Alice Paul dies; top educator, first O'odham Ph.D.

May 4, 2005
By Lourdes Medrano

Alice Paul, a prominent educator and the first Tohono O'odham to receive a doctorate degree, died early Tuesday after a long battle with liver disease. She was 74.

One of eight children in a humble family, Paul earned a degree in elementary education from the University of Arizona in 1978. She then rose through the ranks of the academic world to become a nationally recognized authority on early childhood education.
Tribal Chairwoman Vivian Juan-Saunders said Paul's educational achievements greatly benefited the tribe because she became a strong advocate for the education of young Tohono O'odham.
"She was very influential in quality education and culturally relevant education for tribal members," she said.
Those who knew Paul said she touched many lives through her volunteer work with countless community organizations on and off the reservation.
As a founding board member of the Tohono O'odham Community College, she had worked since 1998 to build the reservation's first institution of higher learning. Most recently, she had acted as board chairwoman.
"We're going to miss her - what a great contributor to the college," said Robert Martin, its president. "She was very committed to education."
Paul was instrumental in securing accreditation for the college and $6 million in federal funding that will help build permanent campuses on the reservation, Martin said. Students have attended classes in modular buildings since early 2000.
The Rev. John Fife said Paul was a respected member of the Southside Presbyterian Church, which she had attended since she was a child living across the street.
"Alice was the matriarch and wisdom keeper of this congregation," Fife said. "She also cared deeply about the schools on the South and Southwest side of Tucson.
"She was an extraordinary woman."
In addition to receiving a bachelor's, a master's and a doctoral degree in education from the UA over three decades, Paul also raised four children - three girls and a boy.
Debbie Bergman, Paul's oldest daughter, said her mother had a compassionate heart.
"Our house was always full of people - people who didn't have as much as we have," she said.
Bergman said even though her mother grew up outside of the reservation on Tucson's South Side, she never lost her cultural ties to the Tohono O'odham Nation.
After a couple of years attending the UA , Bergman said, her mother could no longer afford it and dropped out to join the U.S. Navy. The former Alice Narcho ended up in California, where she met Richard Lee Paul, her future German-Irish husband.
Upon their return to Tucson, Bergman said, her parents were forced to marry in New Mexico because Arizona then banned interracial marriages. Nonetheless, they still celebrated a church wedding in her hometown.
Paul eventually resumed her studies at the UA on the GI Bill. After graduating, she spent 10 years teaching in Tucson public schools, and worked for the university for another 30.
Among her various teaching and administrative positions at the UA, she also was the head of the department of teaching and teacher education, and worked as an assistant professor and a program director. Much of her published work focused on the education of Indian students.
Paul received several recognition awards, including one from the Tucson Association for the Education of Young Children in 1990, and another from the Tohono O'odham Nation in 1987.
"She was just a great leader, in church and everywhere else," said a longtime friend, Maria Overdorff. "She always had time for everybody.
"We're all going to miss her a lot."
In addition to Bergman, Paul is survived by her two other daughters, Kathy and Lisa Paul; a son, Bert Paul, all of Tucson; a sister, Lenora Jones; a brother, Herman Narcho; nine grandchildren and a great-grandchild.
A visitation for Paul will be held from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. Friday at the Southside Presbyterian Church, 317 W. 23rd St. A funeral service will follow Saturday at 2 p.m.
In lieu of flowers, the family asks that donations be made to the Dr. Alice Paul Memorial Scholarship Fund in care of the Tohono O'odham Community College, Office of the President, P.O. Box 3129, Sells, 85634.
The family said the scholarship money will be used to train future teachers.
● Contact Lourdes Medrano at 573-4347 or