Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal
Albuquerque City Council President Cynthia Borrego recalls that back when she worked for the city’s planning department, the words “Here comes Dr. Joe” put the department’s staff on its toes. And that’s likely just a polite way to phrase it.
Dr. Joe was Joe L. Valles, Albuquerque dentist and a fierce advocate for the city’s West Side, where he resided.
“I met him (at the planning department) in the ’90s,” said Borrego, who represents District 5 on the West Side. “He was always working with our planning directors, and he gave so many people a little bit of grief on neighborhood issues. He would testify at Planning Commission meetings — and not just about West Side issues.”
Bernalillo County Commissioner Debbie O’Malley said “persistent” is the first word that comes to mind when she thinks of Valles and “honest” is the second.
“He wanted high quality development on the West Side,” said O’Malley, a former Albuquerque city councilor who now represents County District 1, which includes the West Side. “He wanted to have planned growth. He did not just want housing on the West Side, but the opportunity for jobs there. He really fought for neighborhood representation in decision making on growth. Joe talked frankly to elected officials. He did not butter us up, and we disagreed on some things. He was respectful, but he was direct.”
Borrego said Valles was a staunch neighborhood activist for at least 30 years.
“He understood planning, and he was someone who cared about his community,” she said. “When he talked, people listened. He will be missed.”
Valles, 72, died Sept. 5.
Survivors include his wife, Joanne; sons Domingo Valles, DDS, and Emiliano Valles, MD; a grandson; and numerous nieces and nephews.
Services will be on Sept. 24 at St. Joseph on the Rio Grande Church, 5901 St. Josephs NW. A eulogy at 8:15 a.m. will be followed by Mass at 9 a.m.
Valles was born in Jarales, a few miles south of Belen. He lived his earliest years with his maternal grandparents on their subsistence farm and ranch in Jarales.
“He loved his grandparents,” Joanne, Valles’ widow, said. “He used to talk about this rooster his grandfather had. That rooster loved Joe’s grandfather, but when he saw Joe, forget it. That rooster would chase Joe to the outhouse. He remembered that.”
When his grandfather died in 1957, Valles and his grandmother moved closer to Belen. In a list he compiled last year, outlining influential points in his life, Valles recalled that during that time he worked on Saturdays, cleaning the law offices of former lieutenant governor Tibo Chavez.
When he was in sixth grade, he and his grandmother moved near Valles’ parents in Albuquerque’s South Valley. He attended Rio Grande High School and was coeditor of the school’s yearbook.
Valles wrote that he saved up money by working after school and on Saturdays and Sundays and eventually bought a motorcycle and a car. Even though he was a good student, he dropped out of high school in April 1967. He recalled that his family was not upset.
“In their eyes — I had a job and a car — I had it made.”
Valles served in the Army in the late ’60s and with the Volunteers In Service to America (VISTA) program from 1970 to 1972. After that, he earned a General Educational Development (GED) certificate and entered the University of New Mexico in 1972. That’s when he met Joanne.
“We met in Chicano studies,” she said. “We were friends at first. He was a nice guy and very good looking. My girlfriends would say, ‘Hey, do you know him?’ ”
After graduating from UNM, Valles was accepted into and graduated from the University of Southern California School of Dentistry. He started his dental practice in 1980 in Albuquerque when he was 31, and he would go on to serve as president of the New Mexico Dental Association.
“He loved being a dentist,” Joanne said. “In fact (after he retired), he was sad he wasn’t going into the office. But he loved a good fight, too. He loved the city and the neighborhoods. He was a champion for the neighborhood.”
State Rep. Antonio “Moe” Maestas serves House District 16 on Albuquerque’s West Side. He knew Valles for more than 20 years.
“He was one of my staunchest critics and biggest supporters,” Maestas said. “He was a strong voice on the West Side. Even before social media became what it is, he would do 2,000 email blasts about events, his opinions, or holding elected officials accountable, pushing his agenda of land use and planning, or any other issues he felt strongly about.”
Maestas said Valles pushed back so vigorously against WalMart development on the West Side that the corporation filed suit against him.
“It’s scary when you get sued by a major corporation, but Joe didn’t back down,” he said.
More recently, Maestas said Valles had been actively involved in urging public officials to use state and local money to acquire the Poole property, 23 acres overlooking the Rio Grande, to save it from development and make it part of Albuquerque’s open space network. That campaign was successful.
“He pushed us all to move forward on that,” O’Malley said. “I give him credit for actually getting that done.”
Maestas said Valles accumulated a kind of moral authority over the years, so he could tell public officials and others what to do.
“He had just an incredible political courage to speak his mind, regardless of the personal and political consequences,” Maestas said. “And that’s rare.”