Maralyn Budke: Wisdom, grace and public service

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By Hal Rhodes

Former Gov. Garrey Carruthers once ranked Maralyn Budke alongside our “finest governors, senators and congressmen” in terms of her public service “contributions to our state.”  

I knew of Maralyn Budke’s lustrous reputation well before we first met on the morning of Nov. 5, 1986.

The preceding night Carruthers had become the first Republican in 16 years to be elected to the state’s highest office, and he and I were about to sit down for an interview to be broadcast that evening on a public television news program, of which I was managing editor and host.

As the crew set up cameras and lights, the ebullient governor-elect introduced his entourage, most of whom I recognized as campaign aides and Republican operatives.

Standing slightly removed from the others was this intensely observant woman with blondish hair, fair complexion, clear blue eyes with glimmers of mischief and the bemused smile of a pro.

As I extended my hand, she said, “I’m Maralyn Budke.”   

“And I’m Hal Rhodes,” I responded.  

“Yes,” she said, smiling as we shook hands.

It was the beginning of a treasured friendship.  

Carruthers’ first appointment on being elected governor was to make Maralyn his chief of staff.   It was a savvy pick. She had deep insights into state government and its operations, finely-tuned skills in managing staffs of people and a temperament simultaneously even-handed and tough-minded.

Maralyn was retired when Carruthers asked her to take the job, and he had some cajoling to do before she accepted. Her sole proviso was that she be paid only $1 a year for her services. Her reward would be the service she rendered.

The Carruthers’ administration was among the more smoothly run gubernatorial operations of recent years, and the former governor acknowledges that much of the credit for that stemmed from Maralyn’s steady hand.

The gifts Budke brought to her duties as chief of staff were honed during her decade and a-half tenure, beginning in 1967, as director of the Legislative Finance Committee.

From that post she helped professionalize the financial decision-making arm of the state Legislature – and  thus state government itself — by bringing it, sometimes reluctantly, into the last half of the 20th century.

For those accomplishments, alone, Maralyn more than earned the recognition and awards she garnered.

One of the most touching came in 1987 when she and her old University of New Mexico political science Professor Dorothy Cline (now deceased) were inducted into the New Mexico Women’s Hall of Fame.

Dorothy was my surrogate godmother. Maralyn had become a friend.

    Dorothy had been a trailblazer for women’s causes and a prominent Democrat. Maralyn had benefited from Dorothy’s tutelage and was a noted Republican (although after Republicans lurched radically rightward, she changed her party affiliation).

It was a lovely moment, watching them enter the Hall of Fame together.

Shortly after Carruthers’ term ended, Maralyn called to suggest lunch, during which she informed me that she had been diagnosed with squamous cell cancer on her tongue, of all places. There followed surgery and a grueling regimen of radiation therapy, which left her permanently incapable of salivating.  

But for Maralyn it was full speed ahead with service as chair of one board or commission after another and fundraising on behalf of worthy causes of every stripe, intermingled with wondrous trips to Africa where the land, people and wildlife captivated her.

Late last summer, 16 years after her first cancer diagnosis, Maralyn called, voice barely audible, to say another squamous cell carcinoma had been found in her throat.

 Maralyn Budke died on Jan. 9, leaving a lifetime of good works and a host of bereaved admirers.

© 2010 New Mexico News Services