MARGUERITE Salazar, the trailblazing Latina from the San Luis Valley who served the nation through a presidential appointment and led state agencies in her home state of Colorado and her adopted state of New Mexico, passed away Tuesday at age 69.
Salazar was under hospice care in Santa Fe and died around 11:30 a.m. with her husband, Arnold; two children, Ursula and Max; and grandchildren, Marcos and Alicia Jacquez, at her side.
Born Juanita Marguerite Lara, it was her work over nearly 25 years as president and CEO of Valley-Wide Health Systems in Alamosa that opened the door to an appointment by President Barack Obama.
In 2010, Obama appointed her to serve as regional director for the U.S. Department of Health of Human Services under Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. In the HHS role she helped implement the new Affordable Care Act and gained experience as a public servant that made her even more invaluable.
Marguerite Salazar touched many lives in the Valley.
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She cherished the Obama appointment and maintained it for three years before accepting an invitation in August 2013 to serve as Colorado Insurance Commissioner under Gov. John Hickenlooper. Then in 2017, Hickenlooper appointed her to be the executive director of the Colorado Department of Regulatory Agencies, where she worked until New Mexico Governor-elect Michelle Lujan came calling and appointed her to lead New Mexico’s Regulation and Licensing Department.
While her work at Valley-Wide and her years of public service at the federal and state level defined her professionally, it was the love for her family and her home in Alamosa and the San Luis Valley that made her and gave her the most joy.
Her husband and children; grandchildren; siblings Vivian, Ray, Mark, Maxine, and Patti; nieces and nephews and extended family, all gave her the balance and support to reach great heights and achieve the level of success that she did.
Salazar was raised in La Jara, the daughter of Max and Cordelia Lara. She lost her mother early in life; her mom passed away in 1975 when Marguerite was 22. Max Lara passed away in June 2014.
Salazar earned bachelor of arts and masters of arts degrees from Adams State University. She and her husband, Arnold, married in 1976.
“We were together for 46 years,” he said on Tuesday. “She was an incredible woman.”
Together they were a formidable duo, partnering in business and influencing Democratic politics in Colorado and New Mexico. In 2013 the Colorado Health Foundation honored her with the Iglehart Award for Leadership in Health Policy, and in 2014 she was included in the Top 25 Most Powerful Women by the Colorado Women’s Chamber of Commerce.
When Salazar departed Valley-Wide Health Systems and the Colorado Community Health Network’s board of directors in 2010 to accept the Obama appointment, Valley-Wide designated April 30 “Marguerite Salazar Day” to recognize her contributions to community health.
With her now gone, “Marguerite Salazar Day” will take on an even greater meaning in honoring the Valley’s trailblazing Latina who rose to prominence by looking after the well-being of others.