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Sudden death of adopted son saddens Santa Fe

November 13, 2018

“Oh, Frank, Santa Fe won’t be the same without you.”

The comment — one of dozens posted on Frank X. Cordero’s Facebook page in recent days — encapsulates the sorrow and disbelief that scores of people in Santa Fe are feeling after the unexpected passing of one of the city’s adopted sons.

Cordero, a longtime Santa Fe resident whose social media savvy and outgoing, youthful personality turned him into a cherished figure, died at his home last week of cardiac arrest, his sister said Monday. He was 61.

“He wasn’t an ambassador to whatever. He wasn’t president. He wasn’t governor,” his friend, Christina Chavarria, said. “But he sure left a lasting legacy for all the people that knew him and knew what kind of person he was.”

Cordero is what locals call “Santa Famous.”

To understand why, just take a peek at Cordero’s Facebook page. It includes photos of Cordero hamming it up in front of the camera — usually in his trademark black-framed glasses and baseball cap — with a colorful cast of characters that includes drag queens, half-naked go-go boys, a Navajo Code Talker, director and actor John Waters, author and local resident George R.R. Martin, country singer Lyle Lovett and Republican Gov. Susana Martinez.

Rabbi Berel Levertov of the Santa Fe Jewish Center shared a photo he took with Cordero on the Fourth of July during Pancakes on the Plaza.

“What a loss,” Levertov wrote about Cordero, who was dressed from head to toe in red, white and blue.

In a telephone interview, Levertov said he knew Cordero from Facebook, and they often crossed paths in the city.

“He was always kind and with a bright smile, always had a positive word to say,” Levertov said. “We may have been of different communities, but he definitely didn’t see us as different. He always found the human side, and he always felt like a friend in person or when I saw him on Facebook.”

Ernest Leloux, who worked with Cordero at Casa España, the club lounge at the Eldorado Hotel, called Cordero a “dear friend” to many in Santa Fe.

“His presence will be dearly missed, and his inspiration will live in all of us that care for music and art,” he said.

Cordero, who loved being a disc jockey, was born in Chicago and raised in the southeastern New Mexico town of La Union near the border with Texas and Mexico, said his sister, Margarita Cordero, whose stage name is Nacha Mendez.

Margarita Cordero, a singer who has been dubbed the state’s reigning diva of Latin music, said her younger brother was “very creative” as a child. She said he played the piano and saxophone and was “always getting awards” at school.

She said her brother came out as gay at an early age. “Because of him, I also came out,” she said.

Frank Cordero, who worked as a senior development specialist for the Southwest CARE Center, comforted many people with AIDS during the 1980s, Chavarria said. In 1995, the state HIV/AIDS/STD Prevention and Services Bureau honored Cordero, who used to work for state Public Health Division, as one of the division’s “Shining Stars.”

Though she and her brother would fight, often not speaking for months at a time when they were adults, Margarita Cordero said they always made up.

“He’s a kind person,” she said. “He has a warm heart.”

Their last fight, she said, was over the 2014 mayoral race when Cordero urged her to vote for Javier Gonzales, for whom Frank Cordero actively campaigned.

“He said, ‘You’re my sister,’” she recalled. “I said, ‘I don’t care. I’m not voting for him.’”

Gonzales went on to win the election and gave Cordero a job as his administrative assistant. Cordero later went to work for the tourism office as the city’s social media coordinator, a new position that wasn’t advertised.

Though Cordero told a reporter earlier this year that he and Gonzales had a falling out, Gonzales had nothing but praise for his former confidant.

“Santa Fe lost a good son,” Gonzales said in a text message. “I lost a friend who gave his heart and soul to help me become mayor and serve the city he loved. His presence in the Mayor’s Office gave him the chance to do what he always loved: helping others. I will miss the twinkle in his eye when he smiled and his unwavering enthusiasm and dedication for our city.”

Celeste Valentine, who works in the City Manager’s Office, said she initially wondered, “Who is this guy?”

“Then five minutes later, I was in love with Frank,” she said. “I feel very lucky to have Frank in my life as my friend.”

Cordero recently spent a month in Europe, chronicling his trip on Facebook.

“He was so sweet to bring me back a beautiful fan from Barcelona,” Valentine said. “It was in my favorite color, purple.”

Another friend, Manuel Quintana, said he met Cordero in 2011 through a mutual friend, John Lucero.

“Since that first year, we met we had this tradition of spending Christmas Eve together,” strolling through the Plaza, meeting up with friends and ending the night at Victoria Murphy’s annual holiday party on Canyon Road, he said via Facebook. He called Cordero the happiest, most loving and nonjudgmental friend anyone could ever ask for.

Quintana, who is currently living in Bogotá, said that he planned to surprise Cordero by coming back to Santa Fe for Christmas.

“This news is devastating,” he said, referring to Cordero’s passing. “Christmas in Santa Fe will never be the same.”

As a friend said on Facebook, neither will Santa Fe.

Cordero is survived by his sister and numerous close friends.

A public memorial service for Cordero is planned for mid-December at the Eldorado Hotel. A GoFundMe page to help pay for Cordero’s funeral and other expenses can be found by searching for “Frank Cordero.”

Follow Daniel J. Chacón on Twitter @danieljchacon.

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