Tova Fruchtman: CNJ staff writer
During the past three years, James Albert Matlock could often be seen driving his red four-door SUV around Curry County, watching the daily progress of new growth — the cheese plant, homes, dairies and other signs of progress.
A former community and state leader, Matlock died Wednesday at Laurel Plains nursing home in Clovis. He was 93.
A farmer who started out selling cream with his wife Lucille from a small farm in 1934, Matlock went on to become a successful rancher, county commissioner and state representative, a position he held from 1956 to 1960. He later helped form the Eastern New Mexico Rural Telephone Cooperative, where he served as president of the board for more than 20 years.
One of his greatest contributions to Clovis and Curry County, family and friends said, was his efforts in the growth of the community.
“He was very active and progressive,” said Frank Blackburn, who was Matlock’s neighbor in Ranchvale, a fellow member of Ranchvale Baptist Church and a fellow board member for ENMR. “When he took on a responsibility he was real dedicated to it. He put a lot into it, a lot of time.”
Matlock was an honest, hard-working man who wanted to help people, said his younger sister Joyce Santis, who sometimes joined him on his drives.
“Everything he did, he was wanting to help other people,” she said. “I know he just wanted his community to grow.”
Matt Matlock said his grandfather enjoyed discussing issues.
“If people agreed with him, great; if they didn’t, great,” he said. “He loved to debate stuff … that was the politician in him.”
When Matlock came to Clovis in a covered wagon with his parents in 1915, there was little development in the area. But with his help, phones and roads were brought to rural Curry County with hard work from the county commissions he served on, family members said.
“He’s helped a lot of people in this community,” Blackburn said. “He was known for improving road systems.”
Those roads — the same ones he loved to drive on — and his commitment to improving life for Clovis and Curry County residents were always priorities for him, family and friends said.
“He was so active. Even at 93 he was driving his car all over this country … He knew everybody; he knew where everybody lived. He knew every inch of the country,” Santis said. “He wanted to see the community grow up.”