New Mexico’s leaders expressed shock, sadness and sympathy following Thursday’s death of state Health Secretary Retta Ward.
Ward, who had headed the N.M. Department of Health since January 2013, died after some sort of medical incident led to a single-car crash in Santa Fe County Thursday morning. She was 62.
Gov. Susana Martinez said she was completely “completely heartbroken.” She said Ward was “an amazing public servant who enjoyed her job immensely and earned the respect of her fellow colleagues.”
Martinez called Ward “kind and caring — always” and said she had “great passion and quiet confidence that helped her bring people together.”
“I will personally miss Retta very, very much, and so will her fellow cabinet secretaries and staff who I know are grieving the loss of a true friend and leader,” Martinez said.
Other leaders from across the political spectrum expressed similar sentiments about Ward, who was Aging and Long-term Services secretary before taking the Health Department job.
“She was a friend and a committed public servant,” said Sen. Jacob Candelaria, D-Albuquerque. “I will miss her greatly.”
“I did not have the pleasure of knowing her personally, but her passion and dedication to improving public health in our state was well-known and admired,” said state Land Commissioner Aubrey Dunn.
“What a tragic loss. Retta Ward was always very open and kind to me,” said U.S. Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham, D-N.M.
“Saddened to hear of the tragic passing of Sec. Ward. My deepest condolences are with her friends and family,” said Sen. John Sapien, D-Corrales.
Three New Mexico cabinet secretaries — Aging and Long-term Services’ Myles Copeland, Human Services’ Brent Earnest, and Indian Affairs’ Kelly Zunie released this statement on behalf of Martinez’s cabinet:
“Our friend and colleague Retta Ward passed away this morning. This news is heartbreaking in so many ways.
“Retta was a friend and role model to all of us. She was kind and caring in every way, which showed in her work and friendship.
“We were always inspired by her tireless dedication to the people of New Mexico, and her work to make our state the healthiest in the country. Her work will live on.
“She’d been with the administration since the beginning, and we worked with her day in and day out.
“She led by example in treating her staff with dignity and respect, and always demonstrated a passion for building a healthier New Mexico.
“We’re going to miss Retta’s quiet confidence and strength, and we’re grateful to have had the opportunity to work with, learn from, and get to know her.
“Retta’s loss leaves us all with heavy hearts today, and we will pray for Retta and her family and friends through this difficult time, and we ask New Mexicans to join us.”
State Republican Party Chairwoman Debbie Maestas called Ward “a dedicated public servant who was passionate about improving public health in New Mexico.”
“Our prayers, and the prayers of all New Mexicans, are with her family today,” Maestas said.
The N.M. House Democratic Caucus said Ward was “a dedicated public servant who oversaw one of the most important departments in our state, and she will be missed by many who knew and worked alongside her.” And the N.M. Senate Democratic caucus said Ward would be “remembered for her dedication to the people of NM during her tenure.”
“We send our deepest sympathies to her family, friends, her committed staff, and those who knew and loved her,” the senators’ statement read.
A post from the Department of Health on Facebook called the news “very difficult and heartbreaking.”
“Secretary Ward was an exceptional leader, passionate about improving health for all New Mexicans,” the post stated. “She was also passionate about making the Department of Health the best place to work in New Mexico. She valued and appreciated her colleagues. For many of us, she was more than a boss, a colleague, and a mentor. She was a true friend.”