“...The life of the dead is placed in the memory of the living ... ”
Marcus Tulius Cicero
It had been common knowledge for a while that long-time Denver Latino political power broker, dealmaker and businessman Paul Sandoval was dying. Unlike so many things in his life, this time, Sandoval could only wait. Cancer was calling the shots. And on Tuesday afternoon, in his north Denver home, Sandoval died.
Late last year he chose to forego any unusual steps to prolong his life and decided to spend his last months and weeks on his own terms. “He’s sleeping a lot and is very much at peace,” said Sandoval’s daughter, Kendra, a few days ago. His family, despite the emotion of losing its anchor, accepted his decision.
Sandoval’s political career began more than forty years ago after leaving the seminary. In a time when the smoke of social change was wafting over Colorado and the rest of the country, the Denver native put his foot down for the ideals of basic justice and equality. He was elected to the state legislature. Later he served on the Denver School Board.
But while the bodies in which he served gave legitimacy to his vision, he was never bound by structure. And he showed the way things could get done in simple, yet demonstrative ways. “He learned the art of politics and the art of politics is not just wheeling and dealing but understanding the importance of compromise or reaching consensus,” said long-time friend and former television executive, Fidel ‘Butch’ Montoya.
Montoya says that Sandoval understood that victory was not always “getting the whole pie.” He showed that “80 percent could be good enough.” And, over the course of his career, Sandoval left the scrum with a winning record, in politics and in business.
Despite the fact that Sandoval knew most political players and they him, he never wore his power or influence on his sleeve. In fact, he would jokingly say, “I’m just a tamale maker, that’s all.” But, either at his modest and original Casita de Tamales at 44th and Tennyson or his new tamale store at 35th and Tejon, when he wasn’t making tamales, he was holding court with politicians who knew Sandoval’s opinion or endorsement was worth its weight in votes.
“I hear stories of him in the legislature. I hear stories of him, you know, cutting deals. I hear stories of him with kids,” says daughter, Kendra. Her father, she says, just had a way of finding middle ground and a comfort level whether it was at the top of the political food chain or with a group of city workers.
But while Sandoval’s efforts were often publicized and involved the state’s and city’s movers and shakers, he gave the same time and energy to other things that escaped note pads or cameras.
Long-time friend Rosemary Rodriguez says Sandoval didn’t need everything he did recorded. “My favorite thing about Paul was the fact that he and Paula helped a number of Latinos obtain their Ph.D.’s in education with gifts from their personal assets,” she said. Rodriguez, an aide to Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet, says Sandoval knew that education was the foundation to achievement.
“In his life, Paul Sandoval gave voice to fellow citizens,” says decades-long friend and Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar. “I will never forget his passion for public service, his heart, and the love he showed for his friends, neighbors, and family.”
As he dealt with his cancer, Sandoval maintained an indefatigable spirit. He knew that his time was limited, says his daughter, who now works for Mayor Michael Hancock. He also knew that his words to those he loved, especially his children, carried a greater weight than ever. “I’m so proud of you,” her father would tell her from his easy chair or bed as he passed the days. Nothing ever meant so much.
In the end, Paul Sandoval, despite his protestations, was much more than a simple tamale maker.