Emelia “Millie” U. Santillanes, a long time community and political activist serving currently as the city clerk for Albuquerque died Saturday of a heart attack. She was 74.
Called the unofficial mayordomo of Old Town, Spanish for steward or butler, in a 2005 Journal article, Santillanes was a descendent of the Duran y Chávez family that founded Villa de Alburquerque, what is now Old Town in 1706. She was the daughter of Francisco and Rosalia Duran Urrea, according to her sister, Maria Theresa Urrea Chamberlin’s March 2005 obituary. She and her sister were some of the original founders of today’s commercialized Old Town, where Santillanes ran several retail shops.
She was a graduate of St. Mary High School in downtown Albuquerque.
Santillanes rose to local prominence as a leader of the Old Town merchants. She was the first president of the Hispano Chamber of Commerce and served on the board of the Hispanic Women's Council.
She ran for mayor as one of nine candidates in 1985. A race won by, then single-term, Councillor Ken Schultz. Schultz hired six of his opponents, including Santillanes, as he formed his administration. She coordinated the appointments of citizens to city boards and commissions before becoming Schultz’ city clerk.
Santillanes was appointed city clerk for Mayor Martin Chávez’ first term in 1993.
She served as Director of Cultural Services in Chávez’ second administration. She was instrumental in trying to get a monument to Don Juan de Oñate, the first colonial governor of New Spain’s northern province of Santa Fe de Nuevo México, in 1598, placed in Old Town’s Tiquex Park. She had previously worked to have the park constructed.
Members of the Acoma Pueblo objected to honoring Oñate and specifically to the placement of the statue in Tiquex Park, which was named for a pueblo that disappeared during Oñate’s 12-year reign. Oñate was summoned to Mexico City to answer charges, including atrocities towards the Acomas.
Santillanes, seen here with her husband Vidal, booed protestors during one of three city council debates, on March 6, 2000, over the placement of the artwork.
The statutes were erected across the street on the grounds of the Albuquerque museum. Santillanes served as a model for one of the female members of the depicted troop of conquistadors, in artist Betty Sabo's rendition. Chávez and his then wife Margaret Arágon de Chávez also are depicted.
Santillanes was appointed city clerk for Mayor Martin Chávez’ third term in 2005.
She was married to Vidal Santillanes and had eight children and numerous grandchildren. She was proud of her grandchildren, at least once including them in some of her official duties. Some years ago, during the drawing for city council candidates ballot positions, she had three of her young grandchildren grab the names from a box.
Services will be held at Old Town’s San Felipe de Neri Catholic Church on the plaza.