When women talk about having it all, they usually mean a wonderful family and a great career. For Mayor Linda Calhoun of Red River, New Mexico, that “it” also includes a magical place to live, meaningful work in public service and always perfect hair.
Red River sits high up in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, surrounded by 1.5 million acres of national forest. Travel & Leisure recently named it one of America’s Prettiest Winter Towns, with a ski area right off the main road. When she was growing up in Haskell, Texas, Linda’s family would go camping there in summer to escape the heat of the Texas Panhandle, but she never imagined that she would one day be its mayor.
In fact, her parents were worried when she moved there in 1978. Linda had just graduated from West Texas State University with a BS in Nursing and married her college boyfriend the weekend after. He grew up skiing in Red River every winter and always wanted to live there. His plan was to build a lodge.
“It was a huge leap of faith,” says Linda. “I was young and thought I had moved to heaven. Of course, my parents, who lived 500 miles away, thought I had moved to the far corners of the earth.”
Instead of nursing, she found herself waiting tables, teaching skiing and cleaning rooms at their lodge, wondering where this life would lead. A major turning point occurred in 1984, when they sold the lodge, and she opened a gift shop that has evolved into Main Street Mercantile. Building her own business was a risky but empowering experience. She soon learned how to succeed in retail.
For instance, one of her employees kept telling her about the cute purses that the Texas tourists were carrying. She finally asked one of the ladies if she could look at the bag. When she saw it was made by Brighton, Linda tracked down a sales rep and started ordering those bags and other accessories.
When she divorced in 1990 and remarried in 1993, her life took a major new turn. She and her new husband, Ted Calhoun, created a sort of Brady Bunch, with her two young kids and Ted’s three older sons. Besides Der Markt Food Store, Ted owned Calhoun Real Estate. When one of his associates suddenly retired in 2003, Ted said to Linda, “Well, I guess you are going to start selling real estate.”
Linda takes her granddaughter, Kamryn, along for an interview with an Albuquerque TV station.
Linda had gotten her broker's license in 1981, but she never actively sold property until then. When she started, she had one listing. “I remember one of my good friends staring at the office window, laughing at our little lone listing,” she says. “Now we are the largest real estate company in town.”
Beyond the businesses, Linda steadily devoted more energy to her community, starting an education foundation; serving as president of the Women’s Club; joining the board and presiding as president of the Chamber of Commerce and getting involved with the Taos County Community Against Violence. She currently serves as chairwoman of that group.
Fritz Davis, publisher of the local newspaper, recalls many instances of Linda’s tireless dedication to the community. She had just been elected to the town council when the Hondo Fire broke out in May 1996. Returning from a state track meet in Albuquerque, she could see a huge plume of smoke as she reached the top of the hill leading into Taos. The fire was moving quickly up the canyon towards Red River, forcing the town to evacuate.
She got home and quickly packed up her car. While she left with the kids, Ted met with the fire chief and gave him the keys to the grocery store. The Calhouns wanted the thirty or so people left in town to take whatever they needed. Fritz was one of those who stayed behind to chronicle the fire for the paper. He witnessed how much the emergency responders appreciated having the store open to them. In the end, the fire burned through 7,500 acres and displaced 2,000 people, but Red River was saved.
When Linda was elected mayor in 2006, emergency services were one of her top priorities. She secured more than $1 million to fund a new fire station and ladder truck for the department. She also built a heliport in town for transport during medical emergencies.
Beyond infrastructure and services, she celebrates the qualities that make Red River a special place to live and visit. One of her first acts as mayor was to make a proclamation for Johnny Mutz, an old-time Red River patriarch and cowboy, who was celebrating his 90th birthday. Johnny and his wife, Henrietta, are two of the town’s most cherished characters.
Linda also lobbies for their environment. “We're working in Washington with our congressional delegation to have some lands conveyed to the town that are currently Forest Service lands,” she says. “We're also supporting the designation of 43,000 acres of Forest Service land as a wilderness area.”
Although she oversees a staff of 37 people, Linda maintains a thorough, hands-on approach to everything. When people call the mayor’s office, they’re actually calling her cell phone. When she answers, she’s usually “crazy busy,” sometimes with a child in tow – one of her two adorable granddaughters who are growing up in town.
While others marvel at her energy and activities – all done without a hair out of place – she’s modest about her life. “I don’t ever remember not having more to do than I could possibly get done,” she says. “I think I have my parents to thank for that. They were always strong believers in being involved.”
All her efforts earned her re-election as mayor in a landslide in 2010. For Linda, she’s scaled life to its peak in Red River. Few would be surprised if she finds another mountain to climb.