A family-owned daily newspaper serving Riverton, Lander and Fremont County, Wyoming since 1949

Lee Martinez

Apr 13, 2017 - By Steven R. Peck

Beyond his admirable city council record, he was Riverton's top Hispanic public official

The institutional losses keep piling up for the City of Riverton. First, city administrator Steven Weaver left to take a job in Arizona. Days later, chief of police Mike Broadhead left to become a chief in Georgia.

On Wednesday, Riverton said farewell to another mainstay of local government, this one from the elected side of things. Councilman Lee Martinez got a heartfelt sendoff from a big funeral crowd. He died last Friday at age 76, in the midst of his third term as a city council member, where he was involved in countless community projects owing to the obligations of elected office.

An honor guard of baseball umpires assembled for the funeral, commemorating Martinez's five decades of work on the baseball diamond. He also coached at several levels of local ball.

He gave years of informed service to the community recreation board, worked productively in a couple of different jobs, raised a large family, and became recognized as a dedicated, reliable, conscientious citizen who contributed much more than most to his community.

Something else bears mentioning. Lee Martinez was Riverton's most prominent and successful Hispanic public official.

Along with Willa Wales Corbitt, 50 years after her death still the only woman ever elected Riverton's mayor; Scott Ratliff, the pioneering state legislator and enrolled member of the Eastern Shoshone Tribe; Keja Whiteman, who won a seat on the county commission as a woman, a Democrat and an American Indian; and other Fremont County glass-ceiling breakers including Hazel Spriggs, Joyce Jansa, Valerie Hafner, Alma Nicol and Lorraine Ocenas, Martinez has secured a spot in local history.

He stood for elected office as a Hispanic candidate, and he won -- more than once. He ran a competitive race for mayor, and in another year he might well have won. When he didn't, he sought a return to the council and continued to serve capably, proving himself again, both at the ballot box and in the council chambers.

His seat on the council will be filled soon enough. There is an established procedure for that. Looking to the future, Hispanic civic leaders, business people, educators, clergy and others ought to assess their own circumstances with consideration of standing for public office.

As a community, we are better served by diversity. Lee Martinez proved it.

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