Resilience seemed to run in Loretta Armenta’s blood.
Though the Santa Fe native was born into poverty, the daughter of a single mother, she died a woman of some means and plenty of influence, having held the top post at one of New Mexico’s largest companies.
Despite never graduating from high school, she amassed drawers full of academic certificates and used her skills to lobby for social change from Albuquerque and Washington, D.C., and from Mexico to the former Soviet Union. By the end of her life, she’d met three sitting U.S. presidents.
And when her son Andre was born with severe disabilities in 1970, Armenta set to work crafting and lobbying for policy changes that would make life easier for families like hers.
Armenta, the former CEO of telephone and internet company Qwest New Mexico and the longtime former president and CEO of the Albuquerque Hispano Chamber of Commerce, died March 6 in Albuquerque after a three-month battle with kidney cancer. She was 75.
Though her family members expressed pride in Armenta’s achievements, they especially lauded her kind, modest heart.
“She was fun, she was loving, and she was incredibly intuitive,” said Armenta’s daughter, Monica Armenta, a longtime Albuquerque news anchor who now works for Albuquerque Public Schools. “She had a presence that made you immediately comfortable. You knew that she was truly interested in what you were saying and whatever was going on in your life.”
Loretta Armenta was born in Santa Fe in 1943. She attended Loretto Academy, a Catholic high school, before dropping out to marry Ray Armenta. The two celebrated 57 years of marriage in June.
Together they had three children — Monica, Denise and Andre.
Family members described Andre’s birth in 1970 as a transformative experience. He was born with a rare combination of disorders, Sturge-Weber Syndrome and Klippel-Trenaunay Syndrome, which caused myriad symptoms — including visual and hearing impairments, daily seizures, physical disfigurement and severe mental impairment.
“She really believed that he had been a miracle,” Monica Armenta said. “He was her closest link to God. She learned patience and tolerance, and she knew that there were no promises.”
The family moved to Albuquerque in the mid-1970s to seek better medical care for Andre, Monica Armenta said. It was there that Loretta Armenta first became involved with March of Dimes. She served as executive director of the group’s New Mexico chapter from 1974-81.
Her passion for advocacy led her to Washington, D.C., where she met one on one with two presidents — Ronald Reagan, whom she lobbied to back legislation in support of families of disabled children, and Bill Clinton, whom she advised on immigration issues.
Armenta hosted President George W. Bush in Albuquerque while serving as president of the Hispano chamber.
For Ray Armenta, who had loved his wife since the two were teenagers, her loss is profoundly felt.
“She was quite a woman, quite a woman,” he said. “I miss her so much; I always will. I just hope we see each other in another life.”
Armenta was preceded in death by her son, Andre Armenta, and a brother, Joseph Sanchez. She is survived by her mother, Flora Sanchez; her husband, Ray Armenta; two daughters, Monica Armenta (Edward) and Denise Armenta (Eddie); two brothers, Anthony and Marvin Sanchez; and four grandchildren.
Funeral services and a reception will be held beginning at 9:30 a.m. Friday at Risen Savior Catholic Church in Albuquerque.