Tom Horan, right, gives microphone instructions to former state Sen. Tim Jennings, center, as Sen. Stuart Ingle, R-Portales, looks on during an appreciation dinner held Thursday evening in Jennings’ honor at the Roswell Convention Center. The dinner was a benefit for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Southeastern New Mexico. (Mark Wilson Photo)
Former state Sen. Tim Jennings was honored for his commitment to New Mexico, his friendship and his service Thursday night by some 475 distinguished attendees during a special dinner and roast held at the Roswell Civic Center.
“I was very lucky. Very fortunate,” said the former state senate pro tempore, at the end of the night. “It’s really been an honor to serve you all for 38 years. We’re very fortunate to have each other as friends.”
Jennings, a Democrat, marked the end of 38 years as an elected official in January, when he left office after an election defeat.
The event featured an invocation by Bishop Ricardo Ramirez, retired from the Diocese of Las Cruces, and presentations by Bill Wolf, of the Big Brothers Big Sisters of Southeastern New Mexico, and entertainment by the S.O.Y. Mariachi Band.
Jennings was roasted by U.S. Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham, D-N.M., Farmington City Councilor Jason Sandel, state Rep. Candy Ezzell, R-Roswell, and state Sen. and Minority Leader Stuart Ingle, R-Dist. 27.
Attendees paid to attend the event. Proceeds benefitted the BBBS of Southeastern New Mexico.
”It’s beyond our wildest imagination,” Wolf said. “Tim has always been a strong advocate for (BBBS) throughout the state … but in the lives of all children throughout the state.”
Several speakers talked about Jennings’ ability to reach across the aisle and work with senators and legislators of both parties.
“We didn’t care about party. We cared about people,” Jennings said. “We did this together in the senate.”
Jennings began his political career in 1974 when he was elected to the Chaves County Commission. In 1979, he was elected to the New Mexico State Senate for District 32.
Jennings was remembered for his 34-year senate career. He was especially noted for his dedication to promoting educational and health care initiatives. He worked to establish the New Mexico lottery scholarship and the New Mexico Military Institute Legislative Scholarship.
He also worked to promote local industry for agriculture, finance, tourism and energy production. And, he collaborated with Sens. Emmit Jennings and his twin brother and former mayor Tom Jennings to build the Cielo Grande Sports Facility.
Tim was defeated by Republican Cliff Pirtle in November. Pirtle attended Thursday’s tribute.
The warm-hearted roast highlighted the statesman’s sense of humor but also paid homage to Jennings’ service and dedication.
“There are few hearts in men like him, that will serve in New Mexico again,” said Sandel.
Ezzell recalled she and Jennings shared common ground.
“We both embrace our redneck roots,” Ezzell joked. But then shared a touching story of when he rushed to her aid during a stressful moment.
Lujan Grisham showed a humorous slide show, before presenting Jennings with a live goat on stage.
“This goat is Tim’s goat,” she said. “Do whatever floats your goat.”
She then said how much she cared for Jennings and his family.
“I know what a difference they’ve made for New Mexico,” Lujan Grisham said.
Jennings thanked his friends and family for his “wonderful life,” and he shared his beliefs on politics.
“The greatness and strength of our democracy is, it is run by friends,” he said. “You honor other peoples’ beliefs.”
Jennings, who lost his wife to cancer in 2009, has returned to managing the family ranch along the Penasco River. His two youngest sons attend Roswell High School and New Mexico Military Institute Junior College. He continues to volunteer for the Dunken Volunteer Fire Department and advocate for Chaves County at the state level.