Rural America, and RUPRI, Have Lost a Great Advocate

In Memoriam


Dear Friends,

With deep sadness, RUPRI was forced to change this section of our website this week, where we spotlighted RUPRI Leader Mario Gutierrez, Executive Director of the Center for Connected Health Policy, and Chair of the RUPRI Human Services Panel. In a tragic irony, Mario passed away last Wednesday, following surgery complications.

For those of us who were blessed to call Mario a friend or colleague, this has been especially difficult. Our hearts are very heavy, as the immensity of this loss comes into fuller focus. We grieve for his wife, Debra, his children and family, and for all, around this nation and world, who were blessed by his presence in their lives. Quite simply, his kind pass this way very seldom.

I have struggled to find words which fully express my feelings. I loved Mario. He was a happy warrior, always for the right values and people. He loved life, counted it a blessing every day, and lived it fully. But I also loved that, although  always kind, he did not abide fools well, and had a righteous anger, always targeted to the people, policies or programs harming the lives of our less fortunate brothers and sisters, and the places they called home. He was a staunch rural advocate, one of the best. And he also knew well how the world worked, how we are all connected – in word, intention and deed – for good or ill, and that those who are clever are not always wise. Finally, he knew that leadership takes sacrifice, which he was always willing to make.

Mario was the founding chair of our Rural Human Services Panel, and as collaborative a colleague as ever lived. If you couldn’t work with Mario, it was not Mario that was the problem! And the true measure of this man was in his ability to converse, understand, and work equally well with both a farmworker, and a US Senator, and appreciate their purpose and value equally.

It is also ironic that Mario moderated our most recent Next Generation webinar, and did so brilliantly. He completely understood how arts and cultural mattered, particularly to poor folks – who were only so materially. Savannah Barrett transcribed one of his comments for the RUPRI family, and this is so very fitting as Mario’s final words of wisdom to us all:

“I’m excited to see you breaking the mold to think about the whole person, the whole community, the whole family, and all the different contributors to physical, mental, and spiritual health that the arts and culture can bring to bear. This is what we’re hoping to see more of: a multisectoral approach to bring in all the assets, and recognize that despite the fact that the community may be in poverty, that its very rich in culture which can be a source of wellbeing and pride.”

Mario’s professional contributions, in several sectors, are outstanding. His life made a difference, and people and places around the world are better for his passing. Those accomplishments are enumerated in the obituaries below. But Mario’s greatest contribution was his example. He lived a life of deep purpose, loved the journey,  and was one of the kindest, most alive humans walking this planet.

Tomorrow, the 23rd, there will be a memorial for Mario at 2:00 pm Pacific, at the Sierra Health Foundation in Sacramento. Let’s all pause then, reflect upon the life lessons he offered, and share a smile or a tear.

We all miss you, Mario.  Well done, Amigo.  See you soon.


Link to Sacramento Bee Article about Mario

Link to Sacramento Bee Obituary