By Mike Linn: CNJ news editor
He was an advocate of education, a man who symbolized strength in the midst of disease, calm in the wind of anxiety, and perseverance in the throes of doubt.
Diagnosed with lupus at 18, former state Rep. Mario Urioste spent much of his life battling a disease that broke down his immune system, attacked his organs, deteriorated his tissue.
Late Wednesday night the Clovis Democrat lost a lifelong battle with disease at Presbyterian Hospital in Albuquerque. He was 51.
“Just knowing what he (lived) through and (went) through, just to do what he did makes me feel so guilty, even to think I have a problem in this world,” said Rep. Joe Campos, D-Santa Rosa, who visited Urioste at the hospital hours before he died. “He was a person who could always walk in a room and no matter what the situation was at the Legislature, if it was tense … he would crack a few jokes and get everybody on a different frame of mind and make things easier to get done.”
An advocate for education in Clovis, Urioste was elected to the state House of Representatives in 1999 and served four years in District 63, which includes Curry, De Baca and Roosevelt counties. During his first year, he was appointed to a task force to fight former Gov. Gary Johnson’s proposed voucher system, which Urioste described as “a wake-up call to legislators.”
“In education you can’t fall asleep,” he said in an June 1999 interview with the Clovis News Journal. “You’ve got to keep trying and finding ways to improve.”
A former Clovis school board member for 13 years, Urioste bridged the gap between parents of minority students and school administrators, said board member Lora Harlan.
“I think he represented the minority and the Hispanic community in a very real way,” she said. “He was an advocate for all students, but his knowledge and understanding of the Hispanic community made him an asset in developing programs that would fit their needs.”
To his family, Urioste was a fighter. His disease left him hospitalized about twice a year for three decades, but his jovial spirit and optimism outshined any pain he endured, family members said.
Julian, who at 21 is Urioste’s youngest son, said his father taught him lessons through his battle with lupus.
“One thing he always told me, was that you can’t run from your pain. You have to put it behind you. You have to have goals in life and work toward those goals … and he would say that while he was on crutches or in a wheel chair,” he said.
Often homebound because of his disease, Urioste often spent time working in the carpentry field, building everything from cabinets and furniture to homes, Julian said.
But what he really enjoyed, Julian said, was playing in his band. A guitarist, Urioste loved to play for friends and relatives, at weddings and family gatherings.
Before his marriage more than 30 years ago, friends attempted to talk the duo out of marriage, expecting lupus would leave his future wife Irene a young widow.
But the two got married despite the advice, said Terry Bonney, a close friend an self-described “adopted sister” of Urioste.
“I can still remember the wedding day my dad … told Mario ‘You’re going to be all right,’ and Mario said ‘I’m sure going to try — I have a lot to live for now,’” Bonney said.