A powerful voice now gone

Esther Garcia inspired norteños, women and conservationists


Esther Garcia, former mayor of the village of Questa and a forceful advocate for acequias, land grants and public lands in northern Taos County, has died. She was 74 years old.

"She was quite a lady," said her brother Max Ortega, former longtime fire chief for Questa. "She is going to leave a big hole in our hearts and our community."

Garcia passed away Sunday (Jan. 5) at the University of New University Hospital following an illness, according to family. A rosary and eulogy will be held for Thursday (Jan. 9) at 6:30 p.m. at St. Anthony Catholic Church, 10 Church Plaza in Questa. A Mass of Christian Burial is scheduled for Friday (Jan. 10) at St. Anthony Catholic Church, followed by the burial.

Hundreds of remembrances poured in for a woman who stood her ground for what she believed and rarely took no for an answer, unafraid to speak her mind.

"Jill and I are deeply saddened by the passing of our friend, former village of Questa Mayor Esther Garcia," said Sen. Tom Udall in a statement Monday (Jan. 6). "Esther was a tireless champion for the people of Northern New Mexico and played a key role in protecting the Río Grande del Norte National Monument, Columbine Hondo Wilderness, land grants, acequias and other treasures in our state. We join her family, friends and community in mourning her passing and honoring her legacy."

She fought for her village. Garcia lobbied for funds for the Questa Public Library and to fix Cabresto Dam. She also joined other Questeños to save the San Antonio del Río Colorado Church when the archdiocese of Santa Fe considered tearing the aging church down. Garcia, then Questa's mayor, was among many villagers who fought to restore the church, which had been built in the mid-1800s by some of the original families. "It was a big, big challenge," Garcia told the Taos News in a 2010 interview. "I had to threaten [the archdiocese] with eminent domain."

Garcia was a lifelong Questeña whose family had been in the area for generations.

As mayor, she had her share of challenges, such as a leak that left 200 families without water for a week in 2012 and an investigation by the state's attorney general the same year following an unfavorable financial audit. Garcia fielded criticisms and kept going.

People remembered her committment to education, children and the library.

"I was fortunate to call her a friend and to work with her on projects related to the history of San Antonio Church St. Anthony Parish in Questa," said Carrie Levin in a Facebook post. "I also interviewed Esther for the 'Remarkable Women of Taos' book and website in 2012. Recently she was finishing up a book with Judith Cuddihy on the San Antonio Church restoration. Rest in peace, Esther Garcia. You will be missed, my friend. Always in our hearts."

She served on the volunteer Tradiciones committee for several years that selected the Unsung Heroes of the community in an annual event hosted by Taos News.

Conservationists lauded her efforts.

"Esther was one of the primary traditional voices driving the designation of both the Río Grande del Norte National Monument and the Columbine Hondo Wilderness," said sportsman Garrett VeneKlasen in a Facebook post. "Esther was a tireless advocate for the preservation of traditional land and water uses on public lands as well as the conservation and protection of clean water, healthy watersheds and healthy wildlife populations."

He described her as "incredibly wise, funny, deeply spiritual, kind, diplomatic, brave, passionate, fierce and just a lovely human being all around."

"I am deeply saddened to hear of the passing of former Questa Mayor Esther Garcia," said Mark Allison, executive director of New Mexico Wild. "Esther served on the board of directors at New Mexico Wild and was a powerful force for her community and for the protection of public lands and wild places. She was involved and instrumental in essentially every conservation gain in Taos County over the course of the last decade, including the designation of the Río Grande del Norte National Monument. Esther's kind heart, warm smile and steadfast commitment to public service will be missed by all who were lucky enough to meet her."

Myra Garcia, one of Esther's daughters, said her mother's accomplishments were many for a woman who wasn't able to attend college. Early on she jumped into public service, volunteering with the Questa 4-H for 23 years while her children were in school, serving on the Questa School Board and mentoring young women who were on a "troubled path," said her daughter.

"My mom believed in giving back, to your community, your country, the world," Myra Garcia said. "And she wouldn't take no for an answer."

In a state where for many decades the voices of women in power were few and far between, Esther Garcia's stood out and inspired others. "She was a powerful force for women in New Mexico," Myra Garcia said.

When she wasn't lobbying for one project or another, Esther Garcia also made dozens of hand-sewn quilts, painted and, according to one uncle, was the best cook in the family.

"Rest in peace, Esther," said another longtime sportsman and conservationist Max O. Trujillo. "Your strong voice will echo through mountains and valleys for generations. You made the world a better place."


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