Throughout a distinguished career and years of service to the Albuquerque community, Judy Zanotti will be honored by the University of New Mexico with an honorary doctorate during the fall opening ceremony, the Friday 17th December.
“I am really upset and very humbled,” Zanotti said. “I know it’s a cliché, but it’s really true that you need a village.”
Special education advocate
Zanotti is best known for her work in favor of people with disabilities. She is credited with helping lead the historic effort to compel New Mexico to comply with a federal law, the Education for All Disabled Children Act (PL 94-142, 1975), which required public schools to provide free and appropriate public education to students. with disabilities.
“She is a pioneer and champion of the cause of providing disabled students in our state with the kind of support and education they need and deserve,” said Katharine Winograd, President Emeritus of the NJC.
As the mother of a child with severe learning disabilities, Zanotti said she knows firsthand the importance of federal law. She founded and served as the Executive Director of the Albuquerque Association for Children with Learning Disabilities. Zanotti was one of the main elements in a coalition of parents, educators and special educators from UNM who mounted a local effort, funded by bake sales and car washes, to convince leaders state to comply with PL 94-142.
In 1984, the state legislature passed a law directing the State Department of Education to comply and seek federal funding.
Professor Ruth Luckasson of the UNM College of Education and Humanities (COEHS) described Zanotti’s ability to organize, communicate and motivate as that rare gift of being able to express deep and sincere compassion.
“People want to follow her. She has a vision and a recognized generosity, ”said Luckasson. “People know that when Judy stands for something, it’s the right thing. People want to be a part of it.
Zanotti said she credits her family’s values for shaping her leadership style. Born in Gallup, she has spent most of her life in Albuquerque. She was raised by a single mother and grandparents who immigrated from Italy.
“My grandfather was so proud to be American,” she said.
Zanotti says one of her most enjoyable roles is serving for five years as president of New Mexico First, a bipartisan organization co-founded in 1986 by U.S. Senator Jeff Bingaman and the late U.S. Senator Pete Domenici.
“Judy puts her faith into action and has a deep Christian faith,” said Maryann Trott, president of the Council of Friends and Alumni Section of COEHS.
This faith has led to fundraising work to help women and children in the countries of Honduras and Rwanda. Zanotti has organized several fundraising and awareness events to support World Vision / Women of Vision. In 2018, she and her husband traveled to Rwanda to support efforts to bring clean water to the impoverished country still recovering from the 1994 genocide.
A Lobo for life
“UNM has changed my life,” Zanotti said.
She said the doors continued to open and other leadership opportunities at UNM began to arise, which has not diminished for four decades. She has just completed her mandates in the Council of Friends and the Chapter of Elders and as administrator of the UNM Foundation.
“She was the best and longest lasting ambassador the university has ever had,” said Karen Abraham.
As a strong supporter of UNM, and in particular the COEHS, Zanotti has endowed or supported several scholarships. In 2020, she led an effort to establish the Professor Ruth A. Luckasson Scholarship in Special Education. In 2018, Zanotti endowed the Scott C. Cantwell Endowed Scholarship in Special Education, which is named after one of his three sons. Cantwell was diagnosed at a young age as having severe learning disabilities. With the support of dedicated special education teachers, he was able to develop skills that led to a 33-year career with Albuquerque Public Schools (APS).
Now retired, Zanotti has served as senior vice president of the Public Service Company of New Mexico (PNM), executive director of the State Bar of New Mexico, and president of New Mexico First. She has also served on the boards of directors or committees of numerous organizations, including:
- Women’s Economic Self-Sufficiency Team (WESST)
- SHARE New Mexico
- World Vision / Women of Vision Albuquerque
- Young Women’s Christian Association, Carrie Tingley Hospital
- Hispanic National Cultural Center, Association for Commerce and Industry
- Diabetes Association
- Santa Fe Opera Guild
- UNM Anderson School of Management
- UNM Foundation, Association of former students of the UNM
- The alumni chapter of the College of Educational and Human Sciences (COEHS)
- The Lobo Club
Zanotti was nominated for this honor by a committee made up of UNMs and community leaders. The nomination was supported by letters of recommendation that cite a common theme of strong ethics, exceptional leadership skills, selfless work on behalf of UNM and community organizations, and advocacy for children with disabilities.