By Mercy López and Dave Kavanaugh
Las Vegas Optic
Those who knew Mary Bustos say there was just something about her that left a good feeling in the hearts of those she met.
The beloved West Las Vegas coach and teacher didn’t go to work Wednesday because she was feeling ill. When her husband, David, went home to check on her later that day, he found her unresponsive. Bustos, 51, had been battling health problems for nine months. She reportedly suffered from amyloidosis, a rare blood disease that develops when protein builds up in organs and body tissues.
Services had not yet been scheduled as of press time, though they are expected to take place early next week.
At the time of her death, Bustos had been serving as a math teacher as well as the head volleyball coach at West Las Vegas High School. But she was also well known in the Pecos and the Las Vegas City Schools districts where she had previously worked.
Bustos was known to go above and beyond for her students and athletes. Publicly, she was known as a coach on the sidelines, sometimes coaching side by side with husband David. In the classroom, she was known to go in on Sundays and to stay late during the week to help students who were struggling with math.
News of her death spread quickly.
Students and staff at West Las Vegas High School were devastated, according to superintendent Gene Parson.
“We are a small school district, so needless to say, everyone knows one another. We are like a big family, so when one hurts, we all hurt,” Parson said.
Bustos died on the eve of the state volleyball tournament.
Parson said school officials met with members of her volleyball team on Wednesday afternoon to discuss whether they still wanted to participate in the tournament, which started Thursday at the Santa Ana Star Center in Rio Rancho. Parson said the team chose to play.
“Their coach gave it her all to them, so they wanted to continue on with their plans,” Parson said. “They are going to go there and give it their all themselves.”
Members of the team held a vigil at the Bustos home on Wednesday evening.
“They knew that Mary would want them to continue, so they will play in her honor,” Parson said.
David Bustos planned to sit on the team bench during pool play on Thursday afternoon.
Success on the court
Bustos led the Lady Dons to a 16-6 record and a runner-up finish in District 2-3A. The team was to play in the Class 3A state tournament.
Assistant Coach Arissa Collins was to coach the team with the help of other assistant coaches.
Collins knows all too well how it feels to lose a family member. She survived a horrific crash seven years ago that killed five members of her family. The crash occurred on Nov. 11, 2006 — almost seven years to the date from Bustos’ death.
Members of the team were understandably grief stricken as they prepared to compete in the state tournament.
Bustos’ daughter, Caelin, is one of West’s team leaders. Team members Deanna and Jenna Bustos are Caelin’s cousins.
‘Always wanted to help kids’
This had been Mary Bustos’ second go-round at WLVHS, and during both tenures she’d led the Lady Dons to the postseason.
“She was a hard-working woman whose heart belonged to the children she taught and coached,” said Andrea Gabaldon, assistant to the athletic director at West. “She was a true superwoman, which I always told her she was. She will be greatly missed, and I want to thank her for all she did for everyone.”
Between her stints at West, Bustos also enjoyed a successful run at Robertson in dual roles of math teacher and coach.
She not only guided the Lady Cardinal volleyball team but also helped coach tennis under Juan Carlos Fulgenzi and boys’ basketball under David Bustos. She stepped in briefly as head coach of the Cardinal boys hoopsters during their run to the Stu Clark Tournament championship three years ago.
As for tennis, her tutelage helped the Lady Cardinals take the 2011 state team championship.
News of her death caught many in the community off guard, including Fulgenzi, now the RHS co-curricular director.
“It was a real big surprise,” he said. “She was a trooper; she fought hard ... It’s a loss of a good teacher, a good coach and a good human being. There wasn’t a duty she let go by. She was a big-hearted individual, and she always wanted to help kids. Fundraisers, whatever, and not just athletics. Student council or whatever, she pitched in to help out.”
Fulgenzi said Bustos played a key role in the 2011 girls’ tennis state team title.
“She did anything and everything,” he recalled. “I had her working with the bottom part of the ladder, helping them get better. Ironically, that’s the part that came through for us. Mary was always there, being that comfort, that support.”
‘Like another mother’
Former students and athletes of Bustos echoed the same types of sentiments, paying tribute in the hours after the news circulated. Prior to changing to red and white, she sported the green and gold at Pecos Schools.
Josh Brito, who played on the Stu Clark title team alongside Mary’s son Justin, said, “She was like another mother.”
WLV alumnus Larrissa Gallegos called her “one of the most loving and helpful people I’ve ever met.”
The loss was felt deeply, even in Jacona, home of West’s district arch-rival Pojoaque Valley Elkettes.
Mark Loera, Bustos’ cousin and a Pojoaque assistant, said he last spoke to her on Tuesday night. She was doing scouting on Silver to prepare for the state tournament.
“Mary was going to battle this to the end,” Loera said.
When West played at Pojoaque for the district final on Nov. 9, a group of Elkette seniors gathered with several Bustos family members to pray for her.
It was a moment that drew tears from Bustos and moved Loera.
“It shows you the admiration a lot of kids had for Mary,” he said.
Strong role model
When word of her death reached the Pojoaque campus Wednesday afternoon, the team set aside its preparation to remember her.
“Even though we’re going for our fifth (state title) in a row, today was one of those days where volleyball wasn’t important; the state championship wasn’t important,” Loera said. “The Elkettes admired, respected and loved her.”
“Mary was very gifted, an awesome teacher, and the passion for coaching was something you couldn’t take away from Mary. She was one of the strongest role models you could ask for.”
“Mary was a true lady in every sense of the word, as well as a class act coach, mother and teacher,” said Richard Tripp, a former WLV teacher and coach as well as a friend of the Bustos family. “She was a person who led by example. She was a true inspiration to her players, and she was a class act role model for not only her kids but for her students as well.”
‘Never gave up’
In addition to teaching and coaching at West Las Vegas High School, Bustos was an adjunct math instructor at Luna Community College.
“Mary’s legacy will be that she gave life her best, never gave up and always sought to bring out the best in people,” said Luna President and former Las Vegas City Schools Superintendent Pete Campos.
Las Vegas City Schools Superintendent Sheryl McNellis-Martinez said Bustos would be missed. She said Bustos taught math at Memorial Middle and Robertson High from 1997 through 2012.
McNellis-Martinez said Bustos was always helping kids, through such things as being co-sponsor of student council, an after-school instructor and even serving as a cheer coach.
“She will be missed not only for these, but more so for her compassion to assist students personally with math during her own time — even if they weren’t in her class; for listening to the concerns of those she touched; and for always keeping kids first in her life,” McNellis-Martinez said.
Parson said grief counselors are available for students and staff. He said the New Mexico Activities Association offered its condolences to the team. Parson said the NMAA offered to pay for the extra hotel rooms needed to ensure counselors and administrators were on-site for the volleyball team during the state tournament.
Bustos is survived by husband David and children Justin, Caelin and D.J., as well as numerous relatives and friends.