Gift Endows New Annual Lecture Honoring Sen. Dennis Chavez

Jorge Tristani, Dean Kevin Washburn, John CordovaJorge Tristani, center, presents a check to Dean Kevin Washburn. John Cordova, right, is president of the Dennis Chavez Foundation.

The legacy of Dennis Chavez, one of New Mexico’s most influential U.S. senators during the mid-20th Century, will be honored in a new lecture series at the UNM School of Law, thanks to a generous donation by his family.

The U.S. Senator Dennis Chavez Endowed Lectureship/Symposium on Law and Civil Rights will provide the law school an opportunity to introduce Sen. Chavez and important civil rights issues to the law school, its students and the broader Albuquerque community.

“Our family is pleased to be able to make this contribution to the UNM School of Law to endow the U.S. Senator Dennis Chavez lectureship,” said the senator's grandson, Jorge Tristani, in presenting a $100,000 check. “We’ve worked with the UNM Foundation to establish this because we believe that the law school’s work will honor Dennis Chavez, a man whose actions helped shape modern day New Mexico, and who is revered as a champion of the common individual.”

Also leading the effort to pledge the gift to the law school was Sen. Chavez’s granddaughter, Gloria Tristani (`90) and her husband, Gerard Thomson (`73).

Sen. Chavez was a populist from the South Valley and served in the U.S. Senate from 1935 until his death in 1962. An early advocate of civil rights legislation, he was one of the first senators to speak out against McCarthyism.

“We are proud that his family has entrusted us with the stewardship of such an important part of the Senator’s legacy,” says Dean Kevin Washburn. “Through this gift, and our faculty‘s commitment, I believe that Sen. Chavez will remain an inspiration for our students for years to come.”

In addition to serving in the U.S. Senate, Chavez was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives for two terms and served in the New Mexico House of Representatives. In the Senate, he was the only minority at the time and tirelessly fought against the discrimination he witnessed and experienced. The civil rights legislation of the 1960s grew directly out of Chavez’s efforts in the 1940s as an advocate for minorities nationwide. He was born in 1888 in Los Chavez and was a close confidant of former U.S. presidents Harry S. Truman and John F. Kennedy, Sr.