Dec. 1—Richard Martinez can dig his toe into the sand with the best of them.
His initial response upon being informed he'd been selected as a recipient of The New Mexican's 10 Who Made a Difference award was to somehow figure out a way to decline it. Not because he's a jerk or ungrateful, but because, well ... you just have to know Richard Martinez.
Here's some help.
From Bob Wolf, a friend and fellow member of the Knights of Columbus at Santa María de la Paz Catholic Community: "He's like, 'It's not about me.' "
From Martinez's wife, Valerie: "The bottom line is, he's selfless."
From Anthony Romero, the fellow Knight who nominated Martinez: "His actions speak louder than his words."
At his core, Martinez doesn't really know what to say about this symphony in three-part harmony. He can't even utter "aw, shucks."
This is perhaps the best he can do: "It's honestly ... it's honestly like peace in my heart," he says of his reflexive need to be of service.
In doing so, he's always moving forward, ever forward — looking for the next group of people to help, or the next project that might make someone's day a little bit better. That's what he's done for years, whether volunteering at The Food Depot, or at the Interfaith Community Shelter at Pete's Place, or most recently, organizing a Knights of Columbus effort to feed victims of the Hermits Peak/Calf Canyon Fire and outfit them with winter jackets.
Oh, there's more. But we'll get to that in a minute.
For now, the salient point is to understand what prompted this reflexive need to help, which begs the question: Exactly who is Richard Martinez?
At the moment, he's the younger-than-56-looking guy at a south-side coffee shop who's earnestly, if humbly, explaining how he got interested in the human condition. Which is to say, he's talking about his background as a small-town kid from Los Sauces, Colo., a farming community in the San Luis Valley.
Grow up in the household of Solomon and Emily Martinez's nine children, and you stand when someone comes into the house. You say hello. You offer your chair. You're not the first one to jump in line when food is available.
"Those things caused a chain effect in my life," he says.
Mostly, though, you showed up to help when help was needed. So, that's what Martinez does. He shows up — and leads.
His fellow Knights of Columbus rave about his ability to get people to coalesce around a goal. During the COVID-19 crisis, when getting together indoors was nearly impossible, he organized the group to build a prayer garden to honor Our Lady of Guadalupe near Santa María de la Paz. To say this is a garden is akin to calling Texas a front lawn: the project was back-breakingly huge. And beautiful.
"It's a peaceful place for me, and that's what I try to make it for everybody," Martinez says of the 2-acre plot. "I see random people down there all the time."
With the garden complete, the Knights, a fraternal service order that's about 100 strong at Santa María, branched beyond Santa Fe when the massive fires sawed through much of Northern New Mexico. Led by Martinez — he holds the title of Grand Knight — they put together a succession of efforts that brought food, gift cards, clothes, supplies and to-go bags for those who'd been displaced. An annual coats for kids drive is being directed to the Las Vegas and Mora areas as well.
"Everything is positive with him," Wolf says. "At various times, he calls them 'God moments' — when an opportunity comes up for us to do something to help somebody. And he's always looking for a way to do it. And you know, he always says he counts on us, but like I said, he's the inspiration for us."
True to form, Martinez says the positivity he exudes is based on the reflected can-do spirit he says he gets from the people around him — and the people he helps.
"Go volunteer at a place," he says. "Do something for somebody else. You'd be surprised how that makes you feel. I mean, you go to the Interfaith Shelter and you see these folks living on the street. ... It automatically makes you feel grateful and blessed for the life you had. Because you have a nice, warm bed. A nice, hot shower. You have food in the fridge. Maybe you don't think you have food in the fridge, but trust me, you have food in the fridge. ...
"I mean, it's like you need those constant reminders. And I mean, maybe, sometimes my volunteer work is helping remind myself of them."
If that's the case, his whole life is an amazing, daily forget-me-not. Martinez has coordinated an annual fun run so area kids can travel to Honduras to help build clinics, schools and shelters. He's gone on those trips, too. He's also an active member of RSVP Santa Fe (Retired Senior Volunteer Program), though he's not retired: he has a full-time job as a senior account representative for Sharp Business Systems.
"He sleeps well," Valerie, Martinez's wife of 17 years, says of his reflexive volunteerism. "You know, it does bring him peace."
Richard Martinez ends some of his sentences and emails with that word: peace. And if a word can fit a man, that one does — way better than "aw, shucks."