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Staunch Republican, Root, ‘worked hard for change’

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By Martin Salazar

Melvin Clayton Root, a retired educator and leader of the local Republican party who twice ran unsuccessfully for a seat in the state Legislature, has died. He was 79.

Root, better known by his nickname “Mel,” was a staunch Republican in a county dominated by Democrats. He died Tuesday morning after a brief battle with cancer, said Susan Tsyitee, a longtime friend and chair of the San Miguel County Republican party.

“He stood for everything that’s important for me — faith, family, freedom and free enterprise,” Tsyitee said. “He worked hard for the Republican party even though it was occasionally an uphill battle. He invested in the faith community and was totally and completely committed to his family.”

Root attended Highlands University on a football scholarship, earning both his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from there.

It was at Highlands that Root  met the woman who would become his wife, Jeanette “Jan” Montgomery in 1954.

They were married 55 years and have owned and operated a children’s summer camp, called Western Life Camp, in this area since 1969.  

They lived in other parts of New Mexico until retiring and becoming full-time residents of Las Vegas again about 13 years ago.

Root devoted 42 years of his life working in the public school system, serving as a superintendent, principal, teacher, coach, drug education coordinator and director of Upward Bound.

After retiring and moving to Las Vegas, Root ran unsuccessfully in 2008 and again in 2010 for the House District 70 seat, losing both times to Democrat Richard Vigil.

Asked in a 2010 Optic questionnaire why he was the  best candidate for the job, Root said, “I have no ax to grind nor gold to find. I’m not obligated to help anyone, so I’ll do my very best to be helpful to everyone. Politics is not a career path for me nor will I cast my votes with an eye to re-election.”

Root was vice chair of the San Miguel Republican party. He also served on the Las Vegas Home Rule Charter Commission. He helped establish the H-Club at Highlands and served as president of both that organization and the NMHU Alumni Association. He also worked with a non-profit organization that helped troubled youths.

A Kentucky native, Root loved the mountains of northern New Mexico because they reminded him of his native state, his family said in an obituary published in today’s Optic.

“Heaven’s gain is truly our loss,” Tsyitee said.

“He didn’t just complain when things were going badly. He worked hard for change. I would like to challenge the community to follow in his footsteps. We’ll be a better community because of it.”

Among Root’s survivors are his wife and three children, son Michael Root, of Santa Fe, and daughters Mary Kay Root and Annette Haggard, of this area.
A public viewing is set for 2 to 5 p.m. this Saturday at Rogers Mortuary.

Funeral services are planned for 10 a.m. Monday at the First Baptist Church, 201 Mountain View Drive.