Former county commissioner Margaret McDaniel, 'a leader among men and women,' died Tuesday

Hannah Grover
Farmington Daily Times
Former San Juan County Commissioner Margaret McDaniel speaks during a commission meeting on Sept. 5, 2018 at the county administration building in Aztec. McDaniel died on April 21, 2020.

AZTEC — Former San Juan County Commissioner Margaret McDaniel passed away on April 21 after a battle with cancer. She was 68.

McDaniel served two terms on the County Commission before she reached term limits in 2018. During that time, she also served as chairwoman of the commission.

“Our hearts are heavy,” said Commission Chairman Jack Fortner at the start of the commission meeting on April 21.

He encouraged county residents to pray for McDaniel’s family.

Former San Juan County Commissioner Margaret McDaniel, right, and former San Juan County Executive Officer Kim Carpenter talk about the county budget at meeting on Sept. 6, 2016 at San Juan College in Farmington. McDaniel died on April 21, 2020.

“Terri and I are deeply saddened to hear of Margaret’s passing,” Fortner said in a statement following the meeting. Terri Fortner is his wife and a candidate for County Commission. “She was a leader among men and women. She loved our community and served it for many years. Margaret will always define what a great American is.”

Prior to entering the political arena, and for a time during her first term, McDaniel served as executive director of the San Juan County Economic Development Service, now known as Four Corners Economic Development. She led the organization for more than two decades.

Former County Commissioner Margaret McDaniel, center, is seen during her final commission meeting in 2018.

"In the almost 40 years I have known Margaret, she could be characterized as nothing less than a Class Act!" Commissioner Jim Crowley said in a statement. "She was always kind, gracious and enthusiastic. She was a mentor for so many, not just as a cheerleading coach years ago but also in her church, making things happen at Four Corners Economic Development and throughout the community and the district she served as county commissioner. She was known at chapter houses as the white haired one who would speak the truth and could be trusted. She will be greatly missed!"

Former state representative Sharon Clahchischilliage and former Navajo Nation Council Speaker LoRenzo Bates both remembered McDaniel's relationship with the Navajo people.

Both recalled McDaniel and her husband embraced the Navajo people, language and culture. In return, they were accepted like family.

"She and Gary had no problem. They went right in there," Clahchischilliage said. "She looked at the Navajo people as people. She didn't look at their differences or looked at how difficult her job might be. She went in there with the attitude of 'I want to help' and the people felt it."

The couple maintained a presence on the reservation by attending chapter government meetings and community events.

Clahchischilliage said even as her friend battled cancer, she continued to have support from the Navajo people, many of whom visited her.

"We're going to miss her. She set a standard for others and she raised the bar to a level that none of us knew anyone could do," Clahchischilliage said.

Bates said McDaniel always informed tribal members about what was happening with the county commission and established good communication in the communities.

"She was always acknowledged. That just shows the respect the community had for her," Bates said.

"I'm certain she understood that as an elected official, you work for the constituents you represent," he said later.

McDaniel was an active member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Prior to leading the economic development group, McDaniel was the executive director of the Aztec Boys & Girls Clubs. She also served as the executive director of the Aztec Chamber of Commerce.

Former San Juan County Commissioner Margaret McDaniel speaks on Aug. 5, 2015 during the grand opening for an administrative service center at the Navajo Nation police substation in Dzilth-Na-O-Dith-Hle. McDaniel died on April 21, 2020.

McDaniel graduated from Aztec High School in 1970 and, after graduation, moved to Cedar City, Utah, to attend college. 

"Margaret was a compassionate and devoted County Commissioner," said County Manager Mike Stark. "She was a community leader who deeply cared for the citizens she served. She will be missed by many in our community."

McDaniel’s husband, Magistrate Judge Gary McDaniel, will be taking time off the bench.

Cope Memorial Chapel of Aztec is handling the arrangements.

Reporter Noel Lyn Smith contributed to this story.

Hannah Grover covers government for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4652 or via email at

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