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Former state Sen. Joseph Fidel of Grants dies at 91

Joseph Fidel, an influential Grants businessman who served more than three decades in the state Senate, has died at 91.

COURTESY PHOTO Joseph Fidel, a Grants businessman, served more than 30 years in the New Mexico Senate and chaired its Finance Committee. Thu May 14 15:47:17 -0600 2015 1431640037 FILENAME: 192337.jpg

Joseph Fidel, a Grants businessman, served more than 30 years in the New Mexico Senate and chaired its Finance Committee.

Fidel died Wednesday, according to his son, Mark Fidel of Albuquerque. He suffered from dementia and had been in hospice care, his son said.

He died at the Grants home he shared with his wife of 65 years, Aurora “Dora” Fidel, who survives him.

“He was with family. He lived and died the same way, pretty peacefully,” Mark Fidel said.

A rosary and funeral Mass will be held at 2 p.m. May 30 at St. Teresa of Avila Church in Grants.

His son described the mild-mannered Fidel as “a consummate gentleman,” a view widely held by his former colleagues.

“He was always a gentleman. I never heard him say anything negative about anybody – and he did that in one of the easiest places not to do that,” said Rep. W. Ken Martinez, D-Grants, who served in the Legislature with him and whose father, the late House Speaker Walter K. Martinez, was a close friend of Fidel’s.

“The guy was never mean,” he said.

Democratic former Gov. Bill Richardson said Fidel was a “classy, seasoned, statesman-like leader” who put the state’s interest above party politics.

He was “one of those Senate giants who were revered by Democrats and Republicans alike and could get things done,” Richardson recalled.

Fidel, a Democrat, was in the Senate from 1973 until he resigned midterm in 2006. One of his reasons for leaving the Legislature, according to his son: “It wasn’t any fun anymore. It had gotten mean-spirited.”

He represented District 30, which included Cibola, Socorro and Valencia counties.

A member of the Finance Committee for his entire tenure, he was its vice chairman from 1989 to 2004 and its chairman in 2005-06.

“Joe just commanded a lot of respect,” said the current finance chairman, Sen. John Arthur Smith, D-Deming. Smith recalled at the start of his own Senate career 27 years ago being advised, “If you want the truth, go to Joe Fidel.”

Fidel was a real estate broker, a co-owner of insurance agencies, one of the founders of Grants State Bank, and a part-owner of the former First National Bank of Grants, according to his son.

He was instrumental in the creation in 1981 of Cibola County, which was carved out of the western portion of what was then Valencia County.

Before his election to the Senate, he was Valencia County assessor for four terms, a Grants city councilor and a member of the Grants Municipal School Board.

In addition to his wife and son, he is survived by five daughters – Barbara Fidel of Grants, Donna Smith of Albuquerque, Marcia Leyba of Grants, Annamarie Fidel-Rice of Wheat Ridge, Colo., and MaryLee Wallick of Okmulgee, Okla. He had 12 grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.