Matias Zamora’s story starts by cozy candlelight. Before bed, his mother, Antonina, would take a cast iron out of the wood stove and warm the sheets for him and four older siblings. Then, next to a flickering flame in the house his father, José, built off the main street in the village of Mora, his father would read writer Edgar Allan Poe aloud.
When Matias Abelino Zamora had kids of his own, he continued the tradition of reading aloud, albeit by electric light. He kept sharing Poe’s poems with grandchildren and great-grandchildren. His favorite was The Raven.
“We all remember The Raven,” daughter Monica Zamora said. “He’d get really excited and do the voice and place that emphasis on nevermore. He really got into it. It was sentimental. It connected him to his mom and dad.”
Beyond bedtime stories, Matias Zamora left a legacy in Northern New Mexico as a family man, judge and trial lawyer. He died Sept. 1 at the age of 91, leaving behind his wife, Emeline, five children, seven grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren.
Zamora graduated from New Mexico Highlands University in 1950 and Georgetown University Law School in 1954, but didn’t formally graduate from Mora High School until 2016. At age 18, he was drafted into the Army during World War II and forced to earn a GED instead of a high school diploma. In May 2016, he donned a cap and gown to walk beside Mora High’s 30-student graduating class to finally graduate high school at the age of 89, in the hometown where he blazed a few trails.
In 1965, when he was 38, Zamora was appointed by Gov. Jack Campbell as the first Mora native to serve as state district judge for the 4th Judicial District, which includes Mora County, so he packed the family into a black Volkswagen Beetle and moved from Santa Fe to Las Vegas, N.M.
“He talked about how there weren’t a lot of Hispanic judges at the time, so he understood that he needed to set a good example for rising Hispanic attorneys,” son Geno Zamora said. “He would beam when there was somebody out of Mora who went on and got a doctorate or became a college president or something successful. He always beamed when somebody from his Northern New Mexico hometown succeeded.”
Zamora was a district judge for less than a year before deciding against seeking election. For the next 34 years, he worked primarily as a personal injury lawyer in cases involving litigation with major corporations from around the country.
“The fact is he, didn’t like any barrier to his relationship with other people that came with being a judge,” said Richard Ransom, a retired chief justice of the New Mexico Supreme Court. “He didn’t like that esteemed position. He was more a man of the people.”
Three of Zamora’s five children also became lawyers. Diego Zamora specialized in wrongful death, employment and civil rights law in New Mexico before passing away from pancreatic cancer in October 2018. Geno Zamora is a former attorney for the city of Santa Fe and Santa Fe Public Schools who co-founded a private practice in 2015. Monica Zamora is chief judge of the New Mexico Court of Appeals, who somehow never sweats her evaluations in front of the New Mexico Judicial Performance Evaluation Commission.
“I remember telling the commission once ‘with all due respect, I’m more afraid of my dad than I am of you,’ ” Monica Zamora said. “Sometimes my dad would call me and say ‘what were you thinking?’ Other times he would call and say ‘good job, great opinion.’ I always liked listening to what he had to say.”
Beyond the three lawyers, Alonzo Zamora is a landscape designer while Roseanna Zamora is a broker who owns Adobe Reality in Santa Fe.
His offspring say Zamora offered wisdom applicable to any profession.
“Even as an adult he always had encouraging words for advancing and for taking chances. He taught me nothing ventured, nothing gained,” Roseanna Zamora said. “Of course he wanted all of his offspring to be lawyers. He got three of the five.”
Matias Zamora’s children remember their father from fishing trips and his love for traveling. He once took the family to Germany and Austria where he had served during World War II. For his 80th birthday, they went to Alaska.
Above all else, the Zamora family remembers The Raven.
Before Matias Zamora’s body was sent to the crematorium, his granddaughter Andrea Garcia tucked a copy of the poem into his suit jacket.