In Memoriam: Former CFT President Raoul Teilhet

It is with deep sorrow that the California Federation of Teachers announces the passing of former CFT president Raoul Teilhet. 

Raoul Teilhet, a Pasadena high school history teacher who believed collective bargaining offered the path to dignity and respect for public school employees before laws existed allowing it, and served as president of the California Federation of Teachers in successful pursuit of that goal, died of complications from Parkinson’s Disease on June 5 in Los Angeles.  He was 79. 

Governor Edmund G. Brown Jr. said

Raoul Teilhet was a creative leader. I had the pleasure of spending many long evenings with him solving education problems and discussing how we could make California and its schools better for everyone. I’ll miss him.

When Teilhet began teaching in the late 1950s, he said he “didn’t have the least intention of organizing a union, or becoming a member of one.”  He would later joke that he “thought that AFT was the other end of a boat.” 

But when an American Federation of Teachers organizer called a meeting in 1960 in a nearby town, Teihet was one of a handful of teachers who signed the charter founding the Pasadena Federation of Teachers, and he agreed to serve as its first treasurer.  Within a few years he was elected local president, then a member of the statewide CFT Executive Council, and CFT president in 1967.  Teilhet spoke out loudly and early against the Vietnam War when few labor leaders were willing to do so.  Likewise, when State Senator John Briggs placed a measure on the state ballot that would have banned gay teachers from California classrooms, Teilhet debated him across the state and helped turn the tide against the Briggs Initiative. 

Under Teilhet's leadership, CFT grew from 6,000 members to nearly 40,000 by the time he stepped down in 1985.  And his forceful advocacy was one of the main reasons why the California state legislature passed, and Governor Jerry Brown signed, the Educational Employment Relations Act in 1975, legalizing collective bargaining in California public education. 

Teilhet is survived by his wife, Carol Rosenzweig Teilhet. For a complete obituary, photographs, video clip, and more information, www.cft.org.