Kandy Cordova, a longtime passionate and potent Valencia County public servant, died at 8:17 a.m., Friday, April, 21, at home at the age of 86.
Kandy made it a point to put her best foot forward to make her community better. She will be remembered for her passion, her strength and her playful sense of humor.
Her daughter, Pam, said her mother had been battling dementia for many years, but the fight had become more intense during the past four.
“She lived at home, but I was her primary caregiver,” Pam said on the afternoon of her mother’s death. “She had really wonderful caretakers. They were all there this morning.”
Kandy had been in hospice since August 2019. Her family was told back then that she only had five to 10 days to live.
“She’s a tough cookie and it didn’t happen that way,” Pam said.
Kandy Cordova served as Valencia County clerk from 1988 to 2000, before term limits. She was then elected to the New Mexico House of Representatives for District 7, a seat she held from 2001 to 2007.
While Kandy was a revered lawmaker and government official, Pam said her mother’s first priority was her family. Even before she thought about entering public service, she made sure her late husband, Smiley, and their children, Pam, Sharon, Chris and Joey, were happy and safe.
“We never knew this until years later, but she would wake up, get dressed for work and put her robe on. She would make us breakfast and our lunches and send us off to school,” Pam said. “She would then throw off her robe and leave to work. She just wanted us to know she was here for us.”
While her children were growing up, Kandy worked at different local businesses, such as Buckland Pharmacy, with Dr. Radcliffe and as a teacher’s aide. She was also the business manager at the Valencia County News-Bulletin prior to running for county clerk.
“She had been approached by folks around town, and asked to run for office,” Pam said of her mother. “She was asked even before, but my mom always said it wasn’t the right time because she was raising all of us.
“So when the county clerk’s position came up, she decided to do it. She asked my dad, and he said, ‘If you’re willing to have a target on your back, then go ahead.’”
Pam remembers the day — Thanksgiving Day — when her mom told the family of her plan to run for county clerk.
“She was very excited,” she said. “We were all for it.”
Sharon said she looked up to her mother, not only because she loved her, but because she admired her for all that she was.
“She actually asked us if it was OK for her to run for county clerk and state rep,” Sharon said. “She wanted to make sure you were on board. Family was numero uno.”
While Kandy didn’t enter the political world until after her children were grown, she had always been involved in the community. She was the state grand regent of the Catholic Daughters of America, and served as president of the Greater Belen Chamber of Commerce.
“She was the first woman to be invited to join the Rotary Club of Belen,” Pam said. “The story is that there was never a woman worthy of the Rotary Club, and she ultimately served as president.”
Kandy imparted the importance of community involvement to her children, but the single most important lesson she instilled was the significance education had in their lives.
Sharon said her mother always told her that she could do and be whatever she wanted.
“She would tell me, ‘With love and determination, you can do it. She encouraged all of us.”
“As a legislator, she was most proud of her work in education as well as bringing back the capital outlay funding for the Whitfield Wildlife Conservation Area,” Pam said.
New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham first met Kandy in 2001, when the Belen native was a freshman legislator. At the time, Lujan Grisham was the director of the state’s Agency on Aging, now known as the New Mexico Aging and Long-Term Services.
“Long story short, one of the nursing homes was really notorious for not having enough staff and not providing quality care,” Lujan Grisham said. “Rep. Cordova’s mother was there, and it was nerve-wracking for her. We had a lot of trouble — in both parties — to get anyone to push that issue and call for real accountability.”
The governor remembers Kandy went to her, wanting to get to know her better and to talk about how bad the care was where her mother was living.
“I convinced her to take on a very challenging bill on acuity staffing that I couldn’t get passed,” the governor remembers. “She did it with incredible intellect and courage.
“It took a freshman legislator from a small community, and they didn’t take her very seriously. She was the first legislator, first policy-maker in my career that had the courage to let her guard down and to show the emotion about what people were suffering through.”
The bill ultimately passed and was enacted into law. Lujan Grisham said Kandy was able to articulate the power of the work the state should do for vulnerable populations.
“She won my respect, my gratitude, and did any number of amazing things. She took on the giants as a freshman legislator,” the governor said. “She used love, compassion, dignity and her own experience to move the needle. I am very sad to have lost her.”
Both the governor and Kandy’s daughters said she was a friend to everyone, regardless of their political party.
“She liked helping people. She was definitely a people person,” Pam said. “She was able to get along with everyone — Democrats, Republicans, Independent, Green Party, Libertarians.”
“She always told us it was an honor to serve because of that love of people and her community. She always had Valencia County in her heart,” Sharon said.
“She was the type of person to build relationships that people cared about,” Lujan Grisham said. “She made it a joy to work in the Legislature.”
The governor also said Kandy encouraged her to run for higher office, which she took as high praise.
“She was that mentor who believed I could do more for our state and the country I wanted to serve,” she said. “I’m very proud to have received her support.”
Bosque Farms native and former state auditor Brian Colón said there are few public servants who have embodied the title of “honorable” as much as Kandy Cordova.
“I was the lifelong beneficiary of observing what it meant to be a true public servant because I met Kandy Cordova as a young man wanting to be involved in my community,” Colón said. “She was quick to engage, encourage and love on everyone she encountered.
“I am grateful for every single interaction I had with Kandy over a 40-year span, which is the vast majority of my life. I was a better public servant and elected official because of the example set by our community champion, Kandy Cordova. She will never be forgotten.”
As her family, friends and her constituents prepare to say goodbye, Kandy is being remembered as a “shining star and as an example for anyone to follow,” Pam said. “She’ll be remembered best for her million dollar smile. She was kind of cool — she was very cool.”
A final visitation will take place at 9 a.m., Thursday, April 27, at Our Lady of Belen Catholic Church, followed by a Funeral Mass to be celebrated at 10 a.m. Interment will follow at Our Lady of Belen Memorial Gardens.
Clara Garcia is the editor and publisher of the Valencia County News-Bulletin.
She is a native of the city of Belen, beginning her journalism career at the News-Bulletin in 1998 as the crime and courts reporter. During her time at the paper, Clara has won numerous awards for her writing, photography and typography and design both from the National Newspaper Association and the New Mexico Press Association.