Alista “Cozzie” Watkins, a local Democratic activist and party volunteer, died Thursday at Atrium Health’s Mercy Hospital, according to party officials. She was 71.
At the time of her death, Watkins served as the party’s chair for the 12th Congressional District, which includes much of Mecklenburg County.
A nurse by profession, Watkins “dedicated her life to caring for others,” U.S. Rep. Alma Adams, who represents the 12th district, said in a statement.
Adams, a Democrat, called Watkins “a dear friend whom I admired, respected and learned from.”
“As a Democratic volunteer, party chair, convention delegate, and activist, she was dedicated to bettering the lives of her neighbors and working for equity and justice,” Adams said.
The Political Black Caucus of Charlotte-Mecklenburg remembered Watkins as a political force who “never minced words.”
“To say the least, Cozzie showed up and showed out for our community time and time again,” the caucus said in a statement.
As a delegate to the Democratic National Convention in 2020, Watkins stood in front of a sign in Charlotte’s Hidden Valley neighborhood and delivered a video message casting 39 delegate votes for Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders and 93 votes for future-President Joe Biden.
“I have been doing this for a long time, so let me just be plain,” Watkins said in the video. “Black people, especially Black women, are the backbone of the party, and if we don’t show up, Democrats don’t get elected.”
She died surrounded by family and friends, according to the Mecklenburg County Democratic Party, which did not reference a cause of death.
Watkins is survived by her son, Adjon-Alber Watkins, 36.
Born in 1951 in North Wilkesboro, N.C., Alista Watkins grew up an only child with the help of her grandmother and uncles. Her mother was Mae Kathryn Watkins.
She attended one of the first integrated schools in North Wilkesboro and graduated from Campbell University with an undergraduate degree in nursing. She later earned a master’s degree in business from The Univeristy of Phoniex.
Watkins’ son said his mother felt nursing was her life’s calling.
“She’s always wanted to be a healer, and my mom, in every aspect of her life, has done some form of healing,” he said. “It started medically, then it went to professionally and personally to politically.”
Watkins said his mother married and divorced before he was born.
She became involved in politics through a random encounter with someone running for office, he said. She later began working on various political campaigns.
Watkins was especially passionate about voting rights, education and healthcare for black residents. She moved to Charlotte at some point after college, he said.
“My mom was and is a champion for the people,” Watkins said. “She was really richly invested in the community itself.”
QCity Metro staff writer Daija Peeler contributed to this article.