SANTA FE — New Mexico Health Secretary Retta Ward died in Santa Fe this morning after an apparent medical episode that led to a car crash, the Santa Fe County Sheriff’s Office says.
Ward, 62, had headed the department, the largest state agency, since January 2013. She previously served as Cabinet secretary of the Aging and Long-Term Services Department.
She had joined Gov. Susana Martinez’s administration in February 2011. Before that, she was a high school biology teacher in Arizona and had also worked for the Arizona Department of Health Services and for Albuquerque Public Schools.
Martinez said she was “completely heartbroken” to hear of Ward’s death.
“She was an amazing public servant who enjoyed her job immensely and earned the respect of her fellow colleagues,” the governor said in a statement.
Martinez also said Ward “approached improving public health in our state with great passion and a quiet confidence that helped bring her people together. She was kind and caring — always.”
“I will personally miss Retta very, very much, and so will her fellow Cabinet secretaries and staff, who I know are grieving the loss of a true friend and leader,” Martinez added.
State Republican Party chairwoman Debbie Maestas also released a statement, calling Ward a “dedicated public servant who was passionate about improving public health in New Mexico.
Sheriff’s office spokesman Juan Rios said deputies responded to a single-vehicle crash on Buckman Road near N.M. 599 around 9 a.m. Thursday morning and found Ward unresponsive. Rios said attempts to revive Ward on the way to Christus St. Vincent Regional Medical Center were unsuccessful and she was pronounced dead.
Rios said Ward’s car left the road and stopped at a small embankment. Ward didn’t appear to have trauma from the crash and may have suffered some kind of medical episode, Rios said.