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Musings of a Veteran Newsman

Unabridged version of story on Geri Lynn Sanchez ...

By Aurelio Arley Sanchez

              At the base of a sandy bluff on Belen’s West Mesa, in the shadow of a giant white “B” painted on the hillside, Geri Lynn Sanchez lifts her face to a cooling early morning breeze, feeling exhilaration in the anticipation, and later, euphoria, in the completion of her daily run.

              “It’s unexplainable, intoxicating,” said Sanchez – who in her Olympic style dark blue running suit with USA  in red letters across the front – projects a strong and quiet confidence.

              “Running is a cleansing magic on my soul,” she said, tying her cascading auburn hair into a ponytail.

               Sanchez, 47, is an amateur long distance runner fast developing into an unlikely world class marathon runner. Recently retired after a 25 year career as a Valencia County district court clerk, she’s a wife and mother, a new grandmother, and, according to some, a real “angel.” She’s called “Hot Granny” by her friends because of her country good looks and lithe runner’s frame.

              But it’s her inner qualities that are most impressive, her friends and family say, describing her variously as “charmingly homespun, generous, caring, compassionate, coquettish, and effervescent.”

              “She has an infectious love of life and people,” one friend said.

               Ironically, how she developed her convivial approach to life and living can be traced to a disastrous event early in her life, which could have destroyed her, but instead helped to transform her into a swift messenger of good will, and hope.

              Her favorite venue for dispensing her infectious brand of positivity is social media, especially Facebook, where her daily posts are often pithy, clever or inspirational. Some of the posts are original, and some cited. She combines her sunny online disposition with her real time personality to provide a breath of fresh air in a fog of incivility, say friends.

              One of her closest friends, Patricia Dye, a “sole-mate,” as Sanchez’s running mates call themselves, describes Sanchez:  “If it’s true that angels walk among us, then there’s at least one who runs among us.”

              “Geri Lynn is a beautiful person; an inspiring person who makes people around her try to be better,” Dye said. “She’s kind, caring, compassionate and helpful, motivating and so positive.”

              Another of her “sole mates,” Tina Jaramillo Jojola gave the winsome Sanchez the moniker “Hot Granny,” who when asked why, replies, “Take a good look at her.”

              Tellingly, Jojola, not aware of Dye’s earlier angelic characterization of Sanchez, bolsters Dyes’ suggestion of a celestial connection. “She’s open, honest, polite and inspirational,” Jojola says. “She’s always watching over you to protect you, like an angel.”

              Sanchez’ altruism is no act, her friends say; it’s as true as her eyes are blue.

              “I know there are days when Geri Lynn must get angry, upset or frustrated; I mean, she’s only human, and yet she always manages to stay so positive.” 

              She’s got a funny, impulsive side too; displaying it recently when she decided at the last minute to run a 5K event at the Duke City Marathon dressed in a Supergirl costume, later dancing in the streets with Albuquerque Isotopes mascot, Orbit.

               On Facebook, she posts in a playful, folksy style that at times is even frolicsome in a Mae West kind of style, like when she invited a running mate to share a morning run, “at your pace or mine?”

              If she’s not on a track or running on the ditch banks near her Belen home, she’s on her bicycle in the early morning: “Best time of the day - just me, my bike, the open road, and an occasional bug in my eye.”

              Happily married to her first love, she can also be daring, when she posts a picture of herself costumed in a depression era flapper’s dress, or shown running full stride in tennis shoes, blue evening gown and windblown hair.

              It’s all in fun, Sanchez says. Last June, Geri Lynn retired after `a 25 year career at Valencia County District Court in Los Lunas. Her friend and former supervisor, Jamie Goldberg said, “It hasn’t been the same around here since she left.”

              Besides her earnest and helpful professionalism at her former job, she brightened the day with her “quirky personality and cool sense of humor,” Goldberg said.

               One morning recently, while lacing up her running shoes at the Belen High School track, Sanchez chuckled and shook her head, embarrassed at celestial descriptions, offering that she is neither angelic nor celestial.

              “I’m no angel; in fact, I’m full of the devil most of the time, “she says with a laugh.

              Eight years ago, inspired by her son, Jeremy, who ran cross country in high school, Sanchez began long distance running.

              Passionate about running, she also possesses a fierce competitive drive. Her eye opening introduction into world class marathon running came at the 2011 New York City Marathon, which she completed in 4 hours, 7 minutes and 44 seconds. All along the way, her real time and online friends followed her progress, and cheered her on.

              Well before she expected it, she hit the veritable “runner’s wall,” or the limits of endurance, but overcame it.

              “The pain is only temporary, the satisfaction crossing the finish line forever,” she said, paraphrasing a quote she heard.

              ”It was a particularly satisfying way to come back from a crushing disappointment the year before, in 2010, when she trained all year for the Big Apple race, but missed it when she broke her foot just weeks before the event.

              Sanchez routinely sponsors fundraisers in conjunction with her running, to help raise money for victims of cancer, or others not as blessed with good health. Currently, she’s scheduled to run a mid-October marathon, and another one in January, to benefit two friends afflicted with multiple sclerosis.

              Dye said when she first met her friend in high school; she assumed Sanchez’s sunny optimism must spring from an idyllic childhood. But she soon learned from Sanchez that her childhood wasn’t always sunny, sometimes not at all.

              When Geri Lynn was 5, her parents divorced; so her mom, Rosemary Keith Davis, raised her and her little sister, Dena, by herself, “doing a very good job of it,” Geri Lynn said.

              In July 1978, when Geri Lynn was 13, mom and her two daughters were on vacation on their way to Chama to ride the narrow gauge railroad, when a drunken woman ran a red light and smashed into their car, killing their mom, and seriously injuring Geri Lynn.

              During her subsequent many months of hospitalization and recovery, enmeshed in a full body cast, and feeling a maddeningly constricted, painful ache and anguish in her body and soul, Geri Lynn had time to ponder. She at first was angry and resentful, but she soon realized that it only intensified her pain.

              Cocooned in her body cast, she rallied with the help, love and hope of her family and friends, coming at last to a pair of important realizations by which she has lived: “To give is to receive, and each day should be lived as if it’s the last.” She has since added another aphorism, “Live, love and laugh.”

              After the crash in Chama in 1978, Sanchez recovered well enough to be a three year letter man in tennis in high school. Then, as a student at the Valencia branch of the University of New Mexico, her typing teacher and future sister-in-law, Ruby Esquibel Lyons, set her up on a blind date with Gerald Sanchez, whom Geri Lynn remembered from high school as being a ruggedly built football star. On their first date, Sanchez drove up to her house on his Gold Wing motorcycle. A thoroughly jittery Geri Lynn was seriously considering escaping out a back door when she, watching from a window, saw him remove his helmet, and decided “he was the cutest guy I had ever seen.” She climbed on the back of his bike, and they rode 50 miles to Socorro, where they had a hamburger at the Sonic Drive-In.

              By Christmas Eve two years later, they were engaged, and then they married on May 21, 1988, though Gerald still teases her he can’t remember ever proposing to her.

              Besides her passion for running, her family is other her passion: including her children, Jeremy and Shanyn and grandchild, Jenniyuh, who just turned 1 in August.

              Shanyn says when she was in high school, she came close to making her mom burst into tears by being a bit of a rebel, “but when I saw how sad I was making her feel, I just stopped,” she said.

              “I don’t know how she’s able to keep such a positive attitude about life and about people, but it works for her,” she said.

              Besides Tommy and Joan Dils, her uncle and aunt who raised her, the next biggest influence in her life was District Judge Tibo J. Chavez, the late Valencia County district court judge and legislator who gave Sanchez her first job. Chavez was also well known as an herbalist and author, whose books included one on medicinal herbs and dichos, or wise Spanish proverbs or sayings.

              One of the sayings she remembers was “A quien madruga, Dios le ayuda. / God helps whoever who rises early.”

              Early every morning, Sanchez walks out into the cool dawn, laces up her running shoes, looks to the east where the sun beckons, and she runs.




To Be or Not to Be:

Submitted on July 20, 2011:

When I entered the world of print journalism in October of 1975, Woodward and Bernstein were being played by Hoffman and Redford at the movies the following summer, and journalism stood at the apex of its power to “make the world a better place.” So many things needed changing, and it seemed then that if the Number One resident of Pennsylvania Avenue had to be taken down for misuse of power, and if an unnecessary, destructive war needed to end, then we relied on what came to be called the Fourth Estate, a fourth branch of government to check and to monitor the other three branches susceptible to the lure of power, greed or ambition. The characterization I loved most, and which I was proud of, was that of “watchdog,” an ever vigilant and potentially vicious protector of the public and the public interest.

Oct. 2, 1975, a cool October morning, the Balloon Fiesta a few days away; the day was overcast but pleasant, and very quiet, except for the distant pealing of a church bell. The sunflowers outside the building had lost their bloom; the petals had turned black and were falling like leaves.

I had arrived at the employee stairway at the back of the building, and as I opened the door at the bottom of the unlit stairway, I looked up and saw a double flight of stairs leading to a second floor door that led into the newsroom. I climbed to the top, and stopped. The anxiety I had been feeling since I had been hired, at 20, right out of college, seemed to surge up inside of me as I put my hand on the door handle. I picked up my hand and moved back to the top step of the stairs, where I sat, and began thinking, began doubting.

I should have stayed at the small paper for another year or two. I wasn’t ready to work at a major metropolitan daily. I was afraid. I knew if I went back down the stairs, got into my car and returned to my old job, my old editor would welcome me back, and gladly. He had offered me a $35 a week raise to stay, and I had respectfully declined. I had chosen, and yet here I stood, doubtful, afraid, watching the second hand on my watch clock tick until I was five minutes late, and then six minutes late, and then seven, and the clock ticked on …



 Submitted on July 27, 2011:

I was 20, at one of those crossroads in life, having a crisis in confidence, seven minutes late deciding at the top of the stairs at the Journal whether I was ready for this or not, when I pushed on the handlebar of the door and crashed into the newsroom.
I heard a gruff anxious voice call out, “That you, Sanchez?”
“Yes, sir, yes sir it is,” I replied.
I looked for the source of the voice but all I could see was a man sitting at a desk obscured by a  huge cloud of smoke coming from a pipe the man puffed like a railyard steam engine.

 I moved closer and saw that he was wearing glasses with coke bottle thick lenses, had a shock of white hair he constantly pasted back on his head, and gray eyes barely visible behind the smoke and thick lenses.

Managing Editor Frankie McCarty, a tough but fair editor with a heart of bread pudding, had just hired me. She told me my first day would probably be spent writing obits.But the weekend  editor certainly didn’t seem like he was waiting for me to write obits.
“There’s a meeting going on at the Western Bank about Friday’s abduction of state employment security official. The guy who did the abduction calls himself Gosundi, he’s black and he’s demanding jobs for South Broadway from the Governor,” Bob Beier, the weekend editor said. 

“Find out what you can about the meeting and  then get back quick so we can have a story for 3-star edition,” “I’ve got Tomas on it too,” Beier said.

A friend and mentor at the Journal, Tomas Martinez was a gregarious, dapper, wise-cracking reporter who was diminutive and friendly, but when the situation warranted, tough and combative as a pit bull terrier. 

 I picked up a notebook and a pen from his desk and stopped for just a second at the top of the stairs.
“Where’s the Western Bank?” I sputtered.
“Down around Fourth and Marble, look around, it’s got a big signs says Western Bank,” Beier said.

Beier, a gruff, pipe puffing curmudgeon and 30 year news hound, didn’t  care much for what he later dubbed “The Kiddie Corp,” a group of 20-something cub reporters fresh out of J-School, which include Jim Dawson, Susan Landon, Win Quigley, Steve Penrose, Janelle Stamper, Phil Nicklaus, myself and a few others.

I  flew down those stairs and suddenly like a soldier who doesn’t have time to fear death in the middle of a battle, I was in the fray…


Taking Hostages

Submitted on Aug. 16:

 My part of the story was to do an interview with Andrew "Gosundi" Johnson, who had taken hostage a state Employment Security official. Though the police tabbed it a "kidnaping," the official could have left at any time, but chose not to. Anyway, Gosundi looked at the reporters assembled, and pointed to me. I don't know if he thought he would get a more sympathetic story from me  since I was obviously much younger than the other reporters, and too I also had shoulder length hair, which was not unusual among young men back then.

Gosundi told me his story, essentially that he was a qualified and educated man who had tried to get a job in Albuquerque, but had been turned away again and again. He said there was a critical unemployment problem on South Broadway, and he was demanding change; he made a public demand of Gov. Jerry Apodaca that he set up a task force to investigate and to come up with solutions. The governor complied and charges were eventually dropped against Johnson.

In the interview, I also found out many personal facts about Gosundi's life, and I was able to do a news personality profile revealing who he was and why he did what he did. I hurried back to the Journal, wrote up the story, and all well before deadline. For a day when I expected to do little more than obits, I had been bitten by the Journalism bug, supremely grateful I had worked up the courage to burst through the second floor door and start a career that continues today.  

When I came back to the office, Beier told me to call Gov. Jerry Apodaca, and get his reaction. I must have looked flustered because Beier told me, "Don't worry about it, if he's got no comment, we'll go with that, just get on it now."

 I called and an aide said to wait. When the governor got on the phone, he was gracious and cooperative, though he said basically only that he recognized and was working to alleviate chronic black unemployment, and that furthermore, he had taken note of Gosundi's concerns and would study them. At the end of the interview, I thanked him and he said, "Anything for a Sanchez." I did other interviews with him over the years, but the first one helped me gain the confidence I needed to not only begin, but continue with my career. Thanks Governor.


Old School Newsroom

Submitted on Oct. 25, 2011 

 The old Journal office building at 7th and Central was much more centrally located than the offices on Jefferson. It was a three level building right across  from a city fire station, it was centrally located to downtown, and it was a place with no windows. That was depressing, but I guess safe and secure.

We worked on Selectric electric typewriters, there were those loud clanking wire machines lined up against a wall, a bunch of reporters set up in desks side by side, no cubicles. It was an eclectic collection of reporters, editors and copy editors. Very few of the original crew are here at the Jefferson offices; there's me, and George Gibson, Greg Sorber, and that's it I think.

 The people I respected, and liked most, were Editor Robert Brown,an elder statesman with a presidential handshake and glare, Fritz Thompson, city editor with aw shucks drawl and an easy going manner that belied his strong armed devotion to getting the news and getting it right, and Ray Cary, a red headed manic photo editor who smoked a pipe in the newsroom, adding to a constant haze of cigarets smoked at their desks by other reporters, the worst offender being courts reporter Susanne Burks, who sat in the desk next to me. I haven't had any effects of second hand smoke, yet


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