Sammy Martinez

Sammy was born on Sept. 26, 1948, to Manuel and Lydia Martinez in Durango, Colo., and just as Manuel was the first-born son to his parents, Lucas and Maria Martinez, Sammy was the first-born son of Manuel and Lydia. Sammy grew up on the various ranches in Bayfield and Pagosa Springs where Manuel worked. This life on the ranch became the essence of who he was and, as his family settled in Trujillo, he became synonymous with that community.

Sammy graduated from Pagosa Springs High School in 1967 and although he attended schools in various places like Bayfield, his school life was dominated by riding the school bus daily on the Trujillo Road. Disneyland is a playground for the world, but Disneyland had nothing on Trujillo for Sammy. He felt there was no greater place on this planet and Trujillo will be where he goes for his final stop where he will rest in peace next to his father, who felt the same.

Sammy had intensity much like that of fire and that intensity was felt by all that came into contact with him. His family was dear to him and, as much as he dearly loved each and every one, he was quick to lose his patience and no one knew this better than his dad, his Uncle Andy and those neighbors, friends and family who lived closest to him. Fire is essential for life and his love felt essential, but fire also burns and Sammy’s fire was all of that.

Sammy’s first love was to have a good time with his friends and family. As a young person, he developed his love of hunting, fishing and horses, almost a perfect trio for someone from Trujillo. Chief was one of the first horses he cherished, as was Smokey and others that followed. It was so easy to understand his passion because when he was away from them, oh, how affectionately he would talk about them. He was a cowboy, nothing urban about him. What he expected of himself he also expected of the horses which included weeklong hunting trips to the high country or going for a ride on a weekend for a couple hours when one of his city slicker cousins showed up. He thought nothing of saddling up a couple horses and going for a horse ride. The warmth of this fire, he shared with those that came to Trujillo to see him or those that lived with him.

As a young man, he was drafted into the Army and this, too, became a burning passion for him. No one seems to recall him talking negatively about his experiences in Vietnam. So very unusual until you put it in context … He refused not to make good friends and even in the midst of the fighting and death all around, his passion for life found good times and created lifelong friends like Tony Herring. Such was this fire within him that he became a loud advocate for veterans, especially Vietnam veterans. When his baseball cap was not making a political statement, he wore his veteran credentials and never, never missed an opportunity to thank a brother or sister veteran for their service to this country.

There was only one thing that he loved more than good times and it was his family. He married a beautiful young woman: his neighbor, Beverly, and they built a home in Trujillo, of course. They had two beautiful children who had two more children. As if the fire could not burn any brighter, these children: daughter Natosha and son Jesse and the two granddaughters Jordyn and (Payton) Paytie Ann, and the great grandchildren Nathan and Madelynn, Sammy actually loved this crew more than life itself. 

As a jack of many trades, he also happened to master many different skills. He worked as a pizza chef while he went to mechanic school in Denver. Turns out, he became an extraordinary outdoor cook, a much better cook than mechanic. He worked construction like so many in our family. He was a new-age migrant worker, living in many places in Colorado and Arizona, where he and his family followed construction work. Along the way, he developed the ability to build houses that became homes for so many, a skill he has passed on to Jesse. And always, his infectious laugh and smile, creating warmth around him that is only equaled by the hugs his daughter gives. Those hugs are world-class, such is that fire, that passion, that warmth and intensity, all are part of the complexity that was Sammy.

In March of 2005, the fire almost went out when he suffered a stroke on the way to a vacation with his wife. It was on that day that the internal regulator for his passion turned to either extremely hot, red hot with impatience and rage because of being imprisoned in a shell of a body and a mind that no longer worked for him as it once did or the fire would barely stay lit as he suffered the lows of loneliness and despair. He would still find a way to attend events, thoroughly enjoy the food and company and he would work twice as hard to carry lighthearted humor, often making fun of his dead arm or worthless leg. He still found friends and companions like Diana Baird and Wesley McCalister. But his condition frustrated him. How he wished Paytie would’ve known the other Sammy so they could have the bond he so cherished with his Jordyn. He was demanding, but in quiet moments and in private he wished he would not have been such a burden on Tosha and Jesse, on his brothers and sisters, but mostly not be a burden on his mother. He knew she worried about him, but he felt helpless not to make that worry go away for her.

In the end, the fire, the flame went out with such tenderness, in such good hands and with exactly who he would want with him. Tosha was talking to him and told her dad it was OK, and he could go. Jesse came over and they put their dad in their hands. Sammy gently let the fire burn out with his last breath as he left this shell and stepped into being whole again, holding the ultimate flame, the hand of Jesus.

Sammy was preceded in death by his father, Manuel Martinez; his baby sister, Chello; and his grandparents, Lucas and Maria Martinez, and Rafael and Antonina Martinez. He is survived by his beloved mother, Lydia Martinez; his daughter, Natosha Smith (Ray); his two granddaughters, Jordyn Martinez (Elijah) Nathan and Madelyn and (Payton) Paytie Ann Smith; as well as his son, Jesse Martinez. In addition, he is survived by his sister, Angie Riemer (Dale); sister Connie Gomez (Michael), brother Donnie Martinez (Candyce); sister Cindy Lucero (Guzman); brother Lawrence Martinez (Kimberly); brother Bobby Martinez (Teri); and numerous nieces and nephews.

Sammy you are free, you are whole again. Rest in peace, father, grandpa, brother, compadre, neighbor, primo, uncle, amigo. Your light will be with us always.

Sammy passed away on April 14 at Pine Ridge Extended Care Center in Pagosa Springs, Colo. The family is planning a memorial service and a celebration of Sammy’s life when we are all free to be together again.

This story was posted on April 23, 2020.