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NM state Rep. Murray Ryan dies at age 94

SANTA FE – Former longtime New Mexico state Rep. Murray Ryan, who developed a reputation as a personable and principled lawmaker during a 29-year run in the Legislature, died Saturday in Silver City.

Rep. Murray Ryan

Rep. Murray Ryan

Ryan, who was 94, was the longest-serving House Republican at the time of his resignation in 1998.

He was a member of the minority party during his entire tenure in the Legislature – Democrats held control of the House for 60 years before a GOP takeover in 2014 – but was able to secure funding for hospitals, senior centers and Western New Mexico University.

Sen. John Arthur Smith, D-Deming, who served in the Legislature with Ryan and who knew the former lawmaker from a young age, described Ryan as a “straight shooter” and a moderate Republican.

“He was not highly partisan – he just called it the way it was,” Smith recalled in a Monday interview. “He was never looking for a fight with anyone, but he would stand his ground.”

Journal Editor Kent Walz, a former Silver City resident, said, “Murray was a dear family friend and a tremendous role model. His good humor, civility and kindness were defining traits, and he was an inspiration to so many.”

During the late 1970s and early 1980s, Ryan was one of just a few House Republicans who broke ranks with their GOP colleagues by refusing to join the “cowboy coalition,” an alliance of Republicans and conservative Democrats who controlled the chamber for several years.

He lost his spot on the influential House Taxation and Revenue Committee for the stance, but refused to back down, telling the El Paso Times in 1982 that the coalition was a “detriment and repudiation to the two-party system.”

Former Legislative Council Service Director Paula Tackett called Ryan a “true gentleman” who always treated legislative staffers kindly and wasn’t afraid of crossing party lines.

“He was thoughtful, smart and didn’t blow his own horn,” Tackett said.

A graduate of West Point, Ryan was born in the small village of Central, N.M. – now known as Santa Clara – in 1922, and worked for both his family’s liquor distribution company and the Kennecott Copper Corp., which ran the open-pit copper mine near Silver City.

After a stint on the local school board, he began representing House District 38 – which includes Truth or Consequences, part of Silver City and a swath of the Gila National Forest – in 1969.

Ryan Cangiolosi, chairman of the Republican Party of New Mexico, said in a statement Monday that the state GOP was saddened by Ryan’s death.

“His long and distinguished record of service in the Legislature fighting for the interests of rural New Mexicans had an immeasurable impact on our state, and his passion for his community has left an ever-lasting mark on Grant County and the surrounding area,” Cangiolosi said.

A public viewing will be held at 5 p.m. today at Baca’s Funeral Chapels in Silver City, and will be followed by a prayer vigil and rosary. A funeral Mass will be held at 10 a.m. Wednesday at St. Vincent de Paul Catholic Church in Silver City.