Richard L. Gruette, 77, passed into eternal life on May 14, 2019, with his wife, Frances, by his side. He was born in Snyder, Texas, on February 19, 1942. He graduated from Roswell High in 1960 and enlisted in the army in October of that year. He entered the Bootstraps program in 1966, obtained his BS in education from NMSU in 1969, and was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in August. Richard was severely wounded in Viet Nam on June 5, 1970, when he thwarted an enemy attach near Tra Binh. He was not expected to survive his injuries, which caused him lifelong physical discomfort. For his gallantry in action he was awarded the Silver Star, Bronze Star, Combat Infantryman Badge, Purple Heart, Army Commendation Medal, National Defense Service Medal and the Vietnam Service Medal. He was medically retired from the army in October 1971.
His love of history and mathematics led him to pursue a career in teaching. He first taught math at Hayes Middle School in 1973 and transferred to Eldorado High School in 1976 where he taught math until his retirement in 1997. He touched the lives of many students during his years there and inspired students to enter the military as he had. In May 1996 he received his hot air balloon license, flew family and friends from all over the world in his balloon, "The Aftermath", and participated in the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta until quadruple bypass surgery in August 2011 ended that chapter of his life. Richard and Frances enjoyed traveling and took two cruises to Alaska, one through the Panama Canal, and across the ocean to Hawaii in addition to trips to Italy and Russia.
Richard is survived by his wife of 26 years, Frances, his daughters; Terri Marquez (Bryan) of Tucson, Arizona, Susan Parks of Oak Harbor, Washington, and Laura Scaccia of Albuquerque, five grandchildren, and nine great-grandchildren. He was preceded in death by his sister, Bonita Taylor, brother-in-law, Bob McCullough, and nephew, Bruce Kaiser. He is also survived by his sisters, Sylva McCullough of Marysville, California, Susan Dunning (Forest) of Sheridan, Wyoming, and his sister-in-law, Bonnie Sokolowski of Ironwood, Michigan, and eight nieces and nephews.
Richard was a kind, thoughtful, and generous man, who deeply touched the lives of those who knew him. He will be dearly missed by his family, friends, and his fifth beloved dachshund, Levi, whose love for him knew no bounds. We are all grateful for the terrific care Richard received from the VA Hospital in Albuquerque and Hospice of New Mexico. Carolyn and Jacob showed us such extraordinary care and compassion.
My beloved Richard, I wish I had the fortitude of your sister, Sibby, who spoke so eloquently and composed at the funeral of her husband, Bob. I know that it would be impossible for me to make my words comprehensible through the unstoppable flood of tears I will shed, not only for my loss, but because the world has lost such a kind, thoughtful, and courageous man of honesty, honor, and integrity.
When we met, Richard was teaching math at Eldorado High School. His students admired him for his intelligence and sense of humor. Richard loved life and was incredibly patient and optimistic. He never let small things bother him. At that time in my life, I was the opposite, impatient and stressing over insignificant events. I had a lot to learn from Richard. His life had nearly ended in Viet Nam where he distinguished himself by gallantry in action and received the Silver Star, Purple Heart, Bronze Star, Army Commendation Medal, National Defense Service Medal and the Viet Nam Service Medal. The Silver Star Award stated “Second Lt Gruette’s personal heroism, professional competence, and devotion to duty are in keeping with the highest traditions of the military service, and reflect great credit upon himself, the American Division and the United States Army”. All medical personnel were convinced Richard would die. He was 28 years old. The events of that June day are documented and while Richard would seldom talk about Viet Nam, he told me about two other experiences in Viet Nam. On one particular day, he was to board the second chopper on a mission. Since he was at the location when the first chopper was to lift off and one of its occupants was late, he was instructed to board that first chopper as they lifted off. The Viet Cong took note of the launch site and shot down the second chopper as it took off, killing all aboard. After Richard was severely wounded and in the hospital in Cameron Bay, a sniper infiltrated the hospital and proceeded to kill the wounded soldiers that had been brought in from battle as they lay helpless in their hospital beds. The sniper was killed before he was able to get to Richard’s room. I believe these things happened for a reason. Richard was here to save me and give meaning to my life.
Richard was a man of strength, honor, and courage. He was a gentle giant who showed great respect and courtesy to all of the women in his life. He and his three sisters were raised by his mother and grandmother. Both his father and step-father left his mother and she had to raise four children on her own. Christmas presents might have been a piece of fruit and his clothes were hand-me-downs from his cousin, but love and respect kept them going. Perhaps his upbringing in a home with five women instilled in him the desire to treat the women in his life with such love and devotion beyond measure. My house is full of dried flowers from the arrangements I received on numerous occasions throughout the year. He never forgot March 16 of 1985, the date of our first night out together, as well as our wedding anniversary in 1992. There was a reason for our seven-and-a-half-year courtship. We had both been married before and were together with the understanding that we would not remarry. My father worried about me alone in New Mexico after my divorce, when all my family and friends were in Michigan. My father was terminally ill in the summer of 1989 and I had the great fortune of being able to spend the entire summer with him by staying at a boarding house across the street from the VA hospital in Iron Mountain, Michigan. Richard flew to see my father as soon as school was out, but had to return to Albuquerque to teach summer school since money was very tight back then. The doctors told Richard that my father would not make it to the end of summer school. Richard pulled me aside and said it would be a tremendous relief to my father and allow him to be at peace if he knew I would be taken care of and never be alone again. He asked me to marry him and hoped I would say yes so that he could tell my father. That was Richard, always thinking about someone else! I agreed and my father was given the news. It would be three more years working with the Catholic Church to receive our annulments so that we could be married in the Catholic Church since Richard had become a Catholic to be able to worship every Sunday with me. His flight back to Albuquerque was overbooked, so Richard volunteered to wait for a later flight and in return received a free airline ticket anywhere in the future. God works in mysterious ways. My father did not want me to miss the start of the next school year, but wanted to spend as much time with me as possible. He asked when I had to go back, and passed away with my sister holding one hand as I was holding the other. It was the last possible day for us to have his funeral and allow me to get back for the start of the school year. Summer school was over, Richard had a free airline ticket and was able to return for the funeral.
Richard’s mother never received flowers from any man in her life, so Richard always remembered her on Valentine’s Day. She kept the arrangements in her garage where it was cooler, so they would last longer, and went out often to look at them. One evening when we were at her home in Rio Rancho, she remarked that her life-long dream had been to see Alaska, but she knew that would never happen. As soon as we got home, Richard began the plans for our first cruise, which would be to Alaska and include his mother. Finally, at the age of 84, her dream came true.
Richard’s generosity extended to my sister as well. He thought she would probably never experience taking a cruise in her lifetime and knew how much I enjoyed the three that we had taken. Despite having endured his tenth major surgery of his lifetime in June, the abdominal aortic aneurysm repair, which left him needing supplemental oxygen, he began planning her cruise. The three of us would fly to Los Angeles, board the Star Princess, cross the Pacific Ocean, stop at all the islands, and stop at Ensenada, Mexico, before returning to Los Angeles. I tried to book easy excursions on every island since Richard needed a scooter to get around and transport his oxygen while on the ship and we could not remove the scooter while we disembarked. Richard had a tough time at some stops, but never complained since the joy of seeing my sister’s excitement kept him going. He always put other people before himself.
I should have learned to keep my wishes to myself, since once Richard heard of them, he would do everything in his power to make them happen. One evening I commented on how magnificent it would be to experience the workings of the Panama Canal. The next week the plans for our cruise on the Coral Princess through the Panama Canal were in the works, despite the fact that he had fallen and broken his hip less than a year before the cruise would occur. He always did his utmost to fulfill all my hopes and dreams. He accompanied me to Russia in 1993 to visit my Russian friends I had met through my participation in the La Cueva High School Russian student exchange program. My best friend from high school, Nancy, had expressed to me her desire to see Italy, but was quite certain that her husband would not go. Richard decided that we would take her, so he proceeded to make plans. Once her husband, George, realized that this was going to happen, he decided to join us and we enjoyed the trip of a lifetime.
When we first got together, we needed to blend his two poodles with my three dachshunds. Somehow, he managed to get all five to sit in a row. Their heads turned to the right and left as they watched the others get their treats and sat in perfect harmony to wait their turns. Richard was such a calm and peaceful man, that they took their cue from him. Things were not quite as harmonious when he rented the Cookie Monster costume at Halloween to surprise his grandchildren. Elizabeth was hysterical, thinking the big blue monster had eaten grandpa. There was no calming her down until the costume came off.
Richard was diagnosed as terminally ill on November 6 when tests revealed that the graft for his abdominal aortic aneurysm repair had become infected, and with his numerous health issues he would, in all likelihood, not survive its removal. I have treasured every moment we have had together since that date as he faced increasing pain and complications each passing week with the same courage, optimism, and determination that he had exhibited all his life. I am extremely grateful to a loving God for seeing that our paths crossed in this life. The world has been a better place with Richard in it, and we will all be missing his love, kindness, and wisdom. My life has been blessed by his presence in it and I will be looking forward to the day when I will be reunited with my soulmate, who gave such meaning to my life. Rest in Peace, my precious Richard.
Friends and family may visit Monday May 20th from 5 to 7pm at Daniels - Wyoming Chapel. Rosary will be recited at 6pm. Mass will be celebrated on Tuesday, May 21, 2019 at 9:30am at Risen Savior Catholic Church with interment to follow in Gate of Heaven Cemetery with military honors. A reception will follow at Daniels Family Funerals & Cremation 7601 Wyoming Blvd Albuquerque, NM 87109 505.821.0010.