SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — A crowd of family members, longtime friends and politicians turned out Saturday morning to pay their final respects as House Speaker Ben Lujan, one of the most powerful and longest serving state legislators in New Mexico history, was laid to rest.
A funeral Mass drew about 1,000 people to the Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi in Santa Fe. Among them were former Gov. Toney Anaya, Attorney General Gary King and Albuquerque Mayor Richard Berry.
Lujan’s son, U.S. Rep. Ben Ray Lujan, described his father as a “gentleman’s gentleman” during Saturday’s service. He said his father knew how to bring people together but was also known for standing his ground.
“He fought for the poor and those that were less fortunate,” Congressman Lujan said.
Archbishop Michael Sheehan described Ben Lujan as a skilled politician, a devout Catholic and a family man.
Lujan died of lung cancer shortly before Christmas. He was 77. He was diagnosed with advanced stage cancer in late 2009 and had undergone radiation and chemotherapy treatment. It wasn’t until the opening of the 2012 legislative session that he publicly announced his battle with the illness and his planned retirement.
The Democrat from Nambe spent half his life as a state lawmaker, winning his first election to the House in 1974.
Lujan served as speaker from 2001 to 2012. He was one of the most influential men in the Legislature and was known for his keen knowledge of legislative rules and procedures in steering bills through the House or keeping measures bottled up in committees.
At the end of his final legislative session, which coincided with New Mexico’s statehood centennial, Lujan told his colleagues: “I leave you as you begin your journey to the next 100 years. I trust you to be great stewards of this Land of Enchantment. It’s truly a remarkable participatory process.”
Lujan’s family said he loved New Mexico and its people.
He championed legislation to cap property tax increases, finance highway projects and a worker training subsidy program that was one of the state’s main economic development incentives.
He was also instrumental in removing the tax on food in 2004. For Lujan, that was one of his proudest accomplishments.
Following Saturday’s funeral Mass, Lujan was to be buried at Sagrado Corazon de Jesus Cemetery in Nambe.
His family asked that in lieu of flowers, memorial contributions be made to the University of New Mexico Cancer Center or to the Speaker Ben Lujan Scholarship Memorial Fund at any Century Bank branch.