He had been a Bernalillo County volunteer firefighter for 20 years, and frequently acted as the department’s media spokesman and liaison. He also created the department’s rehabilitation program for families left homeless by fires and who needed assistance getting temporary housing and personal and household items replaced.
When he was younger, Padilla worked as a lineman for the old Bell Telephone companies. He later worked as the head of grounds maintenance for the Bernalillo Parks and Recreation Department.
Bernalillo County Commissioner Art De La Cruz, a former director of the county Parks and Rec Department, remembers Padilla well as an employee and friend.
“He truly loved his job. He’d talk about all the families using the parks to sit and relax or play soccer and other games and you could tell he took great pride in having a hand in keeping those parks safe and clean and beautiful.”
After Padilla retired from the Parks and Rec Department, he worked for the Sanchez Bus Co. as a transportation monitor, helping children with handicaps who rode the buses.
When De La Cruz became a county commissioner, he saw another side of Padilla – the activist side.
“Tony was a silent leader in the sense that he didn’t hold an office, but he was always working to improve his community. He didn’t get involved with groups and neighborhood associations; instead, he listened to people and families one-on-one, and then went to the elected officials – and the media if he had to – and pushed for change.”
Over the years, De La Cruz said, Padilla was responsible for identifying areas in his community that were in dire need of fire hydrants, sidewalks, stop signs, traffic lights and street lights, and then advocating on behalf of his neighbors to get those items installed.
He also led a 1999 “fill the boot” event to raise money for the family of a Bernalillo County firefighter who was struck and killed by a hit-and-run driver.
Padilla also had a brush with fame, said his granddaughter, Ashley Allison, of Hobbs.
In 1998, then-President Bill Clinton was touring the South Valley. Not used to New Mexico’s glaring sun, the president began experiencing eye discomfort. Padilla took off his own sunglasses and gave them to the president to wear for the duration of his visit.
“My grandfather was just a very noble and loyal man, to both his family and his community,” Allison said. “We called him the unofficial-official mayor of Los Padillas.”
Padilla is survived by two daughters, six grandchildren, four great-grandchildren, and numerous nephews, nieces, cousins and friends.
He was buried in Los Padillas Cemetery.