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Tribute paid to former NM Senator, Navajo Code Talker

New Mexico State Police honor guard take the body of Sen. John Pinto from the Roundhouse after a memorial service on Wednesday. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and around 300 persons attended the memorial. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

SANTA FE – The state Capitol echoed with tributes to the life and times of Navajo Code Talker and state legislator John Pinto on Wednesday after his casket traveled in a memorial procession across the high desert of northern New Mexico.

Hundreds of politicians, relatives and friends gathered in the Statehouse rotunda to mourn the death of the World War II Marine who served 42 years as a state Senator – a record for political longevity in that chamber.

Democratic Senate majority leader Peter Wirth said colleagues were awed by Pinto’s political stamina and delighted by his good humor.

In a memorial speech, Democratic New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham praised Pinto for rallying lawmakers this year to authorize state spending on a museum about Code Talkers – the corps of military radiomen who helped safeguard allied secrets in World War II by encrypting radio communications using the Navajo language.

Regis Pecos, left, former governor of Cochiti and former head of the Department of Indian Services, and Rep. Derrick Lente, D-Sandia Pueblo, place their hand on the casket of Sen. John Pinto during Wednesday’s memorial service at the Roundhouse. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

Lujan Grisham noted that Pinto’s political career spanned across legislative landmarks that shored up health care for Native Americans with the creation of the Indian Area Agency on Aging and established tribal consultation standards for government decisions.

“John Pinto was the love that made a difference every single day in the lives of people he touched,” Lujan Grisham said.

Pinto was born in Lupton, Arizona, on the Navajo Nation to a family of sheep herders. He started formal schooling at age 12, and trained as a Marine and Code Talker as the war with Japan raged in the Pacific.

Pinto later earned a degree to become a teacher and won election in 1976 to the state Senate.

The highway memorial procession on Wednesday accompanied Pinto’s casket through the communities of Shiprock, Farmington, Bloomfield, Cuba, Bernalillo and Santa Fe.

Potential successors to Pinto in the Senate will be nominated by the McKinley and San Juan county commissions. Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham makes the final appointment.

Pinto, a Democrat, this year voted in favor of progressive initiatives on gun control and abortion rights.