Remembering Fabian Chavez, Jr.by Senator Tom Udall
Posted on 2013-02-14
UDALL of New Mexico. Mr. President, on Sunday, January 20,
my State lost a great leader and a great friend. It is my privilege to
pay tribute today to Fabian Chavez, Jr. He was blessed with a long
life, 88 years old when he passed away. More important though was the
impact of his years, the impact of his remarkable life. Fabian Chavez,
Jr., made a difference in the lives of so many people in New Mexico.
Fabian was a formidable, and very colorful, figure in the history of New Mexico politics. His story was one of triumph and of defeat, and of an unwavering determination to serve. He will be long remembered as an advocate for justice, for the disadvantaged, and for ethical government. He was also instrumental in passing legislation to establish the University of New Mexico School of Medicine, which has done so much for improving health care in our State.
Fabian Chavez, Jr., was born on August 31, 1924. His father was a carpenter, and moved the family from Wagon Mound to Santa Fe, where Fabian was born and would live most of his 88 years. Early on, the New Mexico Capitol would dominate his life. And he would dominate it in return.
His father worked as the building superintendent at the old capitol building. As a young boy, trying to earn pocket money during the Great Depression, Fabian could be found there shining shoes. He later told his biographer that while other kids were playing marbles, he was watching legislators at work, following their every move. He observed, ``I had it all memorized years before I was even elected to my first term in the house.'' Fabian was an independent spirit. Even as a youngster, he charted his own course, sometimes perhaps to his parents' dismay. The story is told of his hitchhiking to California at age 12. He joined the Army at age 16, determined to see battle during World War II. He fought at Normandy and the Battle of the Bulge.
At the age of 25, Fabian met Coral Jeanne, the love of his life. Fabian and Coral Jeanne were married in 1954. Of his beloved wife, Fabian once said, ``I started dancing with Coral Jeanne in 1949, and we've been dancing ever since.'' She would be his unfailing support through the victories and defeats to come, until she died in his arms over a half century later.
Most of us, in public life or out, are shaped by our wins and our losses. This was certainly true in Fabian's long career. He first ran for elective office in 1948, at the age of 24, for a seat in the New Mexico House. He came in second in the primary. He was undeterred, as he would show time and again. He was elected 2 years later. He ran unsuccessfully for the New Mexico Senate in 1952, but was elected in 1956. And within a few years, at age 37, he became the youngest Senate majority leader in the history of our State. In 1968, Fabian was the Democratic candidate for Governor, and lost by less than 3,000 votes. He later served as Assistant Secretary of Commerce under President Jimmy Carter.
The title of David Roybal's biography of Fabian Chavez, Jr., ``Taking on Giants,'' is telling. Fabian was a reformer, and a tenacious one. He fought to change the old justice of the peace system in New Mexico, fought to establish a Judicial Standards Commission, fought powerful insurance and liquor industries, fought early on, and courageously, for civil rights. Whatever the opposition, he stayed the course. Elections would come and go. Some he would win. Some he would lose. But he stayed true to his commitment to the people of New Mexico.
My dad once said that there are two stories of our lives. One is the person you wanted to be. The other is the person you are. While none of us gets that exactly right, I would suspect that Fabian came pretty close. He held true to his principles. He fought for what he believed was right. He leaves behind a legacy of accomplishment and integrity, a legacy that his family, and our State, can take great pride in.
Jill and I extend our sincere condolences to Christine and to all the Chavez family. Fabian Chavez, Jr., was a true son of New Mexico, and he did all of us proud.