Class of 1935, 2002
Although Albert T. Gonzales Sr. lost his eyesight due to a diving accident at age 17, he went on to achieve a great deal. At first, he once told an interviewer, he thought it was the end of the world. But he made no excuses and moved forward with his life.
Born in 1912, Gonzales attended two high schools: Menaul in Albuquerque and Las Cruces High School. He married Virginia Quintana in 1944 and they had three children: Albert Gonzales Jr., Virginia Moench and Carmen Gonzales (former NMSU vice president of Student Success).
Gonzales was the first blind person to graduate from New Mexico State University (then New Mexico A&M), the first to earn a law degree from Georgetown University School of Law in Washington, D.C. and the first to be admitted to the New Mexico Bar. He became a hero, a leader and a fixture in New Mexico’s courtrooms.
One case that stood out among the rest was the Reies Lopez Tijerina case. Gonzales was the only attorney of record for Lopez Tijerina, a 1960s-era Mexican-American Civil Rights leader who led the raid on the Tierra Amarilla County Courthouse. The raid cast the issue of land rights on the national stage and became a stimulus for the Chicano Movement.
Gonzales received an honorary doctorate during NMSU’s fall 2002 commencement in recognition of his service to the disadvantaged and his contributions while in public office. His career is legendary—not only for the famed cases that threw him into the media spotlight, but also for the pro bono work he did in his community.
His career in public service includes being a state representative for Doña Ana and Santa Fe counties and a judge in Los Alamos. He served on the Santa Fe School Board, the Santa Fe Board of County Commissioners, the NMSU Board of Regents (from 1950 to 1954) and on the Board of Regents for the New Mexico School for the Visually Handicapped.