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Remembering Former AZ Governor And NAU Alumnus Raul Castro

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KPHO
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Former Arizona Governor Raul Castro passed away earlier this month, at the age of 98. He was the state’s first Latino governor, a U.S. ambassador to three different countries, a teacher and a lawyer. Castro was also a graduate of the Arizona State Teacher’s College, which would eventually become Northern Arizona University. As Arizona Public Radio’s Justin Regan reports, Raul Castro’s success was hard fought and won. 

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Credit Justin Regan
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Geraldine Emmet with a picture of Governor Castro in her scrapbook.

Geraldine Emmet is 101 years old. On the walls of her quaint home in Prescott are dozens of family photos… kids, grandkids and great grandkids. She’s also got a photo of Raul Castro who, though not a blood relative of Emmet’s, was an honorary member of her family.

Raul was what I called my little brother in college. I was 2 years older than him. In those days there was only about 450 people in the entire college. We were so small and isolated, we were almost like relatives,” Emmet said.

Castro was born in Mexico and moved to the southern Arizona border town of Douglas when he was ten years old. He walked five miles to school every day because at the time busses would only pick up white children. Geraldine Emmet says it was a kind of discrimination he would face his whole life.  

He could never understand why people discriminated against each other and he wouldn’t tolerate it ever. He never was the least bit sorry because he had to be treated the way he was, he never complained, he was just too big a person for that. He was so anxious to become something that would make a difference,” said Emmet.

In 1935, Castro accepted an offer to do just that.

“He was out at work one day and a gentleman approached him and said ‘hey, are you Raul Castro, I hear you got a good arm, we need a quarterback up at NAU. How would you like to go to college.’ And of course he said, ‘I have to ask my mother first’, said Anne Buzzard.

That’s Anne Buzzard, development director at NAU’s college of Social and Behavioral Sciences. Her office is in the building named after her longtime friend, Raul Castro. Buzzard says he was a big man on campus, likeable, athletic involved, but it was a different story after he graduated.  

Hispanic teachers weren’t hired back then so he was very frustrated. Because he couldn’t get a teaching job he became a hobo and for a while jumped the trains and earned his money along the way boxing. And taking people on and winning fights,” said Buzzard.

One of his biggest fights was in 1975, when he won the race for Governor of Arizona, the first Latino ever to do so. Two years later, he resigned when then-President Jimmy Carter asked him to be the U.S. ambassador to Argentina. After that, Anne Buzzard says Castro spent his life doing what he loved best.

“He devoted a lot of his later years to teaching elementary school children. He loved going to the classroom and meeting with the students that are bright eyed and bushy tailed”

For Castro it wasn’t an easy climb up the ladder to success. Discrimination was at every rung. But he was fighter. It’s a spirit reflected in a letter he sent to his college friend and “big sister” Geraldine Emmet after Castro lost his first bid for Governor of Arizona in 1970. Because her eyesight is bad, Emmet’s son, Jim, reads the handwritten letter his mother has kept for 45 years.

“I’m not at all discouraged. On the contrary I’m still filled with beans and courage. I haven’t stopped and I don’t intend to,” said Jim Emmet, reading from the letter.

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