Raul Castro Honored with Portrait Unveiling

Arizona's first and only Hispanic governor was enshrined at the James E. Rogers College of Law alongside four other distinguished alumni.
Dec. 15, 2009
Raul Castro (left) with Rogers College Dean Lawrence Dean Ponoroff in front of Castro's portrait.
Raul Castro (left) with Rogers College Dean Lawrence Dean Ponoroff in front of Castro's portrait.
Castro addresses well wishers during the portrait unveiling.
Castro addresses well wishers during the portrait unveiling.

Students, faculty, staff and the guest of honor gathered on Tuesday to watch an unveiling of a portrait of former Arizona Gov. Raul Castro. The portrait resides on the Heritage Wall in the Lewis and Roca Lobby in the University of Arizona James E. Rogers College of Law.

Castro, a University of Arizona alumnus, was the first - and still the only - Hispanic elected governor of the state.

In addition, he served in both elected and non-elected public offices at the county, state and national levels, including Pima County Attorney as well as U.S. Ambassador to El Salvador, Bolivia and Argentina.

The college invited Castro on the pretext of meeting the new dean, Lawrence Ponoroff, keeping  the portrait a secret. Castro, now 93 and retired and living in Nogales, Ariz., had not seen the tribute which has been on display since August 2008.

When the floor-to-ceiling painting was unveiled alongside four other distinguished UA alumni, Castro's hands flew in the air in surprise.

Ponoroff said the portraits were designed "to honor five individuals that exemplify the intellect, scholarship, public service and leadership we hope UA law school students will emulate upon graduation."

"We want to inspire students to model their own careers on the extraordinary examples of public service of the individuals honored in this hall," Ponoroff added.  

Alongside Castro portrait are those of Charles Ares, class of 1952 and a former dean of the college, the late Mary Anne Richey, class of 1951 and a former U.S. district court judge, the late Morris K. Udall, class of 1949 and longtime Arizona congressman, and Stewart L. Udall, class of 1948 and a former interior secretary and Arizona congressman.

"I owe my allegiance and heart to the University of Arizona Law School," Castro said in a speech after the unveiling. "Getting a law degree was paradise from heaven. It made my whole life different; it made me a diplomat among many other things."

Raul Castro was one of fourteen children born in Cananea, Sonora, to a copper miner and a midwife. In 1926 the family moved near Douglas, Ariz. Castro graduated from high school with honors and attended Arizona State Teacher's College, now Northern Arizona University, on a football scholarship and captained both the track and the boxing teams. In 1939 he earned both a bachelor's degree in education and U.S. citizenship.

Castro began his public service career as a foreign service clerk for the U.S. State Department in Agua Prieta, Sonora, where he was often the official U.S. representative for Americans jailed in Mexico. Proficient in Spanish, he served as a translator communicating with Mexican attorneys and courts. The experience, he said, motivated him to attend law school.

Moving to Tucson he became a Spanish instructor at the UA while aspiring to complete his legal studies. He gained acceptance despite, he said, of the hesitations of the law dean who believed students of Mexican decent would not be able to successfully graduate from law school.

Castro graduated and was admitted to the Arizona State Bar in 1949. After five years in private practice he was elected Pima County Attorney in 1954 and Pima County Superior Court Judge in 1958. He served on the bench until 1964, spending three of those years as a juvenile court judge.

In 1964, President Lyndon B. Johnson appointed Castro as U.S. Ambassador to El Salvador. Castro had met and befriended Johnson in 1960 when the Texas senator made a campaign stop in Tucson as the Democratic vice-presidential candidate. In the summer of 1968, Johnson appointed Castro as U.S. Ambassador to Bolivia. He returned to Arizona in 1969 to resume his law practice.

Castro made a run at the governorship in 1970, losing in the general election by a small margin to the incumbent, Jack Williams. Four years later he ran again and won, serving until 1977 when another ambassadorship came his way.

During the 1976 presidential election, Castro supported Jimmy Carter and toured with the Georgia governor during the campaign. At the Democratic National Convention in New York that summer, Castro urged the Latino Caucus to lend its support to Carter.

In 1977, President Carter offered Castro an appointment as U.S. Ambassador to Argentina, a post he held until 1980, when he returned to Arizona to resume practicing immigration law and international law until he retired in 2003.

Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano proclaimed February 16, 2006, as "Raul H. Castro Day" in Arizona. Raul H. Castro Park in Douglas, Ariz., also bears his name.

The Raul H. Castro Scholarship is awarded annually to deserving students at the UA through the Center for Latin American Studies.