The Paul Elizondo Orchestra reunited one last time Wednesday evening as the clear, rich notes of the traditional Mexican folk song “Las Golondrinas” echoed off the vaulted ceiling of San Fernando Cathedral.
In the past, the band would play that song as its goodbye to listeners at each gig. Now, they played it to say goodbye to their namesake.
Bexar County Commissioner Paul Elizondo, 83, died Dec. 27. On Wednesday, hundreds of community members and public officials paid their respects to the Precinct 2 representative at a cathedral where Elizondo had been baptized, took his first communion, confirmed, served as an altar boy, and married his wife of 54 years, Irene.
“We’ve played [“Las Golondrinas”] thousands of times,” said musician Jon Blondell, wiping his eyes. “And now we’ll never play it again.”
It was a fitting tribute to a man who was as dedicated to music as he was to public service. Elizondo had served on commissioners court since 1982, recently winning his 10th election. He also worked as a band director in the Edgewood Independent School District, was an accomplished saxophonist, and even conducted the San Antonio symphony last year.
“Paul has everything to do with me being a musician,” said Blondell, who was drafted into the band while still a student at St. Mary’s University in 1963, and who has played with the likes of Willie Nelson and Sublime. “Paul was a daddy to me. He was my best friend. He was my boss. He was my co-conspirator … He was a great man.”
Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff eulogized Elizondo’s role of more than 30 years worth of County work, such as supporting the arts, funding the Bexar County Hospital District’s new downtown clinic and sky tower in the Medical District, restoring the Alameda Theater, and building the San Pedro Creek Culture Park.
“Paul witnessed the opening of the first phase of the creek and the start of the restoration of the theater. I pledge to you Paul, that we will finish both projects and I know that when we do,” Wolff said, pausing to steady his voice, “you will be there with us.”
Former San Antonio Mayor and Housing and Urban Development Secretary Henry Cisneros remembered Elizondo’s time as a U.S. Marine, guidance from his Catholic faith, and his musical talent.
“His musical career as a bandleader and arranger taught him how to work with people,” Cisneros said. “He literally could harmonize the parts of a team and produce a consensus.”
Elizondo knew the county budget like the back of his hand, thanks to growing up with a frugal mother who managed the family’s finances, Cisneros said.
“The example of his parents striving to stretch their scarce dollars made him a master of the county budget, hand-in-hand with the budget staff, to find one more grant for senior programs or one more increment for mental health care,” he said. “It all came together.”
In a statement read by Cisneros, Elizondo’s family thanked everyone for their love and support.
“All of you here, and all of you watching this on television, are yourselves the ultimate tribute to Paul’s legacy,” they said.
Cisneros closed his speech by reading a message from former President Bill Clinton.
“Hillary and I were saddened to learn of Paul’s passing, and we join all those gathered in San Antonio to celebrate his life and legacy,” Clinton’s statement read. “Paul was an extraordinary person and a fine public servant who cared deeply about the people of San Antonio and their future … Countless people are living better lives today because of his lifetime of work.”
Before the evening service, Elizondo lay in repose for the majority of the day. Gregory Garza said his goodbyes to Elizondo, whom he met in 1967 when Elizondo played the music at his wedding. Garza said he believes Elizondo’s legacy will show that he championed the underserved.
“He has been very supportive toward minorities and making sure they had [access] to different agencies,” Garza said. “He was pro-minority, pro-civil rights. He helped the people that needed help.”
Elizondo’s memory would live on through the county and through his family and loved ones, Wolff promised his friend and colleague of more than 17 years.
“Your soul has gone to heaven and your body will be buried at San Fernando, but the third phase of death, to be forgotten, will not come to you because we, along with Irene, [and sons] David, John and Richard, and generations to come, will always remember you,” Wolff said. “We will miss you terribly, but you will remain in our hearts.”
A funeral Mass for Elizondo will be held Thursday morning at 10 a.m. at San Fernando Cathedral and Elizondo will be buried in its cemetery following the service Thursday.