Santa Fe Living Treasures – Elder Stories


When a young Republican lawyer named Pete Domenici ran successfully for the Albuquerque City Commission in 1966, Fred was his media adviser. Two years later Domenici was elected commission chairman, then lost a close race for New Mexico governor, and in 1972 was elected to the first of six consecutive terms as a U.S. senator. Fred went with Domenici to Washington for a time, but was drawn back to New Mexico.

In a high-energy, multifaceted career, Fred served as public information director for the state Highway Department, published a monthly newsletter for lobbyists and politicians, and left the state long enough to teach at Fordham and St. Louis universities. In 1977 he took over a syndicated newspaper column called “Inside the Capitol,” about New Mexico politics. He presided over it for a decade, during which time he became one of the state’s most influential journalists and got to know almost every public figure.

Fred sold the column in 1987, and he and his wife, Jan Lynch, retired to the Caribbean island of Montserrat. Too energetic to simply take things easy, however, Jan soon was directing a school for children with special needs--and Fred began airing blunt political views in a local newspaper. Because of his honesty and outspokenness, he and Jan were ordered by the authorities to leave the island. Soon they returned to Santa Fe.

In 1995, Fred’s eyesight began failing, and after a while he became blind. Even so, he maintained a weekly hour-long radio program called “Politics and Other Animals” and began working on a memoir to be titled A World Without Faces, about going blind. Before completing it, however, Fred died of a heart attack in 2003, at the age of 80.

Upon his death, he drew tributes from across New Mexico’s political spectrum. “Fred was an incredible person,” said Domenici. “He had a knack for getting to the core of an issue and making it understandable to the public.” Added Lt. Gov. Diane Denish: “I’ve always thought of him as the conscience of political people. He always encouraged me to do the right thing and stand by my guns.” Said the radio-station owner: “Fred was highly unique in his perspective and true understanding of not only the political process but also of people.” Legendary journalist Ernie Mills, who later also became a Living Treasure, observed: “He was always very much his own man. Very unpredictable. He would surprise you. And his institutional memory was unbeatable. He knew the stories.”

Mary Lou Cook, founder of the Living Treasures program, remembered: “He just always had an opinion about everything. Everyone knew who he was. It was just wonderful to be with him, because he was so solid and such a lot of fun.” A longtime friend remarked: “He didn’t let cynicism dampen his belief in the political system.” And the New Mexico Legislature passed a memorial honoring Fred’s remarkable contribution.

Story by Richard McCord

Photo © 2000 Steve Northup