The gift of giving: A Christmas story

On December 11, the Whitehead family, including John (a single parent) and two of his three children, Anna and Marcus, lost their Tijeras home of over 20 years and all of its contents to a fire. While still a devastating and tragic event, I want to share some of what has happened since then.

Michael, John’s eldest son, who no longer resided at the residence, is married to my daughter Rachael. Michael, Rachael, her friend Wendy, my fiancé Dana and I among many others have worked together to help John and his children get back on their feet in a variety of ways, with and online accounts set up to electronically donate to. A bank account at Wells Fargo was established for cash or check donations, and multiple businesses in Edgewood and Moriarty are accepting donations of items needed as well as cash. Salvation Army and Hug a Horse provided any clothing needed at no cost. The outpouring of the community has been incredible and I apologize if I missed mentioning anyone.

Although there is still a long way to go—due to the support they have received from friends, family, neighbors they knew and ones they had never met before, East Mountain businesses and many anonymous donors—the Whiteheads are now back on the path to normalcy and obtaining a new home on the former site of their old home. I’m a 21-year resident of Edgewood, and like most live in the East Mountains for it privacy, beauty and country life style. In many cases most of us prefer to just live serenely and be left alone but as all of us also know when a tragedy hits our area the community bonds as one and we are all one family. No time of year is exempt from this but being in the Christmas season it was even more rewarding to witness and be a part of it. In my participation I have met new people, visited with old acquaintances and had dozens of wonderful experiences, and it has rewarded me with possibly the best holiday season I have ever had.

Although all are equally important, one instance does stand out to me. Marcus Whitehead, John’s youngest and still in high school, is a budding musician and plays the guitar and piano. I was made aware that he had lost all of his musical equipment in the fire. Though not a musician myself, being a live music lover I know numerous musicians in the area, and texted several with the request of a donation of an acoustic guitar and case. Moments after sending the text one of them, Lou Dorcey, telephoned me. Lou, although an Albuquerque resident, has a band (Auto Electric) which frequently plays at East Mountain events, bars and brew pubs. I will call Lou an acquaintance rather than a friend as I have only known him for several years and primarily just converse with him when we occasionally see his band perform. He said, “Larry what is this about?” I told him the Whiteheads’ story and he said I have a guitar and case for him—what else does he need? By the end of the conversation he had offered the guitar and case, a Yamaha keyboard, the stand for it, an almost new electric amplifier and all necessary electrical connectors. I picked up the items from Lou the next day. When he opened the case to show me the guitar he said, “I have a special fondness for this guitar” and you could see in his eyes and hear in his voice that he meant it. I didn’t ask him why only if he was certain he wanted to donate it and his reply was, “Yes, he needs it more than I do.”

Marcus received the equipment the same day, and his father John commented to me on the phone later that evening that he had to finally ask Marcus to stop playing and rest a bit and that Marcus said it was the guitar he had always wanted. It choked me to hear that and brought more than one tear to my eye. A special guitar is now in the hands of a special young man due to a generous and special man. At our small Christmas Eve gathering of about a dozen that we are having there will be a few close friends, Jim and Shelly, the Whiteheads, my two children, my fiancé Dana, and a very very special guest—Lou has been invited and plans to attend so he and Marcus can meet. Marcus always plays some songs at our family events and will be playing some Christmas Carols on the guitar, and I expect Lou will join in.

Thank you East Mountain residents, and Lou in particular, for reminding me of the true meaning of Christmas and making my families, the Whitehead family, and Dana’s and my Christmas very special. It’s not about shopping, expensive presents, rushing to finish a list of things to do, lights or parties. It’s about family, friends, acquaintances and strangers, and their support, and about love, spending time together and the gifts of giving and paying forward. You have done all of these and more. God Bless and Merry Christmas to you all.

Lawrence Gray, John Whitehead and our families


Edgewood’s upcoming election and its past

Edgewood town councilor, Rita Loy Simmons, needs to file her complaint over the latest delay in the opening of the Comfort Inn Hotel under the category “Be careful what you wish for.” I don’t think her role was intentional; nonetheless, she is partly responsible. Her active support for former Mayor Brad Hill’s housecleaning in the planning office resulted in the opposite of what he promised; what his policies led to was a series of unnecessary delays not only for Scott McCall but others.

In 2015, McCall applied for certain zoning variances needed to build his motel. While all the signs were auspicious at the outset, he was to become the victim of amazingly bad timing. The last employee in the planning office who understood both the town’s land use ordinances and the jurisdiction of other governmental entities had just resigned. Her departure left amateurs in full charge of the planning department; the result was frustration for McCall and embarrassment for the town.

The first sign of trouble was the failure of the planning office to adequately review several important safety issues with Santa Fe County Fire Department early on. The fallout from that omission was not immediately seen, but its effects have lingered even as other problems were resolved. There followed a series of avoidable delays; the town staff failed to properly advertise the first hearing, and then (due mostly to bad advice) the planning commission made errors during both its first hearing and the second hearing called to correct the errors from the first.

When the aggrieved parties appealed to council, there occurred a major defect in that public hearing as well. Had the appellants chosen to go to court, McCall might still be waiting to break ground. To add insult to injury, the state finally caught up with yet another omission and McCall was forced to return to the planning commission for a belated lot line vacation which should have been done months earlier.

Hill and his associates swept into office in 2012 vowing to streamline and simplify land use decisions, but his idiosyncratic ideas on development review yielded mostly chaos. Another fixation was the promotion of a subdivision ordinance which Simmons and her sometime political ally, councilor Sherry Abraham, have recently interpreted as allowing for approval of a subdivision lacking passable roads or onsite utility hookups. Those who genuinely desire economic growth and development need to ask who, in 2017, is prepared to finance, invest in, or buy into subdivisions which don’t have passable roads or convenient utility hookups?

There will be two council seats on the ballot in next March’s town election, so I expect we will be hearing the usual talk about making Edgewood’s town government more business friendly. In 2012, the Business Friendly Caucus got what they wanted, yet consider this: In 2013, I was flagged down in the parking lot of the Eubank Costco by an irate Hill voter who wanted Karen Mahalick’s phone number. He needed help resolving an issue with a state agency, and complained that Edgewood’s new planning office wasn’t working as advertised. Be careful what you wish for?

Janelle Turner, Edgewood resident and former P&Z commissioner