Orcilia Zuniga Forbes
Zúñiga Forbes, former UNM vice president for Student Affairs and vice president for Institutional Advancement.
Credit: Meyer Memorial Trust

Orcilia Zúñiga Forbes, former University of New Mexico vice president for Student Affairs and vice president for Institutional Advancement, died at her home in Portland, Ore. last Friday morning, Aug. 28. She was 77.

Zúñiga Forbes brother-in-law, Chuck Chavez, M.D. called to notify the University. They’d met in 1957 while studying biology at UNM. She was an honor’s graduate in the UNM School of Nursing. “I met her husband, Dick Forbes, around that time,” Chavez said, “when we spent a considerable amount of time running on the old Zimmerman track and in the foothills of the Sandia Mountains.”

Starting at her head and looking down, Zúñiga Forbes was always neatly coifed, perfectly made up, stylishly and professionally dressed, stockings and…running shoes. Perhaps they were the secret to her administrative career in higher education. Always on the move, literally, she knew how to balance professionalism with comfort.

Born in Carlsbad, N.M., the eldest of Lorenzo and Anita Zúñiga’s eight children, Zúñiga Forbes learned to value education. She earned a bachelor’s degree in nursing from the University of New Mexico in 1960, and Master’s degrees in nursing and public policy — one from the Oregon Health and Sciences University in 1966, and one from the University of California Berkeley School of Public Health in 1972.

She worked as a public school nurse, then became assistant director of health services at Portland State University. She went on to get her Ph.D. from the University of Oregon in 1992, while serving as vice president of Student Affairs at UNM. She needed those running shoes to travel between New Mexico and Oregon.

Former UNM President Richard Peck said, “Orcilia's passing is a great loss to all her friends here in New Mexico. She was widely loved and respected. She and I took visits to alumni groups and high school counselors throughout the state, and her presence made each visit -- even when we weren't expected – warm and comfortable.

"And our conversations on the drive made each trip more enjoyable for me, as did the special map she carried that indicated all the Dairy Queens in New Mexico. And, yes, she often wore her running shoes.”

Forbes was married to the late Richard Bryan Forbes, former department head of biology at Portland State University, and had two children, daughter Eryn and son Bryan.

In 2007, the UNM Alumni Association awarded Zúñiga Forbes the Alumni Association's Bernard S. Rodey Award for her many accomplishments and years of service in higher education. 

If there is a track in heaven, maybe Zúñiga Forbes hasn’t hung up those running shoes after all.