More to Explore

Biography of Ted Martinez

Ted Martinez was born in 1936 in the depth of the Great Depression.  He was born in Martineztown, a part of Albuquerque formerly known as “Dog Town,” because of the numerous dogs in the area.

By James O’Leary

Sponsored by the Paul C. S. Carpenter History Project and funded by the King/Carpenter Charitable Trust

There are historically important figures for whom the bunting is not hung, speeches are not written and the bands don’t play.  Their role is one of moving the history forward and making the legacy richer.  It is unmistakable under the mildest scrutiny.  Ted F. Martinez of Albuquerque, N.M. is such a figure in modern New Mexico history.

Ted Martinez was born in1936 in the depth of the Great Depression.  He was born in Martineztown, a part of Albuquerque formerly known as “Dog Town,” because of the numerous dogs in the area.  His father, Luis Martinez (1897-1986) had a long family history in New Mexico and his mother, Maria Jesus Flores Martinez (1904-1987), was from Mexican ancestry.  They had thirteen children, six sons and seven daughters. Ted grew up in Martineztown, in humble surroundings but he excelled and his life work has ranged from Albuquerque Journal newspaper carrier to College President, taking him from ‘the barrio’ in Albuquerque to the offices of political power in Washington D.C.   Strong extended family ties have remained valuable to Ted.  These ties as well as his talent and political savvy have served him and New Mexico well.

Martinez was educated in Albuquerque public schools until the sixth grade when he moved to a boarding school in El Rito, New Mexico with his cousin. During the typhoid epidemic of 1949, Ted contracted the disease at the beginning of the year and was sent home to be quarantined, missing the sixth grade.  He returned to the north for junior high and high school, and finished his secondary years there. 

The years Ted spent in El Rito helped to forge the mettle of his character, one noteworthy for its resolve, flexibility, and natural, good-humored approach to life.  In El Rito, he was immersed in the Hispano community which resulted in a deep appreciation for his culture and a sense of obligation and service to his community.  His move from Albuquerque to El Rito and then to California for a short time with his mother, forced Ted to change schools and friends and instilled in him the merit and necessity of being flexible toward events in life that were beyond his control. His perseverance and that of some of his classmates from El Rito including Sigfredo Maestas, would later lead to positions on the Board of Educational Finance and the Technical Vocational Institute at El Rito, where Ted played a role in the school’s accreditation as a community college.

Four of Ted Martinez’s brothers served in World War II; one lost his life in the Battle of the Bulge and remains interred in Belgium.  It was not surprising that Ted wanted to join the U.S. Marine Corps and serve his country upon completion of his secondary school work but Ted’s father firmly stood his ground in discouraging a fifth son from entering military service.  He said that “four brothers are enough” for one family to contribute to the armed services.  But eighteen year old Ted wanted to “do his share” and join the military.  The matter was settled when a neighbor who had just returned from duty in the Korean War told Ted to “go to college, not to the war.” He urged the young Martinez to come with him the next day to the University of New Mexico (UNM) and enroll for classes. 

It is to the credit of UNM Dean, Howard Mathany, that Ted Martinez entered the University of New Mexico that very next day.  Without official transcripts or diploma, with no visible source of payment and any plan or direction, Dean Mathany entered him in freshman classes and saw to it that Martinez attended a class that afternoon. 

A few years before, U.S. Senator Dennis Chavez, for whom Ted’s father had written political songs, told the young Martinez to contact him about a possible appointment to West Point.  Ted did so but nothing ever materialized from his contact with Chavez.  UNM became his focus for the next several years. Ted’s ambition was to become a public school teacher and later a high school principal.  Ted always had an odd job to help pay for his tuition, fees and books, and he eventually joined the U.S. Marine Corps reserves in anticipation of future service as an officer.

Between his junior and senior year at UNM, Ted Martinez was drafted and sent to Marine Corps officer training school in Quantico, Virginia. Martinez served four years in the Marine Corps and afterwards rejoined the reserves. After his graduation from UNM in 1959, Ted was ready to become a secondary school teacher but Senator Chavez’s office contacted him that summer to come to Washington D.C. to work in the Senator’s office.  Charlie Davis, assistant to Senator Chavez, offered Ted a chance to move to the capital and become a part of the Senator’s staff.  Martinez turned down the offer and decided to stay in California with his wife and two young children.  A job teaching seemed better to Ted than an uncertain future on the other side of the country.

Three months later, in November, Dennis Chavez died in Washington D.C. and Martinez’s choice turned out to be a good one.  He might have found himself in Washington D.C. with no employment had he moved across country that summer.  Although he had two job offers to teach in California, Ted applied to Albuquerque Public Schools and returned to New Mexico the following year. 

Ted taught biology and social studies at Rio Grande High School (RGHS) and served as the student activities director there as well.  A.B. Chavez, then the principal at RGHS remembered Ted from his grade school days at Ernie Pyle Elementary.  During this period, Ted taught at RGHS during the day and took graduate school courses at UNM during the evenings.

As an educator and Albuquerque resident, Ted felt a need to do community work and decided to run for the Albuquerque Public School (APS) Board.  He became the first Hispanic ever elected to this body and his success is attested to by the fact that he served twelve years before he eventually resigned. He started this position as APS voted to de-centralize its large district and have superintendents manage smaller areas.  Martinez teamed up with his friend and newly appointed area superintendent Ed Marinsek to try and save the old Albuquerque High School complex through a re-districting plan.  Though they met with only mild success, the old school was finally abandoned and a new one constructed in a different location.  During these years Ted worked to improve a declining graduation rate.  The “School on Wheels” and “Freedom High School” were two of the alternative programs he worked on to help students. Ted believed that a strong educational program was the best kind of development for the city.

UNM Professor Ned Roberts presented the next opportunity for Ted Martinez.  Roberts had obtained a grant under Title III to help districts in northern New Mexico institute programs and obtain monies from the federal government to assist in the “advancement of student opportunities” in “underserved areas.”  These programs added curriculum development, testing services and library staff to schools that previously lacked these resources. Roberts asked Ted if he wanted a position as part of this grant.  Martinez was on board immediately when he found his salary would almost double.

This new position enabled Ted to move back to northern New Mexico where he re-established ties with family and friends from his El Rito school years.  He traveled to Washington D.C. on a regular basis successfully securing funds for New Mexico school districts.  His fluency in Spanish, strong leadership skills, high energy, flexibility and tireless work ethic were essential ingredients to the project’s success.  Ted’s interaction with Washington legislators, staff, and lobbyists was also invaluable to the success of the project and paved the way for his subsequent positions on the Board of Educational Finance as well as his presidency of New Mexico T.V.I., now Central New Mexico Community College (CNM).  The Title III programs which Ted helped to develop in northern New Mexico were funded on an annual basis, with grant money that ended after a couple of years.

During this time in northern New Mexico, Ted met and often rode to meetings in Albuquerque with the new president of the University of New Mexico, Ferrel Heady (both men had been appointed by then governor David Cargo to a committee on reorganizing state government). When Heady heard that Ted would soon be out of a job, he asked him to come to work in his office as one of his assistants.  When Ted accepted the position, he had no idea that these would be the most volatile years in the university’s history.  Looking back, Ted Martinez was up to the task.

Dr. Ferrel Heady refers to his time as president of UNM as the “s &s years” referring to the sixties and seventies.  Ted Martinez was Dr. Heady’s only assistant during the most volatile years of the administration.  Ted’s skill as a negotiator was forged in the heat of those conflicts and crisis with students, parents, faculty, UNM regents, and the New Mexico legislature.

The now infamous “Love Lust” poem controversy regarding issues of academic freedom was shortly followed by Vietnam War protests, student occupation of the AFROTC building, and bayonet wielding NM National Guard troops who stabbed several citizens.  Many students were upset by the Kent State shootings during this time and some student leaders at UNM called for the resignation of Dr. Heady for not taking more responsive action.  Calvin Horn, a regent of UNM at the time, wondered publicly “Who is in charge at the school?”  Racial issues also emerged at this time including a controversy regarding Brigham Young University policies on race. A bomb threat was delivered to Heady while he and his wife awaited the beginning of a UNM vs. BYU basketball game. The note threatened the basketball arena (The Pit) and the fans.

During this time of upheaval, Ted Martinez, the former U.S. Marine Corps officer, often met with students and negotiated peaceful settlements and provided venues for dialogue between disgruntled students and the administration. There had been little damage to the campus and no physical injuries recorded until the National Guard of NM came onto the campus. Martinez brought Heady a note announcing that New Mexico National Guard troops were on their way to the campus to deal with student protests. There is no evidence that President Heady or anyone on his administrative team asked for a National Guard presence to assist on campus.  The violence that ensued after their arrival was an unfortunate breakdown in communication between the NM State Police and the NM National Guard.  In his autobiography, One Time Around, Dr. Heady gives a detailed account of this eras events (1960’s and 1970’s) as well as praise for Ted Martinez’s “service at different times and for all around assistance in the President’s office”(219).

Ted became the Director of the Student Union during Heady’s tenure and stayed  on into the administration of Heady’s successor William Bud Davis. He continued his practice of ‘action-based leadership’ as he worked with President Davis and Vice-presidents John Perovich, Chester Travelstead and Harold Lavender.  Like his mentor, Heady, Martinez remained strong in his loyalty to UNM.  President Davis once remarked that Ted “…had more titles than a Prince under the Czar. He said he could do anything and we believed him.”

It was his UNM experiences in the fires of controversy dealing with issues of academic freedom, student rights, and regent intervention that brought Ted to his position as director of the Board of Educational Finance. In the summer of 1983, Governor Toney Anaya abruptly stopped New Mexico’s national search for a new director of the Board, set aside the sixteen applications he had received from around the U.S., and appointed Ted F. Martinez to the job.  Anaya said that he wanted “a New Mexican” for the position.  This new job renewed Martinez’s contacts with the statewide educational matrix, particularly in the area of funding. It was the perfect complement to his work at UNM with Heady and his twelve years on the APS school board.  Once again he exhibited leadership and astute political skills by surrounding himself with staff that included Michael Glennon, Sigfredo Maestas, and Dwayne Mathews.  The position enabled Ted to hone his skills dealing with legislators and school superintendents throughout the state.  He served three years in this post before deciding to take his retirement.

During his entire career, Ted dedicated himself to helping the underrepresented of New Mexico as a tireless advocate and educator. His work ethic made it difficult to retire and none of the traditional images of a retirement fit him.  He joined the Peace Corps in 1985 and was sent to Belize.  His native Spanish speaking skills and educational background enabled him to continue his action oriented, energetic style in helping to solve problems in his host country.  He contacted colleagues from his APS days like Ed Marinsek and Louis Saavadera to help with the plight of school children in Central America.  With their help and that of many New Mexico communities, he engineered a campaign to acquire books and supplies for educational use in Belize.  The campaign resulted in two semi-trailers full of books and supplies for distribution to over eighteen villages. Some six thousand books were made available to children in Belize. 

At the conclusion of his two-year stint in the Peace Corps, Louis Saavedra, then president of T.V.I, asked Martinez to join the administration of the college as its evening division Vice-President. Once again Martinez found himself in a high-level job he had not applied for.  Ted Martinez was continually recognized by his peers as someone who could get the job done and who had a profound interest in the students of New Mexico. It was not long after Martinez had accepted the position that Saavedra announced his resignation from T.V.I. to run for Mayor of Albuquerque.  The Governing Board of T.V.I. chose Ted as its new president in 1987 and he held the position until July of 1994.

Assuming the presidency of T.V.I. was the highpoint of a career dedicated to education in all its facets.  It represented a coalescence of his years in education, finance, politics, and the Peace Corps.  During his tenure as President of T.V.I., the school progressed from a designation of technical vocational school to one of accredited community college.  Martinez strongly believed in the vocational aspects of education but also saw an opportunity for advancement by expanding the programs at T.V.I. to include preparation for a full university degree. His experience at UNM was helpful to Ted in facilitating the transition at T.V.I.  He was also able to establish a Department Chair Position in the Department of nursing at T.V.I., answering the need expressed by the community for more trained nurses.

Ted also had a reputation amongst students as someone who was available to them for conversation and as a mentor.  He instituted a phone registration program for classes because he recognized that working students often did not have time to come to campus to register.  This program was instituted before the University of New Mexico came to the same conclusion.

It is evident that throughout his career, Martinez surrounded himself with knowledgeable and successful colleagues, often friends from the “old days” or colleagues from other institutions: Sigfredo Maestas an old friend from El Rito days left his position in northern New Mexico to become Administrative Vice-President at T.V.I. and Michael Glennon would become Financial Vice-President. Cleta Downey was hired to re-energize T.V.I. Foundation efforts with existing member, Phil Gonzales, a friend of Ted’s from APS days. The T.V.I. Foundation, with Ted’s help, was able to secure a one million dollar donation from the Coe Foundation before he left office.

Ted continued to work with the New Mexico Legislate in Santa Fe who provided funding for the school and his vision for the school’s future helped to secure a 50 acre land donation from Westland Corporation for a future SW site for the growing institution.  Ted helped to expand the physical plant and initiated the construction of Salazar Hall and the Student Services Building.

Joline Mahr, a now retired Public Information Officer for the school for 25 years, remembers Martinez as “a superior boss” whose MBWA (management by walking around) style let everyone know he was involved in the vitality of the school.  He worked well with the press and insisted on total transparency in the working practices of the school, its staff, and faculty.  He was always available to be called if needed and “no comment” was not an acceptable response to be used with the press during his tenure.

After a six-year term at T.V.I., Martinez decided to retire again in 1994.  It was not long, however, before he was involved in another effort to help make history in New Mexico. Ted signed on as a Committee Chairman for Diane Denish, the first woman to run for Lt. Governor.  He is still working for her as she prepares to run for Governor of New Mexico in 2010. In his “semi-retirement” Martinez still travels between El Rito and Albuquerque to do woodworking and weaving.  He also served a stint as a Regent for Northern University where his friend Sigfredo Maestas, was president.  He rides his bicycle or Vespa scooter to the Barelas Coffee Shop twice weekly to meet with old friends, relatives and politicians and to keep his fingers on the pulse of life in New Mexico.

Sources Used:

William Bud Davis, Miracle on the Mesa: a history of UNM 1889-2004, University of New Mexico Press, 2006, p. xvii..
Ferrel Heady, One Time Around, University of New Mexico Press, Albuquerque, New Mexico, 1999, pp. 168-175.
Calvin Horn, The University in Turmoil and Transition: crisis decades at UNM, Rocky Mountain Publishing Co., 1981.
“S & S Years” Heady, One Time Around, p. 143 citing Samuel P. Huntington, American Politics: The Promise of Disharmony, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Mass., 1981, chap. 7.

Interviews by Author:

Mr. Fred R. Harris (former U.S. Senator, Okla.), June 2009.
Joline Mahr, (former Public Information Officer at CNM),June  2009.
Mr. Ed Marinsek, (former Area Superintendent with APS), June 2009.
Ted F. Martinez, (subject) December 2008, January 2009, March 2009, June 2009, July 2009.