Phillip V. Sánchez – the Pinedale native who picked cotton at age 6 and later served as ambassador to Honduras and Colombia – was remembered as a family man with the penmanship of a John Hancock, the honesty of an Abe Lincoln and the spelling prowess of a spelling bee champion.
The 88-year-old Sánchez was remembered at an Oct. 26 funeral service at St. Anthony Padua Catholic Church. Burial was private.
“The man who studied seriously, spoke articulately, wrote fiercely, debated brashly and concluded intelligently helped build a positive difference in the lives of so many people,” was how his son-in-law, Marc Elmo, repeated the words of “Dad’s” friend, retired Air Force Col. Elvin Bell.
Elmo, who delivered the eulogy, explained how Sánchez developed a love for education.
“His mother stressed education, and, like everything he did, he excelled,” said Elmo. “And he did everything with love, devotion, sincerity and respect.”
Sánchez, who earned a master’s degree in political science from Fresno State, was appointed ambassador to Honduras by President Richard Nixon, then ambassador to Colombia by President Gerald Ford.
Nixon appointed him as assistant director of the Office of Economic Opportunity.
In a 2010 interview with Vida en el Valle, Sánchez recalled growing up poor as the youngest of seven children.
Rather than continue with field work, he took a job as a cook when he was 15 at the Japanese internment camp that opened in Pinedale shortly after World War II began.
“In Mexican families, they always judge or value you by how hard you work,” said Sánchez. “I never wanted to work in the fields.”
He graduated from Clovis High School, Coalinga Junior College and Fresno State.
He was editor-in-chief of his high school newspaper, Cougars’ Growl. He met his future wife, Juanita, there.
At Fresno State, he played drums for the college band and founded the Sigma Chi fraternity.
Following graduation, he became a colonel in the Army Reserve.
He became Fresno County chief administrative officer in the 1960s.
“I had no idea that I would go into government,” he said in 2010 when he was awarded the Legacy Builder Award by the Fresno State Chicano Alumni Association.
While ambassador to Honduras, Sánchez saw a hurricane destroy much of the country. He and his wife adopted three of 18 orphans whose parents were swept away by the hurricane.
“He was among the first Hispanic leaders that made a mark not only here in Fresno County, but in Washington,” Congressman Jim Costa, D-Fresno, told The Fresno Bee, “and had a very successful career in public service.”
Sánchez also served as publisher of the Spanish-language daily Noticias del Mundo in New York City for many years until he retired in 2001 and returned to Pinedale.
Sánchez earned Fresno State’s Top Dog Award in 2008. The Ambassador Phillip V. Sánchez Charter School was named for him.
He worked as a business consultant after he left his final ambassador post. He ran unsuccessfully for Congress after switching from the Democratic Party to the Republican Party.
Sánchez is survived by children Mark Sánchez, Cynthia Elmo, Rand Sánchez, Phillip John Sánchez, Dorrine Orosco, and, Kristina Sánchez; sisters Lillie Mayorga and Sally Kuhn; 15 grandchildren; and, 13 great-grandchildren.
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