They called her “Big Red” because she had flaming orange hair.
As a child, that could cause problems for the boys who picked on Dorothy Gloria Rivera, because she was tough enough to beat them up.
Rivera, who worked an array of jobs in Santa Fe before serving in state government for about 25 years, died Dec. 26 in a Santa Fe hospital. She was 71 and suffering from both a thyroid condition and complications brought on by the coronavirus, her daughter said. “If I had to quote her words, she would say, ‘I have COVID, it didn’t have me,’ ” said Angelicque Baca, Rivera’s only daughter.
Rivera’s grit, family members said, was matched only by her kindness and generosity as she built a life through hard work and community spirit.
She developed an early penchant for hard labor, working a variety of jobs — from driving a dump truck for a landscaping firm to building stone walls to cooking at the local bus depot when it was downtown, Rivera’s sister, Lucille Gonzalez said.
Rivera had a longterm relationship with the late singer Genoveva Chávez, known as the First Lady of Fiesta because she performed regularly at that annual celebration for decades. The city named a large community center and athletic complex after Chávez following her death in 1997.
“I just know Dorothy was there for Genoveva and she was there for Dorothy and they were happy,” Gonzalez said.
“Big Red” Rivera was born in Santa Fe on May 18, 1950. She was one of five sisters, three of whom sported reddish hair. (The two younger sisters with distinctive mop tops were known as “Middle Red” and “Little Red,” Gonzalez recalled with a laugh.)
“She had a loving heart, a forgiving heart and was just kind, Baca said of her mom. “She never really said what she wanted to be, but with her character, she wanted to do something to serve and help people. And she did.”
Rivera eventually went to work for the state, serving as a custodial supervisor, including at the Bataan Memorial Building, where she first met Chávez sometime in the early 1970s when the two bumped into one another in the hallway during a power blackout, Baca said.
“Genoveva was scared,” Baca said. “My mom helped her out of the building because she knew the floor plan.”
Gonzalez said Rivera often served as a behind-the-scenes support system for Chávez, a fiery and sometimes flamboyant musician who wore ornate costumes made with Rivera’s help.
“She never got any of the glory, she was never mentioned,” Gonzalez said of her sister. “She was happy just to serve.”
Gonzalez and Baca said Rivera, who loved watching Christian and Bible movies and quoting scripture, always gave to her church and to such charities such as the Food Depot and St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.
“She gave to a lot of organizations,” Gonzalez said. “She was a soft touch.”
Besides Baca and Lucille Gonzalez, Rivera is survived by her granddaughter Kayla Lujan and sisters Marylou Orozco and Diane Rivera.
The family plans a memorial service at 10 a.m. Feb. 4 at the Light at Mission Viejo with Pastor Larry Toledo giving the service, Baca said.