By Mickey Winfield: PNT Staff Writer
A handful of Portales women will forever be stitched into the fabric of every state flag that flies over New Mexico.
On a day in 1955, members of the Portales chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy led by W.B. Oldham saw a great need for the state flag of New Mexico to have its own salute, about 50 years after achieving statehood.
So they wrote one.
Four women involved in that pursuit, and the 1963 effort to have it officially adopted by the state, who survive today are Jan Compton-Ross, Jane Mauk Hilliard, Margaret Smith and Willie Vale Quade.
The women, with all but Quade in attendance, were honored Tuesday evening at the Portales City Council meeting at the Memorial Building.
“When we contacted Governor John Simms, he told us that there was not an official salute,” Hilliard said. “And he suggested that we write one.”
The salute, as it was signed into state law 45 years ago reads: “I salute the flag of the State of New Mexico, the Zia symbol of perfect friendship among united cultures.”
The first salute the women wrote went through minor changes over eight years, before finally being adopted by New Mexico’s 26th Legislature and signed into law by Governor Jack Campbell in 1963.
The salute is only 19 words long, but the women involved spoke about the arduous task of selecting the perfect words to embody the New Mexico flag.
Committee member Margaret Smith said it took the committee about two months to agree on the exact wording of the salute, then the women had a local lawyer look over their creation.
“He kind of ironed out the rough spots,” Smith said. “And then Fred Boone was in the legislature and he got it through the legislature and got it approved.”
“It was a very significant event for our little town of Portales to have a group of women who could do this,” Hilliard said.
Upon signing the bill, Governor Campbell wrote the ladies responsible for the salute.
“A small band of women from Portales had thus achieved something that had been done in only two other states prior to this time. All things considered … a remarkable achievement,” Campbell wrote.
Portales Mayor Orlando Ortega, spoke about what it means for the salute of the state flag of New Mexico to be created by a group of Portales women.
“Tonight, we’re recognizing them for that,” Ortega said. “They should be very proud of themselves. This is something that is part of our state’s history that will be there forever and ever.”
“I’m a life-long New Mexican, and it’s neat to know that I’ve been here all my life and the roots of the salute come from my home town,” Portales city councilor Mike Miller said.
“It’s nice, but we don’t deserve all this honor,” Smith said. “I feel very humble.”
The women were recognized and presented with several awards, honoring their place in Portales and New Mexico history. The chapter also presented the city with a plaque commemorating Tuesday as a special evening.
Chapter president Compton-Ross told the crowd gathered the story of the salute and the formation of the committee, chaired by her grandmother, Lora Vale Oldham.
Compton-Ross said she’s always been very proud, as a teacher, to listen to her students say the salute and then tell them her grandmother had a part in creating it.
“It’s a very simple pledge, but it says so much,” Sen. Stuart Ingle, R-Portales, told the group, noting that the unity it speaks of is very necessary in the state. “We have to pull together in this state to make it succeed.”
“You hear our state salute recited in our classrooms and meetings throughout the state of New Mexico, and when you hear that, you can say that came from our community — our people,” Ortega said.