Most Latinos may have never heard of him, but Raymond L. Telles blazed trails for scores of them.
Telles, who died Friday at the age of 97, was the first Mexican-American mayor of a major city, El Paso, with a leadership style that drew praise.
Telles served two terms, pushing the city to hire Latinos for its various departments. He also had several stints as El Paso County clerk.
"Among the Mexican-American leaders whose achievements in elected and civic service continue to make possible our Latino community success today, no one looms larger than Raymond Telles,” said Thomas A. Saenz, the president and general counsel of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF). “Elected to lead a major United States city in an era when a mayor of color was scarcely even imagined anywhere in the country, Telles went on to break numerous other barriers.”
He apparently didn’t care for fusses over his achievements. The El Paso Times quoted him as saying in 2005: "I attempted to unite the people of El Paso. It didn't make any difference whether you were Hispanic or Anglo or Chinese or whatever."
Telles, who served in the Army and the Air Force, was a veteran of both World War II and the Korean War.
He advised various presidents, and President John F. Kennedy appointed him Ambassador to Costa Rica. President Lyndon B. Johnson appointed him chairman of the U.S.-Mexican Border Commission and President Richard Nixon appointed him chairman of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
An El Paso Times story said: “Telles was El Paso's outstanding elder statesman. He always looked like a diplomat, well-dressed in a business suit with a trademark American flag in his lapel.”
Telles, who was living in California, was born in 1915 in El Paso.
The political pioneer credited his parents, Ramon and Angela Telles, with stressing the importance of serving the community and the country.
He was married to his wife, Delfina, for 65 years, until she died.
"You never know how long you're going to live," he said in an interview with the El Paso Times. "But I've tried to live a clean life. I never smoked. I never drank."
The family planned to fly his body to El Paso, where his funeral mass and burial were planned.
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