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Rick Wright: Current UNM staffer nominates Garcia as Greatest Lobo

Roy Johnson and L.F. “Tow” Diehm are towering figures in the annals of University of New Mexico athletics, each worthy of the label, Greatest Lobo of Them All.

Jacque May arrived at UNM in July 1999, a year after Diehm’s death, a decade after Johnson’s. As a UNM athletics staff member of some 20 years, she no doubt knows the story of Diehm, the longtime trainer and associate AD whose name graces the athletics facility in which she works.

She may or may not know the story of Johnson, who came to Albuquerque in 1920, essentially built the athletic program, coached every sport the department offered and served as AD for 36 years. She likely knows he’s the man for whom the school’s athletic facility on the main campus is named.

As a Lobo of two decades, May has the utmost respect for history and tradition. Yet, with all due respect, she has her own candidate for Greatest Lobo.

Her choice: Rudy Garcia, the longtime UNM equipment manager who died recently at the age of 67.

May cannot, and surely would not, deny her own prejudice in this matter; she worked for and with Garcia for 11 years, succeeded him as UNM’s equipment manager and remained a close friend after his retirement in 2010.

Even so, she said:

“I’ve been here 20 years, so it’s not the longest period of time. But I don’t know of a greater Lobo ever that has been here who has embodied what it means to truly embrace it.

Jacque May, equipment operations manager, University of New Mexico (UNM photo)

“He’d be right up there, with I’m sure a few other people. But in my 20 years, he’s probably been the greatest and most important in so many ways.”

The obvious difference between Johnson and Diehm on one hand and Garcia on the other is that, in their day, virtually everyone knew who Diehm was and who Johnson was. That wasn’t the case with Garcia, whose contributions, dedication and kindnesses were known to a relative few.

Everything being relative, it should be said that Garcia was known and loved by generations of UNM student-athletes and staffers during his 37 years at the school — many of whom have reached out to May since Garcia’s death.

“It was just nonstop calls from people all over the country,” she said. “Former athletes, former colleagues, counterparts from all these different schools.

“It’s actually been comforting to know that people remembered him. He was a huge presence in people’s lives when they were here.”

But then, how could an equipment manager have such an impact?

First, May said, there are those misconceptions about the job itself. It is not, she said, merely about the acquisition, distribution, cleaning and repairing of equipment.

“It’s making sure that every single one of our student-athletes is protected, taken care of and treated with the utmost respect,” she said. “And (budget-wise), you do that no matter what you had.”

May signed on as a student assistant shortly after arriving on campus. The following year, when Garcia missed time during football season with an infection in his leg, May was assigned greater responsibility than a student assistant normally would undertake.

“I never even graduated,” she said, “because by the time Rudy came back, they worked on getting me a full-time position.”

Working side-by-side with Garcia, May learned the job — and so much more.

“He was a larger-than-life character,” she said. “… He cared more than anyone, and he taught me that’s the No. 1 thing.

“I think he would tell you, and I know in my time that that’s the most important thing, is that you impacted those student’s lives in a positive way. And, for sure, he did.”

Rudy Garcia, a former longtime UNM equipment manager, died recently at age 67. (Courtesy of UNM Athletics)