The content woman at a dainty dining table on a peaceful lawn with a cigarette in her clasped hands couldn’t look more out of place. The ad slogan, in bold black type, commanded: “Spoil yourself with Satin.”
The billboard, right across the street from Margaret Cuesta’s school, Coral Terrace Elementary on Southwest 24th Street in Miami, spoiled her day. As principal, mother, and as a widow whose husband died from lung cancer, Cuesta was having none of this “spoil yourself” jazz.
“It creates a psychological attitude that we shouldn’t instill in children,” she said in a 1983 Miami Herald story. “It’s unconscionable.”
Cuesta, who died Dec. 23 at 83, fought the tobacco company over the “immoral sign.” She won. The billboard ad was moved to Broward County.
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The victory was one of many for a woman who held numerous roles with Miami-Dade County Public Schools: administrative assistant, supervisor, assistant principal and principal at Coral Terrace from 1979 to 1984, South Hialeah Elementary from 1990 to 1992 and Fairlawn Elementary from 1992 to 1997.
“She was a spunky lady,” recalls friend Gemma Carrillo, educational specialist in the public relations office of Miami-Dade County Public Schools. “My mother worked for her, and [Margaret] was such a great woman. She could see the quality of people immediately. Years after she retired, every time she would come to Miami, she would stay with my parents because my mom really loved her.”
Cuesta was born in New York City on July 29, 1931, moved to Tampa at 7, and when she married Oscar Cuesta the couple moved to Miami in the 1950s and raised two daughters. The University of Florida graduate earned her master’s at the University of Miami.
Widowed after 20 years of marriage, Cuesta, who, since 1953, had taught at Kinloch Park Elementary, Citrus Grove Middle and Kenwood Elementary, fixed her sights on Miami-Dade County Public Schools and worked in and out of classrooms until 1997.
“She was in charge of public records requests when they were invented,” Carrillo said, adding that Cuesta seemingly did everything in the office as an administrator in the late 1980s.
As a supervisor for the district's Citizen's Information Office, Cuesta kept her eye to the community. When producers and the cast of Police Academy V: Assignment Miami Beach descended on the city in 1987, Cuesta championed the use of the boarded-up South Beach Elementary as the fictional headquarters for the cast of bumbling cops. No money changed hands between Hollywood and the school system for use of the faded building on Fourth Street between Alton Road and Lenox Avenue.
No matter, Cuesta said in a September 1987 Miami Herald article. “It’s a community eyesore. We get vagrants that go in there. While the film crew is there, they provide security, so it really is better for the community.”
When her administrative job was eliminated in 1990 to save costs, the school system returned Cuesta to principal. “I've been out of it for a little while. But I haven't forgotten it. I'm sure it will come back fast,” she said.
“She was all about love and all about giving people an opportunity to be the best they could be. My mom was an uplifter,” said daughter Marcia Locke, a lawyer. “I think she got that love from my grandmother. Her mother was a loving, caring person. My grandmother saw a child in the newspaper who got in an accident or sick and she’d send a card or a gift. She was Miss Cuba in 1930 and my mother would say it’s more important to be beautiful inside than outside.
“She would help you find yourself and let you be yourself,” Locke said. “She gave us a lot of self-confidence.”
Cuesta is survived by her daughters Marcia Locke and Eleanor Almand, their husbands John and Jeff, and granddaughter Taylor Lynn Almand. Services will be at 11 a.m. Saturdayat Van Dyke Church, 17030 Lakeshore Dr., Lutz (Tampa), Fla. followed by a celebration of life at Cheval Golf and Athletic Club, 4310 Cheval Blvd., Lutz.
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