Hundreds of mourners honor Varela at Rotunda memorial

September 8, 2017

Lawmakers and other officials past and present from all across New Mexico filled the Capitol Rotunda on Thursday to honor longtime legislator Luciano “Lucky” Varela, who died last week.

About 250 friends, family members and colleagues attended the memorial service, where Varela’s flag-draped coffin was lying in state. Varela died Saturday at age 82 of complications from congestive heart failure. He had served in the state House of Representatives for 30 years before retiring at the end of 2016.

Republican Gov. Susana Martinez praised Varela, a Santa Fe Democrat, as a dedicated public servant who put in countless hours in working on legislation. She thanked Varela’s family “for sharing him with us.”

Martinez wasn’t the only Republican governor who attended Varela’s memorial. Also in the Rotunda was former Gov. Garrey Carruthers, who was elected in 1986, the same year Varela was elected to his House seat. Carruthers now is the chancellor of New Mexico State University.

Senate Finance Committee Chairman John Arthur Smith, a conservative Democrat from Deming, said he and Varela probably were 180 degrees apart politically.

“But I don’t think we ever had any harsh words with each other,” said Smith, who for years worked with Varela on the Legislative Finance Committee. “Our system is better because of Lucky Varela.”

The service was light on political rhetoric, though there was much talk about budgeting and finances, areas in which Varela was considered an expert. And there were a few fond tales of Varela getting bills through the legislative maze.

Some lawmakers reminisced about how much Varela taught them when they first came to the Legislature.

Senate Majority Leader Peter Wirth, D-Santa Fe, said how much Varela helped him when he was elected to the House of Representatives in 2004 and was assigned to the House Appropriations Committee. “He was willing to teach me how it was done,” Wirth said.

And Rep. Debbie Rodella, D-Española, said Varela taught her a finer point of politics. “I didn’t have to agree with him on every issue. … I learned that you should read a bill in its entirety before you agree to co-sponsor it.”

A rosary for Varela will be recited at 2 p.m. Sunday at St. Anne’s Catholic Church. A mass of Christian burial is scheduled for noon Monday at St. Anne’s. Interment will follow at 2:15 p.m at Santa Fe National Cemetery.

Contact Steve Terrell at 505-986-3037 or sterrell@sfnewmexica­n.com. Read his blog at www.santafenewmexican.com/roundhouse_roundup.