As 2016 draws to a close, I find myself reflecting on the shattering impact this year has had on so many.
We’ve seen the passing of more than a few talented people including David Bowie and Leonard Cohen, and so many others besides, mostly unknown to all but their friends and families. Lights have gone out all over the world.
Here in Taos, two great men are no longer with us, both of them having lived long enough to bear witness to incredible changes in this town and the greater world.
Friends for many years – since their youth – they could not have come from more different backgrounds, yet the bond of brotherhood they shared was authentic and spanned decades.
Arturo Peralta – Ramos passed away last December. He was the son of Millicent Rogers the Standard Oil heiress. Tony Reyna was a native of Taos Pueblo. He passed this December 4th, in his sleep at home, a year after his friend. He was 100 years old.
Two men, so different, yet with so many shared experiences, and an unlikely friendship that endured all through their lives, Bookending this year that so many of us are relieved is almost over. Long may their memories inspire us to achieve the elegance and greatness of character they both shared and carried into their later years, despite physical frailty and declining health.
They were introduced to one another by Arturo’s mother, Millicent, who met Tony (who had recently returned home from active duty, a still young and handsome war hero), at Taos Pueblo. Tony would become one of her most trusted advisors as she began her extraordinary collection of Native Arts; weavings, pottery and jewelry. Taos based author Cherie Burns describes their initial meeting in her book about Millicent Rogers, Searching For Beauty.
When they met, Tony Reyna had endured three and a half years of captivity after American and Filipino soldiers surrendered to the Japanese on the Bataan peninsula in 1942, and were marched 65 miles through the jungle. His captivity ended in 1945 when he and other prisoners of war were liberated by Allied forces. He was among 11 men from Taos Pueblo who were captured at Bataan, and he was the last survivor.
Tony was born at Taos Pueblo. He volunteered for military duty in 1941 and was taken prisoner by the Japanese in the Philippines. He served on the burial detail of the Bataan Death March. After being liberated in 1945 and later discharged, he returned to Taos Pueblo—one of several local war heroes from Taos who survived Bataan.
During the following decades, Tony served as secretary of the Tribal Council and twice as governor in 1982 and 1992. He was appointed to federal and county grand juries, the police commission in the Town of Taos, and was President of the local Kiwanis Club. He was instrumental in the establishment of the Pueblo as a World Heritage site. Tony was the first member of Taos Pueblo to serve on the Taos School Board, the boards of the Millicent Rogers Museum, the Santa Fe Indian Market, and the University of New Mexico Board of Regents.
On the day Tony sat for his photograph, he wore a blue shirt and a bolo tie decorated with an emblem in silver and turquoise. “Jesse Monogya made it,” he said, referring to the Heart of the Dragonfly, a symbol of the 7th Annual Spirit of the Heard (Museum) Award. The Phoenix museum bestows the award upon Native Americans who exemplify excellence as individuals and for their community leadership. To many people in Taos, Tony is the bridge between two worlds, an iconic representation of hospitality and human courage.
Both of these men were quintessential gentleman; gracious, caring and kind. They were men who were deferential and respectful to women, while still being part of an old school club where a man was a man. They could hang out with the best of them!
Arturo Peralta – Ramos was the second son of Millicent Rogers and the oldest of her two sons with Arturo H. Peralta-Ramos Sr. Born in Southampton,NY, Arturo Henry Peralta-Ramos, Jr. could not have come from a more different background than his life-long friend and “big brother” Tony Reyna.
Arturo passed away on December 21, 2015, at his home in Taos at the age of 87. His wife of fifty years, Jacqueline, followed a few months later. He was preceded in death by his older half-brother Peter Salm, and younger brother, Paul Peralta-Ramos, a long time resident of Taos.
Arturo grew up in the United States and Europe. He was schooled on both continents (the Institut Le Rosey in Switzerland and Staunton Military Academy in Virginia). He briefly attended the University of Virginia before leaving Academia to pursue his life-long career as an entrepreneur. Based out of New York City, his business interests spanned a diverse array of industries. Over the years Arturo acted as an advisor to more than one administration, numerous senators and congressmen, and participated in a number of classified assignments.
Arturo maintained strong ties with the Millicent Rogers Museum in Taos, NM, dedicated to the life, creations, collections and all other endeavors of his mother. He too served on the board of the museum and participated both as an advisor and benefactor. He often spent summers in Taos and the rest of the year at his home on Park Avenue in NYC, until his (and Jackie’s) declining health caused them to move to Turtle Walk (Millicent’s home in Taos), full-time, just a few short years before they died.
Arturo joked that the Trading Post Cafe was his office here in Taos, and to be sure, one could find him most days holding court at “his” table beside the fireplace, surrounded by a fascinating coterie of friends and admirers cobbled together from various cliques in town and strangers passing through; artists, writers, mercenaries and spies, beautiful women and dashing men could be found gathered around that table.
A born raconteur, Arturo would regale all with tall tales that may or may not have been true, but amusing they always were, and to be reinvited meant one had to be equally as entertaining if not elegant, witty and/or beautiful.
Often, after a long lunch, he’d drive out to Taos Pueblo to visit Tony, before returning home to the house his mother built.
Two men, from opposite walks of life, yet both embodied noblesse oblige, that rare quality that bestows one with grace and dignity.
Two men. Bookends.
Top photograph of Arturo Ramos and Tony Reyna by Lee Clockman
Portraits of both men by Paul O’Connor
Photograph of Tony Reyna’s mother by Bert Phillips
Photograph of Millicent Rogers by Arturo Peralta-Ramos Jr.