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Cary Toland: Unsung Hero

Note from Lurleen: There are so many unsung heros like Cary in our LGBT community, and unfortunately they do go largely unrecognized until they've passed.  Tell us about the unsung heroes present in your community.

On Monday, the LGBT and Progressive communities lost a dear friend, Cary Toland. His dedication to the our community was an inspiration to me, and to those who knew and loved him. He was the kind of guy that made you smile just to be around him. I loved talking politics with Cary because he was so engaged. But what I admired most about him was his willingness to walk the walk. Whether it was raining, or cold, or dreary, Cary was out there talking to people. He won hearts and minds not just for the gay community, but for progressives throughout our country.

His close friend Andrew Caldwell told me, “Cary was an inspiring example of a citizen activist who didn't just click and complain, but always showed up to demonstrate, register voters, canvass and phone-bank for initiatives and candidates–all with a pragmatism paired with his progressive idealism–with tangible results. People like Cary are why we kept our pro-LGBT Senator Patty Murray in office this year.”

Senator Patty Murray certainly does have Cary to thank for her recent narrow victory because Toland was out there every weekend this year talking to people.

The volunteer work I had the pleasure of seeing first hand often goes unthanked, but it is the kind of work that brings us closer to equality every single day. State Senator Ed Murray said it best, “We have lost one of those unsung Heroes, whose hard work, while seldom seen, made equality a reality for so many,” he said, “I will miss talking with Carey at events, he was always so warm, relaxed and interested in those around him. Our thoughts are with his friends and family.”

I don't think I ever saw Cary without Josh Castle near by. Josh is the only person I know who could actually get me to knock on a stranger's door. He and Cary were a dynamic force. I know that like so many of Cary's close friends, this loss is deeply felt. I asked Josh if he could share some thoughts with me.

He wrote:

Cary Toland was many things. A good friend, always reliable and ready to lend a hand, give advice, and make you feel warm and welcome. A political sparring partner, ready for a spirited discussion or debate, leaving everyone in the dust with his knowledge of history, his witty humor, his compassion for the human condition, and his expansive take on life. And as a hero, organizer, and activist for LGBT equality and the election of progressive candidates for office. His passion for life, way with words, never ending wit, and generosity of spirit defines his soul.

Cary left us too soon but his spirit lives on with the thousands of lives he touched personally and the millions of lives made better through his organizing and activism. Once we're past the tears, knowing Cary, he would tell all of us to quit moping around and to get back to work fighting for equality, justice, and fairness. We love you Cary and will miss you sorely.


There are hundreds of people who could add to the story that was Cary's life. Some of those can be seen on his Facebook page which quickly became a memorial as word of his sudden heart attack spread.

We will continue to be inspired by Cary throughout our lives.  One way we can honor his life will be to learn from his courage. He taught us not to be afraid to knock on a stranger's door to say, “Hi. I'm here to talk to you today about something important. Do you have a few minutes?”

But perhaps most importantly Cary reminds us to have hope. He wrote the day after the last election, “The crystal clear image of Mt. Rainier this morning, against the backdrop of a golden sunrise was truly inspiring and fills me with hope, in spite of yesterday's disappointments. There's so much in life that is worth living and fighting for.”

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