IGNACIO – In an overflowing Sky Ute Casino Resort Events Center about 2,000 people gathered Friday to honor the short life of Jimmy Newton Jr.
Newton, 37, had an 11-year career as a tribal council member, vice-chairman and chairman of the Southern Ute Indian Tribe. Fondly referred to Friday as “Jimbo,” “Big Jim” and “Bro,” he will be remembered as a father, husband, son, nephew and friend, mourners said.
“He took his words very seriously,” said James Olguin, vice-chairman of the tribe. “He took his actions very seriously. But children – that was his heart.”
Newton died Monday at Mercy Regional Medical Center after a short illness.
The memorial service was a mix of sadness at the unexpected death of a young man and laughter as those who gathered remembered the good times. The group Yellow Jacket, in which Newton had played, performed tribal drumming. Eddie Box Jr. and members of his family sang both Sioux and Ute songs.
“He would tend to get in a little trouble,” his mother, Elaine Newton, said of her only child. She would discipline him, and he later thanked her and his father, Jimmy Newton Sr., for raising him to respect his family.
As a little boy, Newton loved watching cartoons, particularly the “Incredible Hulk,” and he still had a collection of Hulk figures in his home, said Elaine Newton, as she showed one to the audience.
Newton’s daughter, Maylon Kaye Newton, read a poem she wrote for him called “My Daddy.”
While she grew up in Oklahoma with her mother, Maylon Newton came to Colorado every summer to spend time with her father and learn about Ute culture, Elaine Newton said.
Living the Ute life was important for her childhood friend, said Beth Santistevan, who now works in public affairs for the tribe.
“Family came first,” she said.
Newton also was caring and respectful toward his elders.
“If not, his mom would have smacked him upside the head,” Santistevan said.
But along with taking care of his family, he also had time for his friends, she said.
If you wanted a shoulder to lean on “or to just listen to music and go for a ride, Big Jim was your man,” she said.
Newton knew the Southern Ute reservation well and could cross it from east to west without ever travelling on pavement, Santistevan said. He also loved sports and coaching and teaching children. His favorite teams were the Broncos, Oklahoma Sooners and Arizona State Sun Devils.
Santistevan said Newton’s favorite role was following a spiritual path.
“He loved the Creator,” she said.
Manuel Heart, chairman of the Ute Mountain Ute tribe, addressed the crowd in Ute, then switched to English.
He said he knew Newton for 15 years and watching him grow from a young man into the leader of a tribe “was inspiring.”
Also honoring Newton were the chairman of the Northern Ute tribe, a representative of the Jicarilla Apache tribe, Colo. Rep. Mike McLachlan, as well as a Canadian Indian chief from Alberta. Tributes were read from the U.S. Senate and Congress.
Colorado Lt. Gov. Joe Garcia spoke of his work with Newton on the state Council of Indian Affairs. Unlike the many friends who spoke, Garcia said he never called Newton “Bro.” They were formal because they were both representing their governments, he said.
When he first met Newton, Garcia remembered “how small you suddenly feel,” referring to Newton’s towering height. But with Newton’s easygoing nature and friendliness, “he made you feel, big, too,” Garcia said.
Garcia presented the Newton family with a flag that had been flown over the state Capitol in Denver.
Pathimi GoodTracks, a member of the Southern Ute tribal council, said the tribe’s youngest chairman helped usher in a new age for the ancient culture by encouraging tribal members to communicate on the tribe’s Facebook and web pages and encouraging the tribal councilors to use computers more frequently.
He constantly texted his friends and people he knew around the country, she said.
Many people attending the service remembered Newton had time for anyone.
After the service, Elisha Thompson said when her young nephew and father died a short time apart, Newton would come by the gift shop where she works at Sky Ute Casino and ask how she and her mother were doing.
“They are wonderful people,” Thompson said of Newton and his widow, Flora Murphy-Newton.
Elaine Newton, a tribal judge, said she knew it wasn’t always easy for her son to grow up with a chief judge for a mother. She also said she has learned since his death how much he meant to the community around him.
Service to all of the members of the tribe – not just his friends and family – was important to him, she said.
“He was not just my son,” she said. “He belonged to all of you.”