Marie Jaquelin Watters Colton, 95, local community, state, and national civic leader, legislator, international diplomat, wife, mother, friend, and mentor to many all over the world, died peacefully Tuesday, September 25, at home in Asheville, NC, at Deerfield Episcopal Retirement Community.
She was born October 20, 1922, in Charlotte, NC. Although she later traveled extensively abroad, she lived all her life in North Carolina cities/towns/farms, except during World War II years. Then she served as a code-breaker/translator with the U.S. Army Signal Corps in VA/ Washington DC, and later, upon her marriage to Henry Elliott Colton, Ensign, later Lieutenant, US Navy Air Corps, lived on U.S. Naval bases in Florida, Virginia, Iowa, and Texas.
Marie Colton, first elected to the NC House of Representatives in 1978, was later elected the first female Speaker Pro Tempore in the North Carolina General Assembly in 1991. She served as an NC delegate to the national Democratic Convention in New York City in 1992. During her 16-consecutive-years’ tenure, she worked to promote women’s and children’s issues, health, education, the environment, conservation, historic preservation, arts, tourism, tax reform, and many other initiatives. She was instrumental in helping bring the North Carolina Arboretum to Western North Carolina, and she sponsored legislation to make midwifery and also alternative medical treatments, including acupuncture, legal in the state.
After her retirement from the NC General Assembly, Marie Colton served on the National Governing Board of Common Cause. She was appointed by the White House and State Department to serve at a session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women in New York City, and also as a US Observer to the 1994 session of UNESCO in Paris, France. The State Department also sent her as Representative/Speaker at the 50th Anniversary of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico. Later, she gave talks and training on women’s political participation at various American embassies, including in Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and Algeria.
Marie Colton’s lifelong interest and skills in both diplomacy and learning foreign languages were important aspects of her life. In her hometown of Asheville (since 1953), she helped start Friendship Force and served as its first local president, hosting foreign visitors and traveling to many countries. Her family hosted an American Field Service exchange student from Brazil. Prior to her marriage and immediately upon graduation from the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill in December 1942 (class of ’43), where she had majored in Romance Languages, she served as a code-breaker with the U.S. Army Signal Corps at its Arlington Hall facility, now site of National Foreign Affairs Training Center/Foreign Studies Institute (including languages). Always a natural linguist, she loved languages, etymology, and recited poetry in her native English and other languages. Throughout her life, she continued to practice languages she had already studied-Spanish, French, Portuguese, Italian, German (also Latin and ancient Greek), and worked to learn other languages, including Arabic and Cherokee.
Marie Colton spent the years raising her and her husband’s four children working at home as wife, mother, cook, clothes-maker, and involved with PTA and League of Women Voters activities. She always loved swimming, tennis, walking, horseback-riding, playing bridge, dancing, singing, and practicing Yoga. She was an artist, a decorator, and a musician. Once all the children had graduated from college, Marie returned to school for a music degree at Mars Hill College (now University). Her first run for public office in 1976 was not successful, but she dared to run again in 1978 and was elected as an early female legislator in the North Carolina House, serving eight terms until retirement in 1994.
Her accomplishments were plentiful and continued well past her years in elected office. Highlights included receiving two major awards this year: a 2018 Service Award of The Martin Luther King, Jr., Association of Asheville + Buncombe County presented to her on the MLK national holiday in January; and The Order of the Long Leaf Pine, among the highest awards in North Carolina, presented to her by Governor Roy Cooper in April.
Previous honors included a Keep America Beautiful National Award; UNC-Chapel Hill’s Distinguished Alumna in Government; induction into N.C. Women’s Hall of Fame in 2009; an Asheville Living Treasure in 2011; a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Preservation Society of Asheville + Buncombe County in 2014; named a Woman of Influence who shaped WNC by the Asheville Citizen-Times in 2016; honorary membership in UNC’s Order of the Golden Fleece; and also for her legislative work, major awards from others such as Blue Ridge Parkway and Great Smoky Mountains associations, the NC+National Wildlife Federations, and Sierra Club.
Marie Colton also served on boards of Flat Rock Playhouse, Brevard Music Center, Western North Carolina Tomorrow, Board of Visitors of UNC at Chapel Hill, North Carolina World Trade Association, North Carolina Institute of Medicine, Vestry of Trinity Episcopal Church, Kanuga, Children’s Welfare League, and YWCA. In addition to her undergraduate degree at UNC-CH and later at MHU, she was educated in North Carolina public schools, attended St. Mary’s Junior College in Raleigh (later awarded an Honorary degree), and was a member of Chi Omega Sorority at UNC-Chapel Hill.
Marie Jaquelin Watters Colton was the daughter of John Piper Watters and Sarah (Sadie) Prince Thomas Watters. Her brother, Dr. John Lord Watters, died in 2006. Her husband, Henry Elliott Colton, died in 2011 at the age of 90. They were married 75 years ago.
Marie Colton is survived by her four children: Elizabeth Overton Colton, PhD, Asheville, NC, and Washington, DC; Marie Jaquelin Colton Woodard (married to David Woodard), Asheville, NC; Sarah Prince Colton (married to Pierre Villeminot), Paris, France; and Walter Stokes Colton, Brasilia, Brazil, and Wilmington, NC. She is also survived by seven grandchildren: Laird Pelzer Green (married to Dominic Green), Jaquelin Pelzer, Elisabeth Villeminot-Vezan (married to Peter Vezan), Catherine Villeminot, Florence Villeminot, Henry Colton, and Stokes Colton; and two great-grandchildren Colton Pelzer Kelischek and Pierre-Louis Villeminot-Vezan.
A funeral service will be held at Trinity Episcopal Church in Asheville on Saturday, October 6, at 1 p.m. Visitation will be held at Groce Funeral Home at Lake Julian on Long Shoals Road on Friday, October 5, 5-7 p.m. A memorial service will also be held later at Deerfield’s Healthcare Chapel on Saturday, October 13, at 3 p.m.
In lieu of flowers, the family asks that any memorial contributions be made to support work of the following organizations. Clicking on each name will link you directly to that organization's site: NC Arboretum
, Kanuga Episcopal Conference Center
, Martin Luther King, Jr. Association of Asheville and Buncombe County
, Children’s Welfare League
, Deerfield’s Danny Boone Scholarship or Staff Appreciation Funds
, Trinity Episcopal Church’s General Mission or Trinity’s Music Program
, The University of North Carolina at Asheville
, Blue Ridge Public Radio (WCQS)
, Common Cause
, Southern Historical Collection-UNC-Chapel Hill
; or any other such organizations of one’s choice. Marie Colton happily supported a wide variety of many such civic endeavors through her lifetime work.
Groce Funeral Home at Lake Julian is assisting the family.
Please follow the links below to watch and read more about Mrs. Colton:
AP: Former North Carolina legislative leader Colton dies at 95
Asheville Citizen-Times: Colton was a pioneering legislator and a force to be reckoned with in Raleigh
Los Angeles Times
Raleigh News & Observer
WLOS: Asheville woman who blazed the political trail in Raleigh has died
WLOS: NC lawmaker Marie Colton dies at 96