Southern Utes mourn loss of leader

Thursday, April 3, 2014 11:24 PM
Jimmy Newton Jr., who took over as Southern Ute Indian Tribe chairman in December 2011, died Monday night at Mercy Regional Center.

Southern Ute Tribal Chairman Jimmy Newton Jr. died Monday night after an extended illness, the tribe announced Tuesday.

Newton, who took over as chairman in December 2011 after serving as a tribal councilor since 2003, was 37. He leaves behind a wife, Flora Murphy, and an 18-year-old daughter, Maylon Kaye Newton.

Newton died at Mercy Regional Medical Center from an undisclosed illness, tribal spokeswoman Beth Santistevan said Tuesday.

Services will be held at 9 a.m. Friday at Sky Ute Casino Resort.

Tribal members and those he worked with outside the tribe characterized Newton as a strong advocate for the Ignacio-based Southern Utes and someone who will be deeply missed.

"The Tribal Council is stunned and grief-stricken at the passing of their young leader," a news release on the tribe's website said. The council expressed support for his wife, daughter and family.

"Chairman Newton served this tribe and its members for over a decade," Vice Chairman James Olguin said in the news release. "He dedicated his career to helping his fellow Tribal Council and all enrolled members of the tribe."

Newton had been on sick leave since mid-March.

Matthew Box, a former Southern Ute chairman, said that because of its small population - approximately 1,500 - the entire community feels a personal impact.

"We've been part of his visions, his travels, his growing up," Box said Tuesday afternoon. "It will hurt and leave a void in our hearts for a while."

Newton is the son of Elaine Newton, who served as chief tribal court judge before her retirement in 2011. She now serves as judge pro-tem for the Southern Ute Courts.

Jimmy Newton earned a degree in visual graphic design from Al Collins Graphic Design School in Arizona. He returned to the Southern Ute Tribe and worked as a reporter/photographer for The Southern Ute Drum, the tribe's biweekly newspaper.

Newton was 26 when he was first elected tribal councilor in 2003. He also served as vice chairman and was appointed acting chairman twice.