By serv­ing oth­ers, these men teach us how to live

Santa Fe New Mexican - - LOCAL & REGION -

Some of the best read­ing in this, or any, news­pa­per comes from perus­ing the obit­u­ar­ies ev­ery morn­ing. As peo­ple age, there’s the peren­nial joke — we read obits to make sure we’re still here — but at any age, the trib­utes to loved ones can of­fer in­sight to lives well lived in ways large and small.

In the past few weeks, Santa Fe and New Mex­ico have lost giants of our com­mu­nity.

Ernie Gon­za­les, noted for his devo­tion to ed­u­ca­tion and mari­achi, fought esophageal can­cer for 3½ years. He died Sept. 17 — a few days short of his 75th birth­day — his fam­ily with him.

Peo­ple knew him from his teach­ing days at Santa Fe Vo-Tech or as prin­ci­pal at Kaune Ele­men­tary School. As an ed­u­ca­tor, he chal­lenged his stu­dents, es­pe­cially when it came to read­ing books — if they read enough, Mr. G would kiss a pig, work on the roof of the school for a day or even shave his head and dye his scalp green. Friends and neigh­bors also re­mem­ber his days in lo­cal bands, in­clud­ing the Rock­ing Aces, and his love of mari­achi mu­sic.

By shar­ing that pas­sion with school­child­ren, Gon­za­les in­tro­duced hun­dreds to the joys of mu­sic-mak­ing while help­ing them re­main in­ter­ested in learn­ing. His legacy is felt across Santa Fe Pub­lic Schools, where the mari­achi pro­grams he founded still at­tract stu­dents, and in the town, where the stu­dents whose lives he touched re­mem­ber him fondly.

Then there is Car­los Brazil Ramirez, who died at 75 in Au­gust of pan­cre­atic can­cer and will be re­mem­bered Fri­day at a fu­neral Mass at the Basil­ica Cathe­dral of St. Fran­cis of As­sisi.

He was a long­time ed­u­ca­tor who went on to earn a bach­e­lor’s, master’s and a Ph.D. in political science — his univer­sity ca­reer started with teach­ing at Moor­park Col­lege in Cal­i­for­nia and ended up with him as pres­i­dent of City Col­lege in San Fran­cisco. He moved to New Mex­ico and be­came ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor at the Univer­sity of New Mex­ico-Los Alamos in 1989 un­til he re­tired. He was pas­sion­ate about the Chi­cano move­ment of the 1960s and a fierce ad­vo­cate for so­cial jus­tice, in­spir­ing his stu­dents to fol­low suit.

His life is a re­minder that what­ever our pro­fes­sion, we also can con­trib­ute in other ways — for Ramirez, that in­cluded de­vel­op­ing con­ser­va­tion projects to bet­ter care for wa­ter, soil, wildlife habi­tat and tim­ber. He planted trees, worked on ranches in Ro­ci­ada and Sparks, N.M., and spent qual­ity time with his fam­ily. He trav­eled, pur­sued fam­ily his­tory, stud­ied his cul­ture and re­mained cu­ri­ous about the world all of his 75 years. The planet was richer for his pres­ence

The same can be said for the im­pact of Ed­ward Baca’s life. Baca died last week at 82 of leukemia. A vet­eran of the Viet­nam con­flict and a re­tired lieu­tenant gen­eral, Baca spent 41 years in the mil­i­tary, ris­ing to the po­si­tion of chief of the Na­tional Guard Bureau at the Pen­tagon. He was the first His­panic to hold the lofty po­si­tion. Baca also spent 12 years as ad­ju­tant gen­eral of the New Mex­ico Na­tional Guard, mod­ern­iz­ing the Guard and reimag­in­ing ser­vice to put his sol­diers to work help­ing young peo­ple stay off drugs and achieve their dreams.

Part of his mis­sion through the years was to tell the story of Na­tional Guard, those cit­i­zen sol­diers who have sac­ri­ficed so much over the decades. Baca proudly spoke about the “bat­tling bas­tards of Bataan,” the guards­men caught up in the early days of World War II, cap­tured by the Ja­panese and forced to take part in the gru­el­ing Bataan Death March. One such sol­dier, José Quin­tero, re­mained un­bowed in prison camp, se­cretly sewing an Amer­i­can flag at night — the penalty for which was death — and Baca made sure to tell his story, too. That flag of blan­kets and sheets was what Quin­tero waved to let the Amer­i­can bomber over­head know the un­marked POW camp was be­low.

Baca’s ge­nius was un­der­stand­ing that Na­tional Guard ser­vice could be in­ter­preted more broadly, whether help­ing young peo­ple or, up in Taos, open­ing the Guard ar­mory each win­ter so that the folks run­ning Taos Feeds Taos would have the space to pre­pare food boxes for neigh­bors in need. He came per­son­ally each win­ter to help, too. Ser­vice was per­sonal, and Baca led by ex­am­ple. His life shows us that we, too, have the po­ten­tial to make the world around us bet­ter.

These men show us that all hu­mans can make a dif­fer­ence. We found their sto­ries on the obituary pages, and know that to­mor­row and the day af­ter, we will find more sto­ries of lives that mat­ter. Their mem­o­ries will bless us all.

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