 extraordinary years in Charlotte, N.C. the disease brought Dr. Perez home to Fresno. Theresa was a mentor to countless students, teachers, and professionals. She was always willing to give of her time and counsel to students and community activists alike. She will be remembered most for opening the door to education for future generations and sacrificing for the benefit of her community. Dr. Perez was born in San Jose, California, where her mother was a migrant farm worker and her father was in the US Navy. She was raised by her mother and grandparents in California migrant farm-worker camps until age five when her family finally settled in Fresno, California. Living in the labor camps exposed her to many different cultures and experiences that served to forge her indomitable spirit to fight against social injustice, to develop her vision of inclusion and tolerance, and a life of service to others. Dr. Perez was educated at Saint Alphonsus Catholic School and graduated from San Joaquin Memorial High School, where even at a young age she demonstrated leadership, becoming captain of many athletic teams and President of the Girl's Athletic Association. It was also during these early years in her educational experience as a bilingual speaker, she acquired the resiliency that would help her navigate through diverse and challenging experiences to advocate for the needs of others from migrant and dual language backgrounds.