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Friends mourn retired Johnston health educator

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CLAYTON — She had a contagious smile and a faith-driven passion for helping others, especially the neediest Johnstonians.

That’s how friends described Cynthia Toudle, a retired health educator who died March 13 from cancer.

Among those friends was a former coworker, Dr. Marilyn Pearson, director of the Johnston County Public Health Department. After Toudle retired from the Health Department in 2010, she became a regular at book club meetings that Pearson hosted.

“We have actually been meeting for over 20 years now, so she and I were very good friends,” Pearson said.

Pearson, who called Toudle more of a sister than a friend, said the health educator helped her reach communities that often get left out.

“She helped expand my reach to those in the community who didn’t come to the health department or come to the events that we had or festivals,” Pearson said. “She has a long background in doing education and working in the community and building relationships with those in the community.”

Toudle was also good at giving advice, though always lovingly, Pearson said. “She was always the one that would give great advice,” Pearson said. “She could be very tactful and tell you what she thought would be the right thing, not just what everybody wanted to hear.”

Because Toudle died during a pandemic, friends were not able to say their goodbyes properly. Pearson said her good friend would have been right at home in helping guide the Health Department through the current crisis.

“This would’ve been perfect for Cynthia,” Pearson said. “She would’ve been the one getting information to the community, the one making connections, the one doing the things we need here as public health. With this pandemic, we’re seeing that it’s affecting those who are in minority communities more, and that was a passion of Cynthia’s.

“I miss her dearly,” Pearson added. “It’s been hard for me.”

Another former coworker fought back tears as she shared how Toudle affected her life. “She became more like a mother figure for me, and I think it’s really important to say that,” said Jaime Pearce, now a corporate health consultant for Johnston Health’s Wellness Program.

“I met Cynthia in 2002 during a job interview, and she actually interviewed me for my first public health job,” Pearce said.

They became close, Pearce said. “When you do health education and when you’re working in close quarters, you get to know your team,” she said. “Those you work with become some of your work family.”

“Cynthia, she made you laugh, and she made you feel loved,” Pearce added. “To us, it is a tragedy, and it’s been a tremendous loss, and we miss her dearly.”

While she mourns Toudle’s passing, Pearce knows that death was not the end for Toudle. “There’s no doubt that she’s just rejoicing and is so happy because she was such a God-loving woman,” Pearce said.

Toudle enjoyed sharing her faith and helping others grow spiritually, Pearce said. “Her ability to share her faith with others, it was like no other,” Pearce said. “She passed that along to me, and she helped me to grow spiritually and help me in my walk with Christ.”

After Toudle retired, she continued during the work she started at the Health Department, Pearce said. “We don’t know why she retired, because she was still doing the same job she had always done; she just wasn’t getting the paycheck for it,” Pearce said. “She was just a community advocate and a health care advocate that continued to help people long after her professional job ended. She continued just to push forward and work.”

Pearson said what Toudle did was much more than a job. “It was a passion,” she said. “She really cared about people and the community. And I think that’s what was important to her.”