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State senator was ‘a real gentleman cowboy’

Former state Sen. Don King, a rancher and brother of former Gov. Bruce King, died Saturday at 89. (Courtesy of Rhonda King)

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Friends and family members describe former state Sen. Don King as a hard-working rancher who cared about his community and had a passion for politics.

Like his brother, former Gov. Bruce King, he was known for his Texas drawl and being a true gentleman. He died last Saturday at 89. His daughter Rhonda King said he had been recovering from surgery after breaking his hip in April.

“Don was a great guy who I never heard say a bad thing about anyone,” said former Albuquerque Mayor Jim Baca, who once served as Bruce King’s press secretary. “He was much like his brother, Gov. Bruce King. … He was quiet and thoughtful, and a real gentleman cowboy with a beautiful cowboy twang. All of the King brothers were wonderful people.”

The youngest of the three brothers, Don ran the King Brothers Ranch with Bruce and their brother Sam, and followed Bruce into politics, serving first as a Santa Fe County commissioner from 1965-70, as a state representative from 1973-74 and state senator from 1977-80.

“My dad told me that serving in the New Mexico Legislature was one of the greatest and important things he ever did in his life,” said Rhonda King, who followed in the footsteps of her father, uncle and cousin, Gary King, former state attorney general, as a state representative.

“He was always an important resource for me, as both my uncles Bruce and Sam were,” she said. “They provided me with advice and information. He was always very supportive and very giving.”

He also offered valuable advice to his nephew Gary, Bruce’s son, about serving in the Legislature when Gary’s father was governor.

“He told me, ‘Don’t let those legislators use you as a messenger and tell you to go upstairs to talk to the governor. They were all of the time trying to use me to go to my brother to deliver a message,’ ” Gary King said of his uncle’s advice.

Don King’s terms as a state representative and state senator overlapped with his brother’s first and second terms as governor (1971-74, 1979-82) and Gary King served as a state representative during his father’s third term (1991-94).

“He focused on both public education and government accountability,” Rhonda King said of her father’s time in the Legislature.

She said Don King thought it “was extremely important that all children had equal access in education.”

Former State Sen. Don King, left, former Gov. Bruce King and Sam King ran the Kings Brothers Ranch for decades.(COURTESY OF RHONDA KING)

“He was very proud of the work he had done on education issues,” Rhonda King said.

She said her father sponsored campaign reform legislation and, like his brother Bruce, focused on keeping state government fiscally responsible.

“He always felt for every dollar collected in state government, the people of New Mexico should get back a dollar’s worth of services,” Rhonda King said.

Like his brothers, Don King grew up on the family ranch in Estancia Valley near Stanley that their parents, William and Mollie, started after moving from Texas.

The brothers stayed close, taking over the operation of the ranch from their parents.

Don King was a truck operator for the ranch, his nephew said. He hauled cattle and worked on the water system, including wells and windmills.

He said his father and uncles were known to be riding around in a pickup together “for about 70 years.”

Gary King said they would have coffee every morning at El Comedor in Moriarty.

“Pretty much whoever wanted to chat with the King brothers would show up, so they would have a table ready with 20 people around it, talking about politics and football, how the high school football team was doing,” he said.

Don and his wife of 69 years, Dorothy, were known for their work in the community. Gary King said they were supporters of the Moriarty High School athletic program, where their children and grandchildren went to school.

They were also big supporters of Stanley Union Church, and Don played a major role in the upkeep of the cemetery at Stanley.

Rhonda King said her parents and grandparents were believers in community service, which they passed down to their children and grandchildren.

In addition to his wife, Dorothy, and daughter Rhonda, Don King is survived by his son Jerry, daughter Jeana King-Beach, seven grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.

A viewing will be held at Stanley Union Church from 12:30 to 6:30 p.m. Friday. A graveside service will be held at 3:30 p.m. Saturday at Stanley Cemetery.

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