'He taught us to never give up': Family, friends remember state Sen. John Pinto

Noel Lyn Smith
Farmington Daily Times

GALLUP — John Pinto has been remembered for his decades in office as a state senator, but to his granddaughter, Kellie Lynn Arviso, he was "a good grandpa" who gave the utmost to his family.

Arviso delivered a touching eulogy that reflected on her grandpa's 94 years.

During his life he overcame childhood socioeconomic issues, performed distinguished military service, raised a family, built a career in social services and then became New Mexico's longest serving state senator.

"He taught us to never give up," she said to those gathered for the funeral Mass on May 30 at Sacred Heart Cathedral in Gallup.

Her speech included anecdotes about Pinto, including that he read the newspaper daily then saved copies for family members, and reflections on his sense of humor.

"His pockets were full of change and occasionally a bar of soap," she said, then chuckled.

A member of the U.S Marine Corps plays taps after the funeral Mass for state Sen. John Pinto on May 30 at Sacred Heart Cathedral in Gallup.

Pinto was born Dec. 15, 1924 in Lupton, Arizona and was the oldest of seven children.

Arviso noted that 1924 is the year Native Americans were recognized as citizens of the United States but remained without the power to vote.

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He was Díbéłzhíní (Black Sheep Clan), born for Táchii'nii (Red Running Into the Water People Clan).

Pinto was 12 when he was enrolled at the Bureau of Indian Affairs-operated school in Fort Defiance, Arizona.

Because of his late start, he was placed in beginner classes with students ages 5-7.

"He laughed because that was the last time he was the biggest one in the room," Arviso said of her grandpa's short stature.

The casket of Navajo Code Talker and state Sen. John Pinto is taken out from Sacred Heart Cathedral on May 30 in Gallup.

In 1941, he enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps, then received training as a Code Talker, learning to use the Navajo language to transmit military messages during World War II. He was ready for deployment when the war ended in 1945.

After returning home, Pinto met the love of his life – Joann Dennison Pinto, who he was married to for 65 years until her death in 2017.

The couple had four daughters, Flora, Cecil, Galen and Karen.

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He was 52 when he was first elected to the New Mexico Senate in 1976. He continued representing San Juan and McKinley counties until his death on May 24. The cause of death was medical, according to the Gallup Police Department.

"Every time he ran for reelection, even if he was unopposed, he campaigned vigorously. He was determined to prove his worth," Arviso said.

He was a dedicated public servant because he saw the needs of Native Americans and of people living in poverty, she said.

State Sen. John Pinto's youngest daughter, Karen Arviso, center, receives her father's flag after the funeral Mass on May 30 at Sacred Heart Cathedral in Gallup.

"As he got older, his commitment did not waver," she said.

Dignitaries from local, state and tribal governments sat with family members while any remaining seats were occupied by community members.

When the casket was taken in during the procession, attendees stood, and some wiped their tears.

Bishop James S. Wall gave the homily, which reflected on Pinto's religious faith and devotion to public service.

Wall explained the paschal candle is lit during baptisms and funeral services.

"And so, the paschal candle is lit as a new sign of life. … Rest in peace our good and faithful servant," the bishop said.

Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636 or by email at nsmith@daily-times.com.

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