“Guitar George” was a local icon.
His real name was George Martinez. He had hitched a ride from California to Santa Fe as a teenager in 1972. Martinez, who hated being confined indoors, had wandered the streets of Santa Fe ever since, playing rock ’n’ roll on a guitar.
“He was very charismatic. … People loved him and were drawn to him,” said his daughter Miranda Fuqua. “He was like a famous musician, out here on the streets.”
Martinez, 61, died in early January. He became unresponsive after collapsing at a gathering with friends, his daughter said. She sang songs at his bedside for three days before family took his hands and let him go.
“It was beautiful,” said Paige Kitson, a longtime advocate for the homeless who was at his bedside. For years, she said, Martinez had been like a father to her, too.
Martinez and 26 other members of the local homeless community who died this year were honored at Our Lady of Guadalupe Church on Wednesday afternoon in an annual memorial sponsored by advocates for the homeless.
“The people who we are honoring here, they didn’t feel a part of the Santa Fe community. … People looked past them, away from them,” said Joe Dudziak, a volunteer at Interfaith Community Shelter. “But they were part of a community.”
Debra Salazar wiped tears from her eyes as advocates talked about the dead. She was there in remembrance of Joe Salazar, 56, her husband of six months.
The pair first met as schoolchildren in Española, four decades ago.
“He used to sit behind me on the bus and blow in my ear,” she remembered.
Joe Salazar went on to serve two tours in the Army, before severely injuring his leg in a drunken-driving crash, his wife said. He spent some time at Christus St. Vincent Regional Medical Center, then wound up living on the Santa Fe streets.
When the Salazars connected again in 2015, he had found an apartment. The two were married in May of this year and moved to Rio Rancho, and Joe Salazar had plans to become a pastor. Then he died in his sleep.
“I had been praying and praying and praying for a man of God, and that’s what he was,” Debra Salazar said. “I just didn’t have enough time with him.”
Joe Salazar lived a longer life than many on the memorial list this year, whose ages stretched from 35 to 67. Among all homeless people, the average age of death is somewhere around 48, said Edward Archuleta, a case manager at St. Elizabeth Shelter.
This year, at least one local homeless man died of hypothermia, according to Kitson, who keeps track of the dead. That count may rise to two, depending on the results of another autopsy, she said.
Three of the people on the list died after being hit while crossing Cerrillos Road, according to Kitson’s count.
That the dead live on through memories and their impact on others was evident at Wednesday’s celebration.
Sue Carr, a staff member at Interfaith, shared the story of a man named Elliot, who went by the name “Red Fox.” He was remembered as always having “a smile on his face and a song in his heart.”
But his legacy went beyond that smile. According to Carr, after Red Fox died, one of his close friends “had a change of heart and a change of life.”
Now, she’s sober, she’s looking for work and she’s contributing to the community, Carr said.
“Red Fox’s life, in addition to everyone else, has so much meaning,” Carr said. “People are going on because of him.”
Contact Sami Edge at 505-986-3055 or firstname.lastname@example.org.