President, political figures, family and friends reflect on life of Paul Sandoval

Beloved North Denver figure laid to rest
The Colorado Statesman

Even President Barack Obama remembers a story about Paul Sandoval, the former state senator and North Denver kingmaker who was laid to rest on Saturday.

“I recall that when Paul visited the White House, he asked to be identified as a tamale maker,” wrote Obama in a letter to Sandoval’s widow, former Denver Councilwoman and state Sen. Paula Sandoval, read aloud during his funeral by Interior Secretary Ken Salazar.

Calling him “a warrior for a better community and a better nation,” Interior Secretary Ken Salazar delivers the eulogy for Paul Sandoval at the Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception on April 28 in Denver. Sandoval, who guided numerous political careers over the decades, died April 24 at his home in Denver.
Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman

Nearly 1,000 mourners, including family members and dignitaries — many launched into public life by Sandoval — packed the Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception on Capitol Hill to say goodbye to the man Salazar, one of his most prominent protégées, remembered as “a warrior for a better world.”

Former Denver Councilwoman and state Sen. Paula Sandoval reads a letter from Dr. Colin Weekes, the oncologist who treated her husband, as he stands alongside in the west foyer at the Capitol on April 28 in Denver.
Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman

In addition to Salazar — whose political career Sandoval plotted out on a napkin in the back room at his bustling restaurant, Tamales by La Casita — the pews and aisles of the massive cathedral included current and former governors, senators, congressmen and mayors, along with row after row of neighbors and friends who cherished Sandoval’s life.

Cris Sandoval remembers when her father, former state Sen. Paul Sandoval, would bring her to the Capitol when she was young, buy her chocolate milk in the cafeteria and let her sit in his legislative chair, as her sisters Andrea Sandoval Reed and Amanda Sandoval Encinas and niece Ariel look on at the Capitol on April 28 in Denver.
Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman

Sandoval died at his north Denver home on April 24 after a 14-month battle with pancreatic cancer. He was 67.
In his eulogy, Salazar recounted numerous ways that Sandoval worked tirelessly to “bring the Lord’s Prayer here to this earth,” beginning as one of Colorado’s youngest state senators on record when he began his first of two terms in the early 1970s.

Kendra Sandoval looks on as her sister Amanda says that their father, Paul Sandoval, will be with her when she graduates college in May. Sandoval's children shared memories of their father on April 28 at the State Capitol at a reception following Sandoval's funeral Mass.
Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman

His passion continued, Salazar said, in his work on the Colorado Commission on Higher Education, “where he showed he had this ability of bringing people together, Democrats and Republicans, on behalf of making sure that there was no financial barrier to keep someone from higher education if their wish was to go to higher education.”

Former U.S. Rep. Tom Tancredo stands among the mourners gathered to bid farewell to former state Sen. Paul Sandoval. Though they stood across the aisle politically, Tancredo and Sandoval remained had remained friends since high school, when they were members of opposing debate teams.
Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman

Sandoval, he said, “was about the person and the people and the community and the city and the state and the nation, not about party.”

Mourners, including Colorado Commissioner of Agriculture John Salazar, education pioneer Anna Jo Haynes and former state Sen. Regis Groff, make their way from the pews at the funeral Mass for Paul Sandoval.
Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman

Reading from Obama’s tribute, Salazar told Sandoval’s family: “You know better than anyone that Paul was colorful, passionate and a savvy civic leader with a big heart and a big love for his family and the Rocky Mountain West. Paul’s incredible legacy lives on in the people he loved and the lives he touched.”

Former Denver Mayor Federico Peña and U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet talk on the sidewalk in front of the Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception following a funeral Mass for Paul Sandoval on April 28 in Denver.
Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman

Recounting how he spoke with Sandoval every day during his last months and visited him every time he was in Denver, Salazar recalled one of the last times he saw his mentor.

Gov. John Hickenlooper and Gerald Lopez smile for a snapshot outside the funeral of Paul Sandoval on April 28 in Denver. Lopez had known Sandoval since their childhood in North Denver.
Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman

“I held him, kissed him, tussled his hair,” Salazar said. “I said to him, ‘Paul you know how much we love you. God be with you.’ And I gave him a blessing. He looked up and said, ‘God bless you all. I love you all.’”

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar talks with former Denver City Attorney Dan Muse at a reception following funeral services for Paul Sandoval. Salazar delivered the eulogy for Sandoval and called him his “friend, the owner of my heart.”
Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman

After the Mass, hundreds of Sandoval’s admirers filled the first floor of the Capitol for a reception that featured remembrances both tearful and filled with laughter, along with an abundance of tamales and great steaming bowls of green chile.

Friends and neighbors watch a slide show depicting moments from the life of former state Sen. Paul Sandoval at a reception at the State Capitol on April 28 in Denver.
Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman

At the Capitol, Paula Sandoval stood alongside Dr. Colin Weekes, the oncologist who treated her husband at the University of Colorado Hospital in Aurora, and read from a letter the doctor wrote.

Mourners raise their hands near the conclusion of a funeral Mass for Paul Sandoval at the Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception on April 28 in Denver.
Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman

“‘The beautiful thing about Paul,’” Weekes had written, “‘is he planted many seeds that will continue to bear fruit for decades to come, to hopefully make this world a better place for all.’”

Harkening back to words spoken earlier by the priest who conducted Sandoval’s funeral Mass, Lt. Gov. Joe Garcia said the crowd gathered to honor Sandoval’s life was among the clearest embodiments of his vision.
“As we move forward, as we pass through this life and into the next world, our good deeds accompany us,” Garcia said. “Paul’s good deeds do accompany him, but they also remain right here in this room. The good deeds in Paul’s life are evidenced by the leadership that he helped forge, the opportunities he helped create.”

His youngest daughter, Amanda, fought back tears as she recalled her father bringing donuts for her children every Saturday morning up until the time he entered hospice.

Though she worked closely with him at La Casita, she said that a few years back he pulled her aside to discuss what she was going to do with her life — a plan, she soon discovered, that included finishing her college degree.
“He mapped out what I was going to do for the next three years,” she said. “And I graduate on Mother’s Day, May 13th.”

But then, after his cancer diagnosis early last year, she said he told her, “I’m not going to be there when you graduate.” She left “so angry” and went to her advisor at Metropolitan State College, who urged her to skip class and return to her father.

“‘I have something to say, dad,’” she said she told him. “I said, ‘You’re not going anywhere. You’ll be there on that day, Mother’s Day, May 13, when I graduate, and they say my name, and I’ll look for you in the crowd, because you’re here in my heart and you’ll go everywhere with me from now on.’ And he looked at me and said, ‘Those are wise words, Hijita, those are wise words.’”

Sandoval was buried at Mount Olivet Cemetery in Wheat Ridge. His family suggests donations in memory of Paul Sandoval be sent to the Mount Saint Vincent Home, 4159 Lowell, Denver, Colorado 80211.

Ernest@coloradostatesman.com