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New Mexico lost one of its most pleasant citizens recently with the death of former state Rep. Tom Foy. If ever a person could be said to always have a smile on his face, it was Tommy, or Tommie, depending on how his friends wanted to spell it.
To my knowledge, he always spelled his name Tom but seemed to have no objection to the diminutive form. He was diminutive.
Many thought of him as a leprechaun. But Tom didn’t need to prove he was a tough guy.
He played football in high school and then survived the horrors of the Bataan Death March and Japanese hell ships and prison camps. Tom didn’t seem to mind talking about his war experiences and the pleasant look on his face didn’t seem to change even then.
When Tom signed up for the New Mexico National Guard, he had no idea what was coming. In 1940, he had just graduated from Notre Dame Law School and taken a job with a Silver City law firm.
Congress had just passed a draft act and Tom figured enlisting in the Guard might be a way to stay closer to home.
But problems implementing the new draft law meant that guard units throughout the nation were called on to fill in the gap to prepare for what looked like an impending war.
The guard activations were for only a year and the New Mexico National Guard would stay together.
When word came they would be deployed to the South Pacific, rumors spread that they were headed to the resort islands of Samoa, one of the few U.S. possessions in the South Pacific.
And that’s where some units were sent.
But when our guys saw anti-aircraft artillery and ammunition loaded on their ship, they knew they were in for another disappointment.
But Foy didn’t let it bother him.
He had enlisted as a private but soon became a sergeant in charge of the right areas to make his cabin the gathering place for the guard’s officers.
Eventually he became an officer, too.
Later those organizational skills enabled him to help establish a secret area for holding rosaries in prison camp.
Foy was awarded many medals and commendations for his service.
Foy didn’t get back to Silver City for five years. He opened a law practice of his own and two years later became district attorney.
Then he was on to the legislature where he served in the house for 28 years.
During that period, Foy served as chairman of many committees and was instrumental in the passage of major legislation such as New Mexico’s Equal Rights Amendment, the Uniform Probate Code and the veterans’ property tax exemption.
Foy also was active in many community and religious organizations.
I knew Tom and his wife Joan well during his 28 years in the legislature. We also were district governors of Lions Clubs International.
And we were graduates of the same high school. When Tom graduated, it was called State Teachers College High School.
By the time I graduated, the college’s name had changed to New Mexico Western College and the high school, which served all of Silver City and the surrounding area, was called Western High School. It now is Silver High School.
Other graduates of that high school were U.S. senators Harrison Schmitt and Jeff Bingaman. Schmitt also was the last astronaut to set foot on the moon.
Billy the Kid also attended that high school and is its most famous drop out.
He was a good student but other matters led to his early departure.
Foy had a large and distinguished family. His son Jim has been a district attorney and daughter Celia is the chief judge of the state Court of Appeals.
Judge Celia Foy Castillo’s husband, Al Castillo, was a state representative from Raton and also was state auditor.