Byline: ANA PACHECO
For 25 years, Max Coll got to know some of the best rivers in America as a rafting enthusiast. He has conquered the waters of the Grand Canyon four times, the Salmon River in Idaho twice, the Tatshenshini River in Alaska and numerous others.
During those adventures, he got to know many people who shared his passion. The 78-year-old still gets together with some of them -- now on solid ground.
"We call ourselves the 'River Rats,' and we meet for lunch every other Wednesday at Tiny's Restaurant. When I get together with this group, I get to hear about their current adventures and I reminisce about the days when was out on the water," he said.
Coll meets at Tiny's with another group. "That group is called the 'Old Fogeys,' and it consists of retired legislators, judges, journalists and others. We talk about everything, but mostly politics," he said.
Coll served in the Legislature from 1967-2004, a period spanning six governors. He began his career in his hometown of Roswell as a Republican representing Chaves County. In 1971, he decided to become a lawyer and moved to Albuquerque to attend The University of New Mexico, where he received his law degree in 1973.
After graduating from the University of Missouri in 1954 and serving in the Army, he got interested in politics. "I was so aggravated that I couldn't vote while serving in the military because New Mexico didn't have an absentee voter registration law," he said.
When Coll came home, he realized he would have to get involved in politics if things were going to change.
"The first bill I carried in the Legislature, that actually passed when Gov. David Cargo was in office, was changing the voter law based on the reapportionment of county boundaries. That bill established the right of minority voters giving them the ability to elect their own representative," he said.
During Coll's tenure in the Legislature, he spearheaded many changes as Republican Legislative Whip and, later, Democratic Chairman of the House Appropriations and Finance Committee. But the biggest change of all was with Coll himself. In 1983, he shocked his family and politicans by switching parties. He ran as a Democrat in Santa Fe, where he moved after school.
"My family are staunch Republicans, so they were pretty disappointed with me. But I had always been a moderate Republican who was long on environmental and social issues and the Republican right wing base didn't like that, so I needed to switch parties if I was going to be effective," he said.
Max Coll was born in 1932 with politics in his blood. He was the eldest of four sons born to Max Coll and Lillian Hinkle. His grandfather James F. Hinkle was the Democratic governor of New Mexico from 1923-24, served in the Legislature during the territorial period and as a senator. Hinkle and his family came to New Mexico in the late 1800s. His grandparents married at the Lincoln County Courthouse. Today, the courthouse features a Hinkle family exhibit. The Coll family came to the state from Illinois in a horse-drawn wagon in the late 1800s and farmed near Artesia. Today, the courthouse features a Hinkle family exhibit.
Coll's uncle was a senator from Chaves County. "When I was a kid, I would come to Santa Fe while my uncle was in legislative meetings and my cousins and I would fish on the banks of the Santa Fe River," he said.
Coll retired in 2004, has been married three times and has three children -- one of whom died in 1989 -- and four grandchildren. He and wife Catherine enjoy traveling, visiting friends and tending to their four dogs and cockatoo. Occasionally, Max Coll will revert to his former self when the phone rings. "Once in a great while someone from the Legislature will call me for advice and I'm only too happy to oblige," he said.
Ana Pacheco's weekly tribute to our community elders appears Sundays. She can be reached at 474-2800.