For more than 300 years, Albuquerque has been nestled between the Rio Grande and the Sandia Mountains. The metropolitan area today has more than a million residents. But consider how many millions have lived their lives in the Duke City since its founding in 1706.
Out of that number, you’re certain to find a bunch of very interesting people. And this story is about 31 of these important people, each either born in Albuquerque or who considered the city home for a good part of their lives. Each also is distinguished by what he or she did to make them important — or, at least, memorable. These prominent people are listed by their year of birth.
Manuel Armijo (1793 – 1853)
Manuel Armijo served as governor of New Mexico three times. Perhaps his most famous — or infamous — act occurred during his third term, when he surrendered New Mexico to the U.S., negotiated by James Magoffin, a relative of Samuel Magoffin and his wife, Susan (who wrote Down the Santa Fe Trail and into Mexico). When Gen. Stephen Kearny arrived with 1,700 exhausted soldiers, expecting to face 2,000 Mexican militia; he was met instead by Armijo, who watched the Mexican flag be replaced by the Stars and Stripes. Then he climbed into his barouche and headed south to Mexico City. He had already liquidated his business assets in Santa Fe.
Mariano Antonio Chaves (1818 – 1889)
Not to be forgotten is Mariano Antonio Chaves, a Mexican Army officer known as El Leonito (Little Lion). He was already legendary for his courage and marksmanship. But, perhaps his most notable success was in ending Texans’ attempt to expand their border to the Rio Grande and take advantage of trade along the Santa Fe Trail. The failed effort is known as the 1841 Texas Santa Fe Expedition.
Edmund G. Ross (1826 – 1907)
Edmund Ross was governor of New Mexico from 1885 to 1889. While serving as U.S. senator from 1866 to 1871, he voted against convicting President Andrew Johnson of high crimes and misdemeanors. By a margin of just his one vote, Johnson avoided impeachment. The consequence was not so favorable for Ross. He lost his bid for re-election two years later.
Néstor Montoya (1862 – 1923)
Néstor Montoya was a delegate to the constitutional convention that drafted and adopted New Mexico’s constitution in 1910. The document was ratified by voters in November 1911, opening the way for statehood two months later. His contribution to the process protected the rights of Hispanic people in the areas of education, voting, and civil liberties. He made it his life’s work, dedicating himself to inclusion in the political and social life of New Mexico. Montoya was among the first New Mexicans to serve in the U.S. House of Representatives.
Claude Albright (1873 – 1923)
Claude Albright was a mezzo-soprano opera singer. She is recognized as New Mexico’s most famous singer of the 20th century. She performed internationally, most notably with the Carl Rosa Opera Company in England.
Fannie Schultz Spitz (1873 – 1943)
Fannie Schultz Spitz was an inventor. She patented the first commercial machine for shelling pine nuts. She also sold pine nuts from her Albuquerque farm and promoted their nutritional value and culinary possibilities. Schutz married Berthold V. Spitz, a Jewish immigrant from Bohemia, in 1893. The couple was among the founders of Congregation Albert, a synagogue still active in Albuquerque.
Clyde Kendle Tingley (1881 – 1960)
Clyde Kendle Tingley was the eleventh governor of New Mexico, elected in 1934. He moved to New Mexico when his wife was diagnosed with tuberculosis and was informed the Southwestern climate might be beneficial. After Carrie Tingley recovered, and as governor, Tingley — long an advocate of children’s health — established more than a dozen hospitals in the state, including the Carrie Tingley Hospital in honor of his wife, to help children suffering from tuberculosis.
Soledad Chávez de Chacón (1890 – 1936)
Soledad Chávez de Chacón was the first woman to serve as New Mexico’s secretary of state and the first Hispanic woman elected to statewide office in the United States. She was first elected in 1922, just two years after the 19th Amendment to the Constitution guaranteed women the right to vote.
Clinton Anderson (1895 – 1975)
Clinton Anderson was given just six months to live after contracting tuberculosis. He checked himself into the Methodist Sanitarium, where he occasionally wrote for the Albuquerque Herald. He defied the odds and, instead of dying, was healed enough to be a reporter for the Albuquerque Morning Journal. Covering the legislature, he was very critical of how the Republican Party was running the state. He befriended some New Mexico Democratic legislators and gave them ideas on bills, some of which eventually became state law. Anderson began a lifelong association with the Democratic Party and served as a U.S. senator from 1948 until 1973.
Fred Haney (1896 – 1977)
Fred Haney was a Major League Baseball third baseman, coach, manager, and league executive. Born in Albuquerque, Haney was raised in Los Angeles, so it’s unlikely he saw the “Dukes” play in the Class-D Rio Grande Association in 1915. Still, he got involved in professional baseball early on, playing third base for seven seasons in Los Angeles as well as Boston, Chicago, Detroit, and St. Louis. He became manager of the Milwaukee Braves, guiding his team to two pennants and a world championship. Los Angeles recognized him as their King of Baseball.
Ernie Pyle (1900 – 1945)
After working as a human-interest reporter from 1935 to 1941 for the Scripps-Howard newspaper syndicate, Ernie Pyle earned a Pulitzer Prize for his stories of ordinary American soldiers during World War II. He told straight-from-the-heart tales about hometown “boys” — GIs in Europe from 1942 to 1944 and the Pacific in 1945. He was killed by machine gun fire from Japanese soldiers during the Battle of Okinawa. His Albuquerque home is now a public library.
William Randolph Lovelace II (1907 – 1965)
William Randolph Lovelace II served as chair of the Armed Forces Medical Policy Council from 1951 to 1952. His clinic had been awarded a contract from the Atomic Energy Commission to conduct field and lab experiments on injuries caused by the detonation of nuclear bombs. The clinic monitored how fast various species of animals died and the number of scars on the lungs of the various animals caused by atomic bomb shock waves.
In 1958, he was appointed the chairman of the NASA Special Advisory Committee on Life Sciences, where he would play a key role in the selection of the seven Project Mercury astronauts. In 1964 he was appointed NASA’s Director of Space Medicine.
Chester Nez (1921 – 2014)
Chester Nez was a member of the Navajo Nation. As a child, he was removed from the reservation, sent to boarding schools, and not allowed to speak his native Diné language. Then World War II began, and Nez, loyal to his country, enlisted in the Marines. In San Diego, he and 28 other Navajos were given a special task. They were to create a code secure from the spying ears of the Japanese.
The Marine Corps chose the Navajo language because its complex syntax and phonology made it nearly impossible for anyone not raised in the language to understand. The men used common, everyday words, easily memorized and retained.
On Guadalcanal and later Bougainville, Guan, Angaur, and Pelilieu, he and other Code Talkers fought more with their walkie-talkies than rifles, although they often had to use the latter to defend themselves.
In 2001, Nez was one of five surviving Code Talkers who received the Congressional Gold Medal from President George W. Bush.
Anthony Grove Hillerman (1925 – 2008)
Anthony Grove Hillerman, known as Tony Hillerman, was raised in Oklahoma, where he lived until World War II. Following the war, he worked as a journalist, moving first to Santa Fe and later in 1966 to Albuquerque. In 1970, he published The Blessing Way, the first of 18 detective novels set on the Navajo reservation. Early critics thought the book wouldn’t do well because the main characters were Native Americans. How wrong they were! Each built upon the evolving characters of Jim Leaphorn and Jim Chee and sold millions of copies. His daughter, Anne, has continued the popular series and there is now a television series based on his books.
The Navajo Tribal Council named Hillerman an honorary member of the tribe. He told the French newspaper, Le Monde, his Diné name means “He who is afraid of his horse.”
Corrine Clark (1928 – 2006)
Corrine Clark retired to Albuquerque. That’s the end of her story. The beginning starts with her being nicknamed Corky, a name given to her by teammates in the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League. In 1949, she was a utility fielder for the Peoria Redwings, playing both infield and outfield. She earned three degrees in physical education and taught for more than 20 years, ending her career as associate dean of the College of Education at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater.
Ben Abruzzo (1930 – 1985)
Ben Abruzzo helped make Albuquerque the ballooning capital of the nation. Following his stint in the Air Force at Kirtland Air Force Base in 1954, he made Albuquerque his home. Perhaps it was his military service that inspired his interest in ballooning. That interest led him to be part of the crew that first flew the Atlantic in the Double Eagle II balloon. He also made the first Pacific crossing in Double Eagle V.
With other hot-air ballooning enthusiasts, Abruzzo held Albuquerque’s first balloon fiesta in 1972, attracting just 19 balloons. From that grew the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta, which annually attracts more than 600 entries.
Pietro Vichi “Pete” Domenici (1932 – 2017)
Pete Domenici served as New Mexico’s U.S. senator for six terms, making him the longest-tenured senator in state history. Domenici voted in favor of establishing Martin Luther King, Jr., Day as a federal holiday. He voted for the Civil Rights Restoration Act of 1987, overriding President Reagan’s veto. As of 2023, he was also the last Republican elected to the senate from New Mexico.
Alberto Nelson Sanchez (1936 – 2017)
You might know singer-songwriter Alberto Nelson Sanchez as Al Hurricane, a nickname given to him by his mother. As a child, he blew through a room, accidentally knocking things over. The nickname became synonymous with his band, studio, and a recording label. He released more than 30 albums and is best known for his unique style of Spanish music.
Rudolfo Anaya (1937 – 2020)
Noted for his 1972 novel, Bless Me, Ultima, Rudolfo Abaya is considered a founder of the canon of contemporary Chicano literature. The themes and cultural references of the novel, uncommon at the time of its publication, had a lasting impression on fellow Latino writers.
Following the success of Bless Me, Ultima, Anaya joined the English faculty at the University of New Mexico in 1975, where he taught until retirement in 1993.
Alfred Unser (1939 – 2021)
Alfred Unser raced cars. Not just any car, but Indianapolis 500-type cars. He won the race four times, along with the national championship in 1970, 1983, and 1985.
His brother, Bobby, and son, Al, Jr., have contributed to the Unser family winning the Indy 500 a record nine times.
Helen Hardin (1943 – 1984)
Helen Hardin was a Native American painter. Her Tewa name — Tsa-sah-wee-eh — means “Little Standing Spruce.” She started making and selling paintings, participated in the University of Arizona’s Southwest Indian Art Project, and was featured in Seventeen magazine, all before she was 18 years old. Hardin created contemporary works of art with geometric patterns based on Native American symbols and motifs, like corn and kachinas.
Carmelita Vigil-Schimmenti (1936 – )
Carmelita Vigil-Schimmenti became the first Hispanic female to attain the rank of brigadier general in 1985. She was chief of the U.S. Air Force Nurses Corps, Office of the Surgeon General in Washington.
Wilma Mankiller (1945 – 2010)
Wilma Mankiller was the first female chief of the Cherokee Nation and a prominent activist for Native American rights. Although she was born and raised in Oklahoma, she spent several years living and working in Albuquerque.
Leslie Marmon Silko (1948 – )
Leslie Marmon Silko is a Laguna Pueblo writer and poet who was born in Albuquerque in 1948. She is best known for her novels Ceremony and Almanac of the Dead, which explore the experiences of Native Americans in the Southwest.
Sidney McNeill Gutierrez (1951 – )
Sidney McNeill Gutierrez flew two missions on the Space Shuttle, a partially reusable low Earth orbital spacecraft system operated from 1981 to 2011, becoming the first native-born Hispanic astronaut. The first mission he took was in 1991, STS-40 Space Lab Sciences, dedicated to space and life sciences. During the nine-day mission, he performed experiments that explored how humans, animals, and cells respond to microgravity and re-adapt to Earth’s gravity on return. Other payloads included experiments designed to investigate materials science, plant biology, and cosmic radiation.
Gutierrez’ second flight in 1994 was aboard STS-59. This 11-day mission included the Space Radar Lab to study the earth and the atmosphere around it. Completing 183 orbits, he and the crew completed more than 400 precise maneuvers (a shuttle record) to properly point the radar at more than 400 selected sites taking approximately 14,000 photographs (another shuttle record). Areas of investigation included ecology, oceanography, geology, and hydrology.
Ronald Mandel Lott (1959 – )
Ronald Mandel Lott played for the San Francisco 49ers in the National Football League for 14 seasons. The skills of this 6-foot, 203-pound defensive back brought to the field were instantly recognized. During his 1981 rookie season, Lott recorded seven interceptions and became only the second rookie in NFL history to return three of those picks for touchdowns. His effort on the field helped the 49ers win Super Bowl VXI.
Roxanne Swentzell (1962 – )
Roxanne Swentzell is a Santa Clara Pueblo sculptor and ceramic artist who was born in Taos and raised in Albuquerque. She is best known for her figurative sculptures that explore themes of family, community, and the natural world.
Jeff Bezos (1964 – )
Jeff Bezos is the founder, former president, and CEO of Amazon. With a 2023 net worth of $128 billion, he is the third-wealthiest person in the world. From 2017 to 2021, he was the wealthiest but currently is listed behind Bernard Arnault and Elon Musk.
In 2000, Bezos founded Blue Origin, an aerospace manufacturer and sub-orbital spaceflight company. His New Shepard rocket reached space in 2015. It was the first commercial rocket to carry paying customers to space.
Neil Patrick Harris (1973 – )
Neil Patrick Harris is an actor, singer, writer, producer, and television host, primarily known for his comedic television roles and dramatic and musical stage roles, including Doogie Howser M.D. Harris began his career as a child actor in Clara’s Heart with Whoopi Goldberg. On stage, he performed roles in the musicals Sweeney Todd and Cabaret.
Ryan Singer (1973 –)
Ryan Singer is a Navajo contemporary painter. He is known for his contributions to Native American and mainstream culture. In 2010, Singer co-founded Native Artists for HOPE, a grassroots organization providing mentoring, workshops, and empowerment to young Native Americans.
Demetria “Demi” Devonne Lovato (1992 – )
Demi Lovato is a singer, songwriter, and actress. She appeared on the children’s television series Barney & Friends from 2002 to 2004 and then played Mitchie Torres in the 2008 musical television film, Camp Rock. Her music has topped major music charts all around the world.