A politician and a humanitarian; what a wise and wonderful blend to make up the Chamber’s 2015 Man and Woman of the Year.
First, the Humanitarian. Who comes to mind when one thinks of that person who was the leader in bringing dignity back to those who believed they were lost souls? Sister Norma Pimentel, director of Catholic Charities, has become the shining star to those women and children feeling so alone in a foreign country.
“Those first weeks and months, the surge of people came in 2014 and throughout 2015, we saw women and children walk up to the door in the worst conditions. It broke my heart,” she said, emotionally. “Actually, when my mentor, Sister Juliana Garcia, saw the surge begin, she said it was deja vu. ‘We did this in the 80s,’ she said.”
Growing up, Sister Norma believed her path would lead her to the world of art.
“Ever since I can remember I’ve always loved art and have a natural gift to paint and draw, a gift from God. In first grade I painted a mural of the nativity at the request of my teacher.” Sister Norma speaks quietly, confidently.
Just as she was ready to leave to study architectural design after receiving her Bachelor’s of Art from UTPanAm, she happened to go with a friend to a prayer group, an unusual action for her.
“I was drawn into this mystery, this beautiful experience of discovering God, truly, for the first time,” her eyes glistened.
Thirty five years later, this religious humanitarian has fought for the rights of the oppressed, fed the poor, the hungry, the displaced, and overseen the Valley’s Catholic Church’s charitable actions. A member of the Missionaries of Jesus, she oversees and participates in the work they do here and across the border in Matamoros.
Soft-spoken with a mind like a tack, Sister Norma had a dream come true in 2015.
“The best thing that ever happened to me in my life was when the Holy Father was present with us at Sacred Heart Church and he called me out of the crowd to talk to me. Then I got to meet him in person in New York. There’s nothing better that could happen to me, ever, than be recognized, be known, by this man who is such a blessing to us all. It’s the most amazing thing in my life,” said Sister Norma.
About her work, she humbly says, “When I see the faces of those we help, it does not matter how tired we are when we go home to sleep. At the end of the day, it is worth it.”
Then there is the Politician. Richard Cortez, city commissioner, former mayor of McAllen, public utility trustee, president of the Border Trade Alliance, board member for IMAS and Quinta Mazatlan, and parish council president of St. Pius X Catholic Church, when he lived in Weslaco, who is the new Man of the Year.
Forming his philosophy when he moved to McAllen in 1983, he continues to follow it in his personal life and career.
“All of us were born to serve. When I arrived in McAllen I was fortunate to meet people who were serving the community of McAllen. I became a disciple of that philosophy of serving your community. I think if we want to inspire others to serve, then we concentrate on the merits of community service,” said Cortez.
Having led the city as Mayor for eight years, Cortez thought he would retire from politics. But, after losing his beloved Elva, he felt he still had much to give McAllen because of his extensive background in politics and as a CPA.
“When you live in a community, the word ‘community’ can be defined as an extended family. Our duty, as public servants, is to bring value to our community. I believe my Christian values of accepting all the community, no matter their beliefs, are important because when you govern, you have to govern everybody and consider how to be totally inclusive.”
Most proud of the simple things–being a good son, husband, father and grandfather, professionally Cortez is most proud of working with the Mexican government in finalizing the plans for the Anzalduas Bridge.
Today, this visionary with a sense of what is good for the future of McAllen, works to keep it a place everyone feels safe, a wholesome place to do business and a place fiscally fit and economically sound to live in.
Honored by the award, he felt it was confirmation that people thought the work he did was important.
“You never know if your work is noticed. I felt very honored.”
Cortez is still active in many activities including sitting on the board of the International Bank of Commerce and serving as City Commissioner. Above all, his heart remains geared toward peace.
“Let’s focus on how we can give a little on all issues to bring us closer together as a community, rather than find reasons to divide us,” Cortez summed up. “We need to continually find reasons to be a united area.”
Maybe in understanding these two outstanding winners, we realize they are both humanitarian and politician, and those two words, instead of separating them, can act as a means of uniting the two very different worlds they live in.