Positively Carla: Birthday party celebrates councilwoman’s life, spark

The Colorado Statesman

Paul Weiss looked up from the throngs of celebrants that surrounded him on the west side of the Denver Museum of Science and Nature last Saturday. “The forecast said it would rain,” he said, with a gleam in his eye and a note of astonishment in his voice, “but look at this!”

Kevin Scott, special events liaison to Denver’s Office of Cultural Affairs, sports a photograph of Carla Madison on his jacket during a birthday party Saturday for the late Denver city Councilwoman.
Photo by John Schoenwalter/The Colorado Statesman
Local artists Jennifer Mosquera, Eric Matelski and Eric Jaenike created this chalk tribute to Madison.
Photo by John Schoenwalter/The Colorado Statesman
Gov. John Hickenlooper joins other visitors to a celebration of Carla Madison’s life outside the Denver Museum of Nature and Science. Hickenlooper wears a burgundy jacket over a colorful sweater handknit by his wife, Helen Thorpe, above plaid pants made by his mother — “authentic” garb Madison would appreciate.
Photo by John Schoenwalter/The Colorado Statesman
Kids play around the bubble machine set up near the museum as their parents participate in the ceremonies nearby. This treat has been a regular at Carla Madison’s annual Ice Cream Socials, an event that will take place this year on June 3 at the Pavilion in City Park.
Photo by John Schoenwalter/The Colorado Statesman
Parked by the museum during the event, Carla Madison’s trademark orange and white scooter displayed with a hat and a scarf that she wore offers a reminder of the well-loved city councilwoman of District 8.
Photo by John Schoenwalter/The Colorado Statesman
Allen Guss displays row after row of cupcakes he helped bake at the picnic honoring the late Carla Madison.
Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman
Chanteuse Lannie Garrett, left, visits with U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette. Earlier, Garrett sang and DeGette shared memories of Madison during a program inside the museum.
Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman
Councilman Paul Lopez, right, shares memories with Madison’s husband, Paul Weiss, at a party on her 55th birthday.
Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman
Denver Mayor Bill Vidal, left, visits with former state Sen. Chris Romer, who is running for Vidal’s job.
Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman
Karen Gerwitz, left, and Marnie Ward sport flamboyant hats and festive wear at the Madison tribute.
Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman
Councilman and mayor candidate Doug Linkhart carries a balloon monkey and wears an orange scarf in Madison’s honor.
Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman
Balloon monkeys adorn the Museum of Nature and Science during a celebration of the late Councilwoman Carla Madison’s 55th birthday on April 23 in Denver.
Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman

Weiss cast his gaze over the party — as many as a thousand smiling people under a bright spring sky, rejoicing on the birthday of Councilwoman Carla Madison, his wife, who died earlier this month — and smiled.

Known for her flamboyant style and bright orange hair — often topped with an outrageous hat — Madison was nearing the end of her first term representing north-central Denver’s District 8, when she succumbed after a battle with colon cancer. She died the night of April 5 at her home, surrounded by family, and would have turned 55 on April 23.

The afternoon party, thrown by Weiss with assistance from community organizations, businesses and friends from throughout her district, embodied the free-wheeling spirit Madison brought to public service. Brightly hued balloon monkeys adorned the museum halls where hundreds gathered for a tribute to Madison featuring song, dance, photographs and memories. Outside, an oversized chalk drawing on the sidewalk pictured Madison, a monkey, flowers and a butterfly.

“Carla’s life — from being a hot air balloon pilot, a heli-vac firefighter, masseuse to the stars and intrepid world traveler to her position as a community leader — was filled with the joy of experience, and selfless dedication to service,” Weiss said announcing the party. “Her wish was to be remembered in a joyous occasion among the friends and neighbors she cared about so fiercely and leave you not grieving but inspired to do more than you ever thought possible.”

The afternoon began with Carla’s Ride, a bicycle convoy from Madison’s Five Points city council office to City Park, with the theme “Orange & flair” by organizers to celebrate Madison’s vibrant spirit. “She was a flash of orange, a spark of light and a bright smile wherever she went,” organizers said. It was reminiscent of Madison’s rides around town, sometimes on her own classic cruiser, other times astride an orange scooter. Participants without their own wheels could avail themselves of Denver’s B-Cycle bicycle sharing program — one of Madison’s legacies to the city — free of charge to and from the party.

“Wear something orange,” the invitations read, and nearly everyone obliged, or at least came close with similarly colorful and out-of-the-ordinary garb. Overflow crowds filled the lobby, lined the stairs and spilled out onto the Meadow to hear the program, which included stirring words from Mayor Guillermo “Bill” Vidal, Gov. John Hickenlooper and U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette. Cleo Parker Robinson and dancers with the troupe she founded led the audience in some birthday moves, and singers Lannie Garrett and Hazel Miller lent their pipes to the celebration.

“Smiling, crazy,” Miller said of Madison after bringing the program to a close and tears to the eyes of some in the audience. “Crazy clothes I’d never have the courage to wear. She’s one of those people you can honestly say never saw the color of your skin, she just saw the person smiling at her. She’s wonderful.”

Festivities kept going outside. The crowd feasted on an abundant potluck of food — everything from pizza to cupcakes — provided by dozens of restaurants, caterers and enterprising kitchens. Children chased bubbles and jugglers delighted onlookers.

Many left the party with small bottles of I Love You Lotion, inscribed with this message: “Aspire to do more than you have ever imagined.”

“I sat next to Carla for four years and she was really a bright light for all of us,” said Councilwoman Jeanne Faatz. “We loved her.”

Fellow city council member Paul Lopez agreed. “I love Carla,” he said. “Carla’s legacy is you have to live life the way it should be lived — you can’t worry about everything else, you’ve got to worry about No. 1, and that’s your life. She’s such a great friend and a beautiful person, I loved being around her, we had great times together — I miss her.”

Vidal asked city vehicles to keep their lights on in Madison’s honor on Monday and urged city employees to wear bright colors the same day.

Madison was running unopposed for a second term on city council. Nearly 40 candidates have filed to run as write-in candidates in the May 3 election, including Weiss.

While Madison’s legacy on City Council includes plenty of serious, nuts-and-bolts accomplishments — Hickenlooper credited her with steering the city’s new zoning code into fruition — residents will be able to enjoy another party that bears her stamp next month.

The annual, old-fashioned Ice Cream Social, a tradition started by Madison complete with antique costumes and activities, is set for June 3 at City Park. Her family has asked that memorial contributions be made in Madison’s name to District 8 Senior Events (2713 Welton St., Denver, Co. 80205) so the free festival can continue in her memory.

Later Saturday night, a well-wisher added this message to Madison’s Facebook page: “Happy Birthday. May your soul rest in peace.”

Weiss replied: “Carla Madison Rest In Peace? Not my wife. She is out there looking for adventure!”

Ernest@coloradostatesman.com