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Raul Castro, Arizona's First and Only Latino Governor, Dead At 98

Raul Castro at his home in Nogales, AZ.  On Monday, Oct 27th, 2008.
Raul Castro at his home in Nogales, AZ. On Monday, Oct 27th, 2008. Phil Soto
/ Source: NBC News

MESA, AZ -- Raul Castro, Arizona’s first and only Hispanic governor who also served as U.S. ambassador to three countries, died Friday morning at the age of 98.

"At 98, my grandfather lived as full and meaningful a life as any man could imagine," said Donald Daley III, Castro’s grandson. "He made history though his public service while helping to improve the lives of the countless numbers of people with whom he came in contact—though my family simply knew him as our beloved patriarch and a man to be cherished and respected."

Family spokesman James Garcia said Castro died in his sleep in a hospice facility in San Diego.

Castro is often described as the perfect example of an American success story. He was born in Mexico and grew up in the Arizona border city of Douglas. He knew that through hard work and dedication, he could accomplish anything.

“In many ways, every step along the way, he was rejected from moving to the next step of his life because he crossed the Mexican border, because he was Latino,” Garcia said. “But he never let that stop him. He just kept plowing ahead. He always believed in moving forward and not back.”

Castro is often described as the perfect example of an American success story. "He's someone who never gave up," said Maricopa County Supervisor Steve Gallardo.

Castro put himself through college, plucking chickens and waiting tables to pay for tuition. Eventually he earned a teaching degree and graduated from law school, but he faced discrimination when he tried to enter the workforce.

He overcame the obstacles and became the first Hispanic to serve as deputy Pima County attorney in 1954. He was later elected judge of the Pima County Superior Court.

After serving as U.S. ambassador to El Salvador and later to Bolivia, Castro returned to Arizona and ran for governor in 1970. He lost the race but ran again and was elected in 1974. He served for more than two years as governor before accepting an offer to serve as U.S. ambassador to Argentina.

Garcia said he got to know Castro through a play he wrote called “American Dreamer” that portrayed the life of the former Arizona governor. He said Castro is someone who never slowed down and kept contributing to the community well into his 90s. “He was someone who didn’t sit still,” Garcia said.

“He also never wanted to be popular,” added Garcia. “He wanted to be respected in his life. And he believed that if he respected other people, they would respect him in return, and he followed that throughout his life.”

Maricopa County Supervisor Steve Gallardo said Castro is “a hero not only to me, but many Latinos throughout Arizona who knew him and knew his story.” Gallardo also described Castro as “someone who never gave up.”

While serving on a school board, Gallardo was involved in efforts to name a middle school after Castro. The school, named Raul H. Castro Middle School, opened January 2009 in Phoenix.

“When you have someone like Gov. Castro who has been such an inspirational individual and has accomplished so much and went through adversities, I think it’s important for people to know his life and story,” Gallardo said. “That was one of the reasons why we named the school after him.”

In a statement, Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey said Arizonans will never forget the state’s 14th governor.

“He was an honorable public servant, a history-maker, a beloved family man and a strong friend and fighter for Arizona,” Ducey stated. “Whether as a county attorney, a superior court judge, a United States ambassador or—as we will best remember him—our 14th governor, his life and legacy of service is forever ingrained in our history.”

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