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First Hispanic U.S. ambassador, Raymond Telles, dies at 97

March 15, 2013

Raymond Telles, the United States’ first Hispanic ambassador, died on March 8. He was 97.

Telles was born to Mexican parents on Sept. 5, 1915, in El Paso, Texas, the daily La Nación reported, citing news agencies.

On Nov. 3, 1957, he was elected mayor of El Paso, becoming the first Hispanic mayor of a major U.S. city. He served four years.

In 1961, President John F. Kennedy appointed Telles ambassador to Costa Rica, making him the first Hispanic U.S. ambassador.

Telles studied at Texas Western College, now the University of Texas, El Paso. Later, he joined the U.S. Justice Department.

He achieved the rank of colonel in the U.S. Air Force, serving in World War II. He was a military adviser to both presidents Harry S. Truman and Dwight D. Eisenhower. He also fought in the Korean War.

As ambassador to Costa Rica, Telles sought to improve relations between the United States and Costa Rica by often visiting several communities throughout the country. He attended Kennedy’s official state visit to Costa Rica on March 18, 1963, months before Kennedy – beloved by Costa Ricans – was assassinated.

In 1967, President Lyndon B. Johnson appointed Telles chairman of the U.S.-Mexican Border Commission.

“Our father dedicated his life to public service. He will always be remembered for his efforts to pave the way for future generations of Hispanics and for the social and political progress that his work achieved,” his daughter, Cynthia Telles, said, La Nación reported.

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