Arthur “Art” Blea was born to parents who never reached high school.
He will be remembered for being a respected and beloved figure in the Pojoaque Valley School District; he was superintendent three times between 1991 and 2010 and spent 50 years as an educator in Northern New Mexico.
Blea died April 22 at the age of 73 after a brief battle with cancer, said Felicia Blea-Rivera, his daughter.
Blea spent 29 years at Pojoaque as an educator and administrator, rising to the role of superintendent from 1991-98, then from 2001-05 and 2008-10. He also spent a year as the interim superintendent of Española Public Schools from 2012-13 and worked for that district from 1972-81 before going to Pojoaque.
Most recently, he was a counselor for Ohkay Owingeh Community School for several years until 2020-21.
Blea-Rivera said he also homeschooled two of his five grandsons during the coronavirus pandemic.
Matt Martinez, a teacher, coach and athletic director at Pojoaque Valley High School under Blea, called him a treasured mentor to many educators in the district who led with a calm demeanor and an open door for anyone who wanted to talk to him. He added Blea cared very deeply for his students and wanted the very best for them.
“He was one of those individuals who people enjoyed working for,” Martinez said. “He listened to everybody and did everything he could to help you and make you a more successful person. He did quite a bit to move the district forward in a positive direction and gave us all the tools we needed in order to survive.”
Blea-Rivera, who is a state district judge in Bernalillo County, said her father’s passion for education was rooted in growing up poor in the Mora Valley. His mother, Avelina Blea, had a sixth grade education and his father, Sam Blea, reached the eighth grade before dropping out. They both encouraged their five sons to pursue college.
Blea-Rivera said older brother Larry Cordova was her dad’s mentor, as he was the first family member to graduate from high school and go to college in the 1950s. It set the tone for the other siblings, as Cordova became the first of four to become a teacher and all five went to college.
“Having grown up with so many challenges and coming from a humble beginning, he learned the value of a good education and the challenges of living in Northern New Mexico due to the lack of resources,” Blea-Rivera said.
Blea was born in 1947 in La Junta, Colo., and his parents moved to Rainesville, outside Mora.
He was a member of the last graduating class of Mora’s St. Gertrude High School in 1964 and then attended New Mexico Highlands University, where he earned his bachelor’s degree in special education in 1968. He later earned a master’s degree in special ed and administration.
Blea-Rivera said her dad’s other passion was golf, and he carried aspirations of being a professional before injuries he sustained while serving in the Army ended those dreams. Still, he continued to play the sport religiously until last summer, she said.
He met his wife, Mary Lou Martinez, at Highlands, and they married after he returned from a tour of duty during the Vietnam War.
He started his educational career as a counselor in the West Las Vegas School District in 1970 before he and his wife moved to Española two years later. Both were educators. His wife spent more than 30 years as a teacher in the Española and Pojoaque districts.
Patricia Archuleta, who worked with Blea at Española, Pojoaque and Ohkay Owingeh, said he was honest and fair to co-workers and subordinates, and handed criticism in such an even-handed way, she wondered what just happened after one meeting.
“I would just get scolded and you’d never know he was scolding you,” Archuleta said. “I would tell my friend who worked with [Archuleta and Blea] for many years, ‘Did I just get told off?’ ”
Archuleta added Blea was an advocate for teachers and supported them in whatever way possible. She never remembered him firing a teacher. Instead, he preferred to provide them with professional development to help them build the skills they needed to succeed in the classroom.
It bred a loyalty that led many educators to stay at Pojoaque for lengthy periods.
Archuleta worked alongside Blea for 19 years and stayed in the district for more than 20 years. Martinez spent 33 years at Pojoaque Valley before moving to Rio Rancho Cleveland High School.
Alan Lockridge, who taught and coached in the school district for 38 years, said Blea made teachers and staff members feel like they were important, even going as far as to solicit advice and input from them at times.
“He would sometimes call me about an individual who was applying for a position, and he’d want my opinion,” Lockridge said. “It was nice to be respected by somebody like him. I mean, he never yelled, never shouted. He respected the people who worked for him.”
Ricky DeHerrera, who has taught at Pojoaque Valley High School for almost 20 years, remembered his interview with Blea for a position at the school, saying he just inquired about DeHerrera’s life.
“He wanted to know who you were as a person, whether you were communicative, that you’re positive with the kids,” DeHerrera said. “That was key to him, and I think that’s why so many people loved working for him. He could bring out everything in you.”
Blea is preceded in death by his parents, Cordova and his wife, who died in 2010 after a three-year battle with cancer. Her ailing health led Blea to resign as Pojoaque superintendent, as he said he could not serve both the district and his wife at the same time.