More MS news articles for December 1998

Gutsy granson inspires man with MS to carry on

Monday, December 21, 1998
For the Sun-News
By Marvin Tessneer

Frank Dubois, diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1991, is the director and secretary of the New Mexico Department of Agriculture and has kept on as a team-roping header. Many people wonder what keeps Frank DuBois of Las Cruces going.

Diagnosed in 1991 with multiple sclerosis, he has kept on as director/secretary of the New Mexico Department of Agriculture and as a team-roping header.

It is inspiration, he explained. On May 27 of this year, his grandson, Daniel DuBois, was born. The infant had to undergo two open heart surgeries and two heart catheterizations, fighting gamely to stay alive. But after he had survived the surgery, an infection set in, and he died Aug. 31.

"When I saw the guts and fight that little baby had, that gave me all the inspiration I needed to carry on," DuBois said.

He is not a desk rider. Although he has to rely on arm crutches and a wheelchair, he still travels and attends meetings. His pickup has hand controls because he cannot work the pedals with his legs.

He has made the adjustments, DuBois says with humor, but not before learning a few lessons. He uses weight-lifter gloves with his manual wheelchair to prevent callouses.

"If I got callouses on my hands, I'd lose my credibility as a bureaucrat," he joked.

His first wheelchair lesson came when he was leaving a restroom in the state Capitol. He forgot the door swung in and that his feet stuck out so far from the foot rest. When he pressed the handicapped button to open the door to exit the stall, the door caught his feet and pinned him and the wheel chair against the wall.

"I learned that a wheelchair doesn't respond to voice commands," he said. "I yelled, back, back; but it didn't obey like a horse."

His second lesson was learning how to fold the wheelchair. When he travels, he stores it behind his pickup's passenger seat. At first, he would put it on the side and depress it. One day, after he had left the Round House, he was leaning on the wheelchair by his pickup to collapse it when Elizabeth Martin, executive assistant to former Gov. Bruce King, passed by and greeted him.

"When I said 'Hi' to Elizabeth, the wheelchair collapsed under the pressure, and I lost my balance," DuBois said. "A man tried to help me, and he slipped on the gravel and fell down. That was my second lesson -- If I was going to practice on my wheelchair, I should do it at home, not in the State Capitol." Eventually, he learned that to fold the wheelchair, he merely has to lift up the seat.

But it still means that he has to plan ahead more when he travels or attends meetings. He looks for motels with rooms that open directly to the parking lot so he does not have to move down long halls. He requests rooms with handicap facilities, flat shower stalls without curbs so that he can walk or roll into them. He also packs only small luggage pieces he can carry himself, he said.

At airports, he rolls his wheelchair down the enclosed passageway to the aircraft door, where he leaves it and walks to his seat. The wheelchair is stored with the luggage. When the aircraft lands, the wheelchair is waiting for him at the door, he said.

At familiar meeting centers, he frequently relies on his arm crutches because he knows just how far he has to walk. But at new places, he uses his wheelchair because he never knows how far it is to the meeting rooms.

One change he has not quite adjusted to is speaking. He has to remain seated because standing tires him.

"And that restricts my movements, which I like to use so I can better relate to my audience," he explained.

And that is important.

Every Monday morning, Gov. Gary Johnson has a cabinet meeting when DuBois, as Secretary of Agriculture, has his opportunity to speak. He drives to Albuquerque Sunday night the goes on to Santa Fe the next morning.

Although he has had to make adjustments, it is no big deal to DuBois that he still is roping. He noted: "I've won more prize money and trophies roping since I was diagnosed in 1991 than before."

They include four saddles, seven championship buckles and a metal hay barn.

It took some figuring out, but here is how DuBois prepares for roping:

His wife, Sharon, gets his roping horse, Buster, out and ties him to the trailer. "I brush him off, and after I brush him off, I have to sit down and rest," he said. "I clean his back hooves and sit down and rest. Then I clean his front hooves and sit down and rest."

His wife carries the saddle to Buster. "I still can throw a saddle up on his back, but I can't carry it," DuBois said.

He emphasized: "I couldn't even keep a horse, much less be able to ride if it wasn't for my wife, Sharon. Without her love, support and help, my daily accomplishments would disappear."

He has Buster trained to stand by a tool box when he wants to mount. He gets up on the tool box and puts his right hand on the saddle cantle. "Then I put my left hand on my Wranglers (trousers), lift my foot into the stirrup and pull myself into the saddle," he said.

And he has an extra touch. He fastens his feet in the stirrups with rubber bands because, he explained: "I don't have much feeling in my feet. And if I get in a wreck and blow (lose) a stirrup, I wouldn't know it."

But DuBois kept repeating: "When I'm roping, I couldn't do it without my friends."

His roping partner, B.W. Fancher, a heeler, helps feed Buster and assists with the horse trailer. Fancher is a rancher and has a construction business.

Steve Brown, a banker, also helps and lets DuBois practice in his arena south of Mesilla. Then there are his two roping buddies, Jim Richards and Juan Colquitt, "... who have always been very helpful, sharing their facilities and roping steers."

Although he has hand controls in his pickup, DuBois does not attempt to maneuver his truck those last few inches to hook up his horse trailer. He relies on his wife or friends for that.

DuBois, the fourth Frank in the DuBois line, comes from a small cow-calf ranch near Corona in Lincoln County. His father, Frank, worked as an Albuquerque police officer and defense contractor security officer to supplement the ranch income.

DuBois spent summers on the ranch, learning the cattle business with his Uncle Archie Perkins, who managed the ranch, and, of course, roping.

In 1996, "New Mexico Stockman" magazine named DuBois Cattleman of the Year and ran a long article on his life. In the article, his cousin, Rand Perkins, recalls that DuBois was always trying to "make a hand." DuBois eventually made it, but he gives a lot of credit to his Uncle Archie, a natural teacher.

DuBois knew that he had to prepare for another career, and he earned both a bachelor's and master's degrees in agriculture extension education at New Mexico State University. In 1974, U.S. Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., hired DuBois as a legislative assistant. He was married by then, and he and Sharon moved to Washington, D.C.

When the Public Rangeland Improvement Act was introduced in 1978, New Mexico ranchers Charlie Lee and Bob Jones pushed for a provision that any proposed changes on public land grazing allotment would include, "... consultation, cooperation and coordination" between the federal agency, lessees, permittees and land owners. The key phrase was, "equal in rank with none being subservient."

Domenici and the late U.S. Rep. Harold Runnels, D-N.M., carried the provision. And, "... Frank is justifiably proud of his part in that success," the "Stockman" article said.

In the article, Domenici said: "There is no better choice for Cattleman of the Year, and New Mexico cattlemen have done themselves proud in selecting him. He is one of the best advocates for ranching and farming, and he clearly has great quantities of good, common sense. I had the privilege of having him work for me a number of years, and on his return to New Mexico and the state's Department of Agriculture he has accomplished beyond my highest expectations."

From 1981 to 1983, DuBois was deputy assistant secretary with U.S. Interior Department Secretary James Watt.

Watt said about DuBois: "Frank was on the first team as we assembled the leadership to run what at that time was a department of 83,000 employees. When I left three years later, we'd cut it down to 69,000 people and had brought some sanity to the Bureau of Land Management in particular ... we worked hard to see that there was a partnership with the government as a good neighbor to the ranchers and the agricultural interests of the West. Frank was on the point to make that happen. We were successful in making major and significant changes, and some of them will be long-lasting."

And Fancher is quoted in the "Stockman" article as saying DuBois, "... is a heck of a hand -- a tough hombre."

DuBois contends that the biggest threat to agriculture is government intrusion. He said in the article: "Our people have learned to manage their way through acts of God such as drought, disease and pests. They also have learned to manage around production cycles and low prices, but they simply cannot manage the intrusions into their daily operations by federal and state governments."

Whatever he has done to help agriculture, he credits his New Mexico Department of Agriculture staff. "Everything I've been able to accomplish is because of the excellent staff."

That includes Assistant Director Jeff Witte, who covers meetings DuBois cannot attend and runs the department when DuBois is out of town.

DuBois' father died in 1991. He is proud of his mother, Wanda, who at 79 still is working with Bobby Santiago, a former University of New Mexico football star who is now an Albuquerque businessman.