Buddy isn’t crazy; giving back really works | Local columns
Buddy Roybal’s life story unfolds like a Frank Capra feel-good movie – a local boy does good; hard work overcomes difficulties; the good guys finish first.
It all seems a little unreal, this being 2022 and not 1942. But Buddy Roybal’s story is as authentic as the sound of his voice as he talks about why he always shows up first when it’s time for a community event or need.
“I learned a long time ago,” says the Santa Fe businessman. “The more I gave, the more I received.”
I’ve long been a bit fascinated by Cervantes “Buddy” Roybal, the 75-year-old Santa Fe paint store owner who gets up at 4 a.m. every morning, still works about 60 hours a week, and spice up his off hours by volunteering. signs that, in one or 100 ways, make the city a little better and brighter.
He is far from the only one to show such altruism. It’s an amazing city that way. I tell people that my favorite night of the year is the 10 people who made a difference recognition dinner, because those honored for their volunteerism and dedication renew hope in a world pounded by, well, the human condition. And as someone who’s been on the selection committee, I can tell you that it would be easy to do a 15 Who or a 20 Who or a 30 Who every year.
There is still a lot of good in the world.
Still, Roybal came to mind on Wednesday when he helped celebrate a successful effort to replace the Plaza’s aging benches. Along with his wife Irene, the Chamber of Commerce, and some city funds, it was done in a way that paid homage to the original benching effort of years past. These new babies look exactly like the old ones – phew! – but are constructed from cast aluminum which should reduce the need for maintenance.
It’s a small thing. But a great thing.
The Roybals aren’t beautifying-late-comers; they also organized volunteer painting efforts in the Plaza and beyond, including bridges.
“Just being involved…if I live in a city, I want the city to look good, to feel good,” he says by way of explanation.
More on that in a minute. But if it was all about good works and good deeds with Roybal, that would be one thing. But the whole story is equally important to a guy who took over Coronado Paint and Decorating 36 years ago, perhaps with more savvy than common sense. He says he was underfunded and struggling when he started, even making ends meet by renting out his house and living in a small dwelling behind his shop. The place had a shower and a microwave and nothing else.
Perhaps the first big job he got, at the city’s convention center, was more than he could handle. He had to borrow money just to buy the carpet needed to carry out the work.
“It’s the American dream to be your own boss, but it’s hard,” he says. “I appreciate people who start their own business.”
Over the years, his business has grown, aided by a claim — or is that happy? — determination to make things happen. I don’t know what Roybal’s bank account says, but he’s doing pretty well; it has 17 classic cars of all shapes and sizes, filled with Mustangs, Corvettes, and Buicks of yesteryear. Of all the many projects he supports, it’s clear that the classic car show just off the Plaza on July 4 at the Rotary Club pancake breakfast is a passion. Like many of us, he eagerly awaits his return.
But there are many projects that need attention. With the Plaza Benches restored, pretty and welcoming, Roybal is trying to rally support to do something about Cerrillos Road, the city’s often-troubled spine that defies easy answers. His vision is quite simple: he would like to organize an effort between different companies in the city that could take care of the areas along Cerrillos that need sprucing up. Create a contest; engage people; make it a community thing.
“Cerrillos looks so bad,” says Roybal, who drives her every day.
We’ll see how his idea pans out, but it’s suspected that if anything happens, he’ll help push it forward. Roybal knows most of the city’s influential players, from the mayor to his fellow businessmen. He’s one of those guys who has a tapeworm for action and knows how to call the right people.
“Satisfaction is not for me,” he says. “It’s just to be able to accomplish something. If that doesn’t happen, you just work harder.
You would hear something like this in a Frank Capra script in old black and white movies. Buddy Roybal feels like a character in Mr. Smith goes to Washington Where It’s a wonderful life. The skeptic in me fears it’s too good to be true. It’s not.
Part of our conversation turned to newspaper content: Roybal has an idea for a good news column The New Mexican should run. He thinks there’s a lot to celebrate in the city; the things we miss; things we should write about.
Shit, maybe he’s right. The more you give, the more you receive.
Phill Casaus is the editor of
The New Mexican.