SANTA FE – Sam Vigil Jr., a long-time state legislator known for his commitment to education, has died at age 90.
Vigil, a Democrat who served 28 years in the state House of Representatives between 1970 and 1998, passed away on Dec. 7 from natural causes, according to his obituary posted by Rogers Mortuary of Las Vegas, New Mexico.
Ralph Arellanes, chairman of Hispano Roundtable of New Mexico, said in an email about Vigil’s passing that his Uncle Sam was affectionately known across the state as the “Dean of Public Education in New Mexico.'”
A lifetime resident of Las Vegas, Vigil was part of the creation of what was originally called Luna Vocational Technical Institute, serving on a task force appointed by Gov. Dave Cargo that helped establish the college in 1969. In 1976, Vigil was hired as president of the school — now Luna Community College — and he led Luna until 1999.
“He was an important leader who worked diligently for this college, this community and all of northeastern New Mexico,” said LCC’s current president Dr. Rolando Rael.
“I was glad to know Sam as a person. He will be missed, and he will be remembered for the good things he accomplished, as well as his heart for helping students and his community.”
Vigil also served as a member of the Consolidation Commission that united East and West Las Vegas in 1968, ending what historians called a long period of racial and social divide in community. Vigil was a veteran of the U.S. Army and, at age 22, served as a medic in the Korean War. He was a dean of students at New Mexico Highlands University and a director of the First National Bank in Las Vegas.
As an influential legislator, he served as chairman of the House Education Committee and as part of the Legislative Finance Committee.
“The basic business of state government, in my opinion, is to provide quality education to its population, maintain their infrastructure and create a stable fiscal environment,” Vigil said in 1988 testimony to a congressional committee.
President Bill Clinton later appointed Vigil to the President’s Commission on Excellence of Education for Hispanic American Students, and he also was appointed by former U.S. Department of Energy Secretary Federico Pena to the Advisory Commission on Education to the DOE.
A rosary service for Vigil will be recited on Sunday, Dec. 22, at 6 p.m., and the funeral will take place Monday, Dec. 23, 2019 at 9 a.m, both at Our Lady of Sorrows Church in Las Vegas. Interment will be at Santa Fe National Cemetery at 3 p.m. on Monday.
Vigil is survived by his wife of 66 years Aurora Vigil, two daughters and a son, along with grandchildren, nieces, nephews and others.