Santa Fe Living Treasures – Elder Stories

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Albert Gonzales, Sr.

Gonzales, Sr.


Honored May 2004

Albert Gonzales, Sr.

As an energetic young man of 16, Albert Gonzales, Sr. was struck blind in 1929, in a diving accident. He never regained his sight, but over the next seven decades he did gain several other things:

a bachelor's degree from New Mexico State University; a law degree from Georgetown University; a law license from the State of New Mexico; seats in the New Mexico Legislature, on the Santa Fe School Board and County Commission, as well as on many other elective and appointive bodies; a wife for almost 50 years, and three children; a local road and elementary school named for him; a thriving real-estate business; recognition as one of the five most distinguished blind persons in the nation; and the undying gratitude of the clients he served in some 8,500 legal cases, often at sharply reduced rates, or even free, for people who were "down on their luck."

Only temporarily sidetracked by his "handicap," Gonzales pushed for excellence in all that he did. He was the first blind student to graduate from NMSU and Georgetown Law School, and the first blind member of the New Mexico bar. He was voted the most outstanding man in his graduating class at Georgetown, where he paid other students 25 cents an hour to read to him. He was a founder of the New Mexico Association of the Blind. He has been listed in Who’s Who in America. And before his retirement in 2001, at the age of 88, he was recognized as the oldest practitioner of law in New Mexico.

All along, Gonzales felt a deep concern for the disadvantaged and the poor. From his first days in practice, in the early 1940s, he became, in the words of his son Albert Jr., "a one-man legal-aid service before there was a Legal Aid Society." He irritated the state Bar Association by taking minimal payment or even bags of chile for his work.

His most famous client was land-grant activist Reies Lopez Tijuana, in the mid-1960s.

Yet for all his countless accomplishments, Gonzales always managed to leave his work at the office when he came home, to be a loving husband and father. Friends call him gregarious, charming, determined, stubborn, the life of the party, "an optimist," "a man of intense resolve," "a fighter for the people," and, of course, "inspiring."

From southern New Mexico he moved to Santa Fe in 1940, because “people were nicer to me here.” He asked for no special treatment, and often got around by himself, with the help of buses, taxis and his seeing-eye dog. For many years the only city crosswalk that had a beeper in addition to traffic signals was across Palace Avenue to the county courthouse, installed in recognition of Gonzales' frequent appearances there. Only when he began to go deaf did he retire, after leaving an indelible mark on Santa Fe.

Story by Richard McCord
Photo © 2004 Steve Northrup