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Hector Godinez; First Latino Postmaster

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Hector G. Godinez, the boy from the barrio who broke barriers to become Orange County’s first Latino postmaster, died Sunday at St. Joseph Hospital in Orange after a four-year struggle with Parkinson’s disease.

In his 74 years, Godinez scrapped his way up from poverty and a lack of formal education. He served as a tank commander in Germany during World War II, delivered the mail for most of north Santa Ana, attended Santa Ana College by night and, in 1961, was appointed by President John F. Kennedy as postmaster of Santa Ana.

He was later promoted to Southern California district manager for the U.S. Postal Service, managing more than 44,000 employees and an operating budget of $750 million.

Linda Godinez Miller said her father persevered against both economics and racial prejudice. Once he ascended, the father of four never forgot to help others.

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“He’s a legend,” she said Sunday. “He was one of Kennedy’s last appointments--one of four candidates for the job and the only Hispanic. The Santa Ana Chamber [of Commerce] lobbied against his appointment. So did many others. Yet he did become postmaster and he later became president of the Chamber.”

Godinez’s community involvement was ceaseless.

He served as a trustee for the Rancho Santiago Community College District for 17 years and on boards for the League of United Latin American Citizens and KOCE-TV public television, among others. Godinez and the first LULAC members helped bring to court a landmark civil rights case that ended discrimination against Mexican American children in Orange County schools.

Witty and loyal to a fault, Godinez was known for his devotion to friends, his collection of 50 pairs of cowboy boots and his fondness for Stetson hats. A voracious reader, Godinez loved historical tomes, especially those about World War II.

“He always tried to stand up for the little guy,” his daughter recalled. “If someone needed a job, he’d help. If someone needed help getting the mail out, they’d call Hector. He always took the phone calls.”

Godinez weathered several political storms during his tenure at the Postal Service, including allegations of improper political activities by a civil servant. But he emerged unscathed, his daughter said.

Godinez is survived by his wife of 53 years, Mary; his children, Hector Ron of Newport Beach, Robert of Orange, Linda Godinez Miller of Dana Point and Gloria Munoz of Orange; and nine grandchildren.

A vigil for Godinez is scheduled for 7 p.m. Tuesday at Holy Family Cathedral, 566 S. Glassell St., Orange. The funeral Mass is set for 10 a.m. Wednesday, also at Holy Family Cathedral.

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