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Memorial service for ‘Lonesome Dave’

New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez speaks at the Memorial Service for former Governor David Cargo in the New Mexico Capitol Rotunda on Thursday, July 11, 2013. (Greg Sorbe)

New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez speaks at the Memorial Service for former Governor David Cargo in the New Mexico Capitol Rotunda on Thursday, July 11, 2013. (Greg Sorbe)

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Former Gov. David Cargo was remembered at a memorial service on Thursday as an adopted son of New Mexico who made its people his own and made sure their voices were heard.

Relatives, friends and public officials crowded the Capitol rotunda to honor the talkative Republican who was governor more than four decades ago but retained his keen interest in public affairs – freely dispensing advice to his successors.

“He was always bipartisan and usually nonpartisan, because he understood the needs of the people of the state,” said former Gov. Toney Anaya, a Democrat.

Cargo, a Michigan transplant who was governor from 1967 to 1970, died last week at 84. His funeral is scheduled for today at the Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis in Santa Fe.

Dubbed “Lonesome Dave” because of his political independence and solo campaigning, Cargo was remembered for his passion for education and literacy, his commitment to civil rights and his advocacy for the underdog.

State Treasurer James Lewis praised the sincerity of Cargo’s connection to New Mexico’s African-American community – its churches, as well as its politics.

“He not only visited, but he came back,” Lewis said.

Cargo’s politics were progressive, and many of his ideas for reforming government would not be implemented until much later.

“He was willing to take the tough stand, the difficult path. … We loved him for that,” said Senate President Pro Tem Mary Kay Papen, D-Las Cruces.

Lt. Gov. John Sanchez, a Republican, said Cargo, who had been in New Mexico just a decade when he was elected governor, knew the state inside-out and was viewed “as a native New Mexican son.”

Cargo had strong ties to rural, Hispanic northern New Mexico – so much so that former Gov. Bill Richardson, a Hispanic Democrat, said in a letter read at the service that he was scared about Cargo’s deep popularity in the north when Cargo challenged him unsuccessfully for Congress.

Richardson in his letter called Cargo “a wild and crazy guy – but also a true statesman, a terrific governor, and a unique and good human being.”

GOP Gov. Susana Martinez said Cargo was an “innovative thinker” and praised him for his successful effort, while he was in the Legislature, to have the state House redistricted to ensure that New Mexicans had equal representation.

Earlier in the day, after Cargo’s casket was taken into the Capitol to lie in state, Martinez had told Cargo’s five children and grandchildren that he was an “amazing man.”

She told the Journal that he had remained a voice for the people – especially those in small, rural communities – long after he was out of office, fighting for small-town libraries and constantly reminding public officials they needed to listen to their constituents.

Among those paying respects to the late governor at the Capitol during the day was labor leader Carter Bundy, political director in New Mexico for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.

Cargo, he said, “was one of the biggest champions of working people this state and this country have known.”

Archbishop Michael Sheehan will officiate at the funeral, with former Interior Secretary and U.S. Rep. Manuel Lujan Jr. giving the eulogy.