Wilcox, Mary Rose Garrido: 1949—: County Official

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Mary Rose Garrido Wilcox: 1949: County official

A fourth-generation member of a pioneering Mexican-American family, Mary Rose Garrido Wilcox in 2000 was re-elected to her third four-year term as a member of the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors in Arizona. It is just the latest chapter in Wilcox's long career of public service, a career which began with nine years on the Phoenix City Council. Wilcox's contributions as a public servant have been matched by her zealous efforts on behalf of the Hispanic community. She was the first Hispanic woman to serve on the Phoenix council and has worked tirelessly to advance the cause of her fellow Hispanic Americans since her childhood days in the predominantly Latino community of Superior, Arizona. As a girl, Wilcox was deeply influenced by the political activism of her parents, John and Betty Nunez Garrido, who were among the first generation of Hispanics unwilling to accept the discrimination that had so cruelly constrained the lives of those who came before them. With her husband, Earl V. Wilcox, who was raised in the heavily Hispanic barrios of southeast Phoenix, Wilcox owns and operates the New El Sol, an English-language weekly newspaper serving the Hispanic community.

Faced Discrimination in Arizona

She was born Mary Rose Garrido on November 21, 1949, in Superior, Arizona, a rural mining town of about 5,000, more than 80 percent of whom were Hispanic. Her father, John Garrido, was a copper miner, while her mother, Betty Nunez Garrido, was a homemaker active in the local school system and the Roman Catholic church. After fighting for his country in the Korean War, John Garrido returned to Superior a new man, no longer willing to settle for treatment as a second-class citizen in the town of his birth. He spearheaded a campaign among his fellow miners to form a union. As her parents fought for a better life in Superior, Wilcox experienced changes in her world as well. After years of attending a segregated school in Superior, she found herself in a newly integrated classroom. Mirroring her parents' activism in the community, she took an active role in her local high school, serving on the student council and playing clarinet in the school band. The growing role played by Hispanics in community affairs and in the schools instilled in Wilcox a growing pride in the accomplishments of her people.

At a Glance . . .

Born Mary Rose Garrido on November 21, 1949, in Superior, AZ; married Earl V. Wilcox, 1971; children: Yvonne Wilcox Rhymes. Education: Arizona State University, studied social work, 1967-71. Religion: Roman Catholic. Politics: Democrat.

Career: U.S. Senator Dennis DeConcini, special assistant, 1977-83; City of Phoenix, councilwoman, 1983-93; Maricopa County, Arizona, county supervisor, 1993.

Memberships: National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials; National League of Cities and Towns; National Association of Counties; National League of Cities; Arizona Women in Municipal Government; National Council of La Raza.

Awards: Mesa United Way Leadership and Service Award, 1994; Guadalupe Family Health Center Award of Appreciation, 1996; Downtown Phoenix Partnership Board of Directors Service Award, 1997; Maricopa County Democrats Service Award, 1999; Maricopa Integrated Health System Dedication Award, 1999; Maricopa County Continuum of Care Regional Committee on Homelessness Community Leader of the Year, 2001.

Address: Agent 301 W. Jefferson, Ste. 1000, Phoenix, AZ 85003.

Although Hispanics had begun to establish themselves as first-class citizens in her hometown, Wilcox soon discovered that discrimination was still alive and well elsewhere in Arizona. Enrolling at Arizona State University (ASU) in Tempe to study social work, Wilcox was cruelly reminded that not everyone regarded her as an equal. She and three other minority women found themselves relegated to a single room in the ASU dormitory. Striking back against this sort of bias at a state institution, Wilcox threw herself into campus activism, participating in a strike to improve working conditions for ASU's laundry workers, most of whom were Hispanic. Recalling how unionization had improved the quality of life for Superior's copper miners, Wilcox hoped that solidarity among ASU's laundry workers might bring similar benefits.

It was at ASU that Mary Rose met fellow student Earl V. Wilcox, who had grown up in the heavily Hispanic neighborhoods of southeast Phoenix, an area ravaged by poverty and crime. His background had inspired him to look for ways to help make life better for those with whom he'd grown up. When the two met, Earl Wilcox was working as a youth project director. Mary Rose and Earl married in 1971, and she dropped out of school to go to work in support of her husband's quest for a master's degree in education. He would later become a state representative and a justice of the peace.

Wilcox worked as a job developer for the Manpower program in Maricopa County, helping to find employment opportunities in the private sector. She worked closely with members of the Yaqui Native American tribe who had been displaced from their homes in northern Arizona by a flood control project. She found that the Yaquis, a group with strong Hispanic influences, needed help not only in finding jobs but in locating housing and other forms of support.

Hired by DeConcini

Impressed by Wilcox's work on behalf of the Yaqui, Dennis DeConcini, a Democrat newly elected to the U.S. Senate from Arizona, in 1977 invited Wilcox to join his staff as a caseworker. She eventually was promoted to special assistant and also served as DeConcini's liaison with the Small Business Administration and the Immigration and Naturalization Service. Her work for the senator got Wilcox involved with Friendly House, a nonprofit organization formed in 1920 and dedicated to helping immigrants. She helped the organization develop an educational program targeting at-risk children during after-school hours. Long a supporter of Friendly House, Wilcox was elected a board member in 1992. During the years of Wilcox's involvement, Friendly House has grown significantly, expanding from an annual working budget of $100,000 to one that now exceeds $4 million.

Working for DeConcini gave Wilcox valuable access to the local community. She was eventually elected to the Human Resources Commission of Phoenix, and in that job she successfully campaigned for a restructuring of the city council from at-large representation to districts. In the process, the Phoenix City Council was expanded from six to eight members. Wilcox herself was one of the first beneficiaries of the restructuring, winning election to the council from the heavily Hispanic seventh district in 1982. She became the first Hispanic woman ever elected to serve on the Phoenix council. In an interview with Dictionary of Hispanic Biography's Peg MacNichol, she said her campaign was "the most satisfying in my life." Projects championed by Wilcox included a campaign to pass a $37 million bond issue to finance affordable housing in Phoenix. She was eventually selected to chair the council's housing commission. Working with liberal reform Mayor Terry Goddard and fellow councilman Calvin Goode, Wilcox managed to get the bond issue passed, further buttressing her reputation as a housing advocate. She also worked with Goode to win approval for establishment of a $1 million fund for an anti-crime program called Neighborhood Fightback. Monies from the fund were disbursed to strong community associations willing to upgrade their neighborhoods. Neighborhoods in which the program was implemented experienced significant declines in crime, and the program was eventually adopted statewide.

Despite her growing involvement in local politics, Wilcox remained an enthusiastic campaigner for Hispanic rights. In 1983 she joined with five other Hispanic women to found the Hispanic Women's Corporation (HWC), a group that offers annual seminars to help Hispanic women find new ways in which to upgrade their education and careers. Each year the HWC sponsors a national conference, the largest conference of its kind in Arizona. The conference, which draws up to 2,000 attendees yearly, is privately funded by corporations that use the event as a recruiting opportunity. Wilcox in 1983 also helped created IMAGE, a coalition of Hispanic government employees at the federal, state, and local level. She served as IMAGE's first president from 1983 until 1986.

Selected to Serve as Vice Mayor

Wilcox's visibility in Phoenix increased significantly in 1988 when she was elected by her fellow councilmen to serve a two-year term as vice mayor. Encouraged by Mayor Goddard to push the envelope during her time as vice mayor, Wilcox spearheaded a campaign to ban semiautomatic weapons, including the AK-47 assault rifle popular with gangs in Phoenix. She also supported a proposal to build a baseball stadium in her district, convinced that it would draw new jobs and money into the area. In 1989 she was re-elected to the council, largely on the strength of her appeal as a grassroots candidate. In campaign speeches, Wilcox frequently compared herself to typical members of her constituency. The strategy worked. Although there were rumors that Wilcox might seek the mayor's job after Goddard left to seek a state office, in the end she set her sights on the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors, hoping to win election as a replacement for fifth district Supervisor Ed Pastor. In November of 1992, she realized her goal, becoming the first Hispanic woman to serve as a supervisor.

Covering more than 9,200 square miles, Maricopa County, Arizona, is the fourteenth largest county in the nation in terms of area. As the home to nearly 2.3 million, it is the seventh most populous American county. Wilcox's election to the ruling board of the county put her and her fellow supervisors in charge of an annual budget of more than $1.2 billion and a county work force of some 14,000 employees. Now working at the county level, Wilcox continued to push for programs to revitalize downtown Phoenix. Her support in 1994 of a quarter-cent sales tax to help pay for the $350 million Bank One Ballpark stadium in Phoenix was to prove especially costly for Wilcox.

Leaving a meeting of the supervisors on August 13, 1997, Wilcox was accosted by a gun-toting man who had attended the meeting and followed her from the auditorium. "I saw him out of the corner of my eye and became very alarmed, because he just didn't look right," Wilcox later told reporters. "The next thing I knew, I felt a gun in my back." A split second later, her assailant fired a 38-caliber round into Wilcox's pelvis. The gunman, Larry Marvin Naman, a 49-year-old transient with a history of mental illness, told police he was angry about the supervisor's support of the stadium sales tax. Hospitalized for four days, Wilcox was left with bullet fragments in her hip and thigh. She later blamed what she called "hate radio" for refusing to let the issue of the stadium sales tax die. "I attribute [the shooting] directly to the venom that radio talk shows put out every day," Wilcox told the Arizona Republic. "Many of them are just hate-baiting. Because I am the only remaining board member who voted on the stadium I was the target." The gunman was eventually convicted on charges of attempted first-degree murder and sentenced to 15 years in prison.

Shooting Failed to Sideline Wilcox

In the long run, the shooting did little to slow Wilcox down. She continued to work as a supervisor and in 2000 was elected to her third four-year term on the Maricopa County board. Interestingly, earlier that same year Wilcox made election history when she cast the first ballot in Arizona's first Internet presidential primary. It was the nation's first such ballot cast in a binding election for public office. Wilcox recorded her vote with a simple click of the computer mouse.

Apart from her responsibilities as county supervisor, Wilcox stays busy at home and through her involvement in a wide variety of civic affairs. She and her husband bought El Sol, a Spanish-language weekly serving the Hispanic community of Greater Phoenix. The newspaper has since been repackaged as the New El Sol and is printed in English, although it continues to target Phoenix's growing Hispanic population. The couple also own and operate El Portal, a Mexican restaurant located near Grant Park in downtown Phoenix.



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Complete Marquis Who's Who, Marquis Who's Who, 2001.

Dictionary of Hispanic Biography, Gale Research, 1996.


Access Control & Security Systems, October 1, 1997.

Arizona Republic, August 17, 1997.

Atlanta Constitution, March 8, 2000.

Phoenix New Times, 1997.


"Mary Rose Garrido Wilcox, Supervisor, District 5," Maricopa.gov, www.Maricopa.gov/dist5/bio.asp (June 20, 2003).

"Mary Rose Wilcox - Biography," Greater Phoenix Economic Council, www.gpec.org/AnnualReport 2001/intro/Bios-Board/wilcoxbio.html (June 20, 2003).

Don Amerman