ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — State Rep. William “Bill” Pratt, D-Albuquerque, was being remembered Thursday for his optimism, his calm nature and his commitment to always “do the right thing.”
Pratt, who had a massive stroke about a week ago, died Christmas night, surrounded by family. He was 84.
The retired orthopedic surgeon and professor of medicine at the University of New Mexico School of Medicine began his term in the state House of Representatives in January, after winning a close election in the Northeast Heights district.
On Thursday, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham issued a statement calling Pratt “a man who never refused a call to serve others.”
“As a physician he provided health care to underserved New Mexicans and as a legislator he worked diligently, often behind the scenes, to ensure everyone had a voice in the political process,” Lujan Grisham said.
“Representative Pratt was a dedicated member of the community and in his short time in office established himself as a valued voice within the New Mexico House of Representatives,” she said. “His loved ones are in my thoughts and prayers.”
House Speaker Brian Egolf said that although Pratt was new to his role as a lawmaker, “his dedication to public service and the betterment of the lives of all New Mexicans was readily apparent.”
Pratt, he said, “showed himself to be a man of integrity and character, and his presence will be sorely missed.”
The chair of the House Health and Human Services Committee, Deborah Armstrong, also issued a statement saying she was “deeply sorrowed” to learn of Pratt’s death.
“During our time together in the Legislature, Rep. Pratt was a fierce advocate for public health and it was an honor to serve with him. We co-sponsored several pieces of legislation together, including improvements to the Clean Indoor Air Act and enshrining many essential health benefits, such as prohibitions on gender-based premiums and requirements of mental health coverage, into New Mexico law.”
She called Pratt “a friend, a colleague and a mentor,” adding that “his presence and expertise in the House of Representatives will be greatly missed in years to come.”
Even people on the other side of the political aisle praised him. “New Mexico lost an exceptional leader today in Rep. Bill Pratt,” said House Minority Leader Jim Townsend. “His collegial character and passion for his constituents will surely be missed at the Capitol.”
Pratt had announced this fall that he would not seek reelection for health reasons. At least four candidates – two Democrats and two Republicans – have already announced 2020 campaigns for the seat, which had previously been held for nearly 24 years by Republican Larry Larrañaga, who died last year.
It will be up to the Bernalillo County Commission to pick a replacement for Pratt.
Pratt’s daughter-in-law, Julie Cota, told the Journal on Thursday that Pratt was a tall, friendly man with a quiet and calm demeanor.
“He was very smart and always did his research to make sure he was representing his passions sincerely.” One of those passions, she said, was “doing the right thing for the underserved.”
As a retired physician, he volunteered countless hours at local and state clinics for the homeless and underserved populations, and he volunteered abroad to teach new medical techniques to doctors in Kazakhstan and Malawi.
His desire to seek a political office was fueled by his passion to bring attention to early childhood health interventions.
“He was a good man, a good father, and a good listener,” Cota said. “I think that was one of his biggest political attractions. People felt like he was actually listening to what they were saying.”
According to his brother, Robert Pratt, Bill Pratt was born in Camden, New Jersey, and grew up in Haddonfield, New Jersey, where he attended public schools and played on the high school tennis team. He enjoyed summers with his family in Maine, swimming, boating and playing tennis with friends. After high school, he attended Wesleyan University in Connecticut and graduated in 1957. Then, in his father’s and grandfather’s footsteps, Pratt studied medicine at Jefferson Medical School in Philadelphia.
Soon out of medical school, he was commissioned as a public health officer for the Indian Health Service in Gallup and later was recommissioned to work for Native tribes in Alaska.
Pratt also worked for the Veterans Affairs hospital in Albuquerque as chief of orthopedic surgery, and then as an orthopedic surgeon at UNM Hospital and a professor of medicine at the UNM School of Medicine.
He is survived by his wife of 42 years, Sally R. Pratt, of Albuquerque; daughters Amy Pratt Candelaria of Los Lunas and husband Danny Candelaria; Julie Pratt Mudlo of Denver and husband John Mudlo; granddaughter Katie Blankenship of Albuquerque and husband John Blankenship; stepsons, Alan S. Cota and wife Julie Cota, of Show Low, Arizona, and Terry M. Cota and wife Rhonda Cota, of Belen; and siblings Robert Pratt of South Portland, Maine, and wife Alix, and Marjorie Pratt Fink and husband Robert Fink, of Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin.
The family requests that donations be made to the Albuquerque Center for Peace and Justice, Roadrunner Food Bank, New Mexico Wildlife Federation and The Nature Conservancy.
A memorial service will be announced at a later date.