Legacy of Service
Hyperactive and dyslexic as a child, Jamie Koch struggled in school, but he found himself when he came to The University of New Mexico in the late 1950s on a wrestling and football scholarship and graduated with a degree in education.
In the 60 years following his graduation, the Santa Fe native has channeled his abundant energy into an impressive record of public service that has touched the lives of nearly every New Mexican.
This week, a groundbreaking ceremony for the Nene and Jamie Koch Comprehensive Movement Disorders Center on UNM’s North Campus will highlight his latest accomplishment. Koch, who was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 2016, played a pivotal role in securing legislative support to create the new center.
Koch, 84, drew on his experience as a former state representative, former state Democratic Party chair and longtime UNM Regent to bring home the need for a dedicated movement disorders center for the 10,000 New Mexicans living with some form of that disability.
Following his diagnosis Koch had been dismayed to learn that with just two neurologists specializing in movement disorders, UNM Hospital lacked capacity to meet the existing need, forcing many patients to wait six months or more to be seen – or travel out of state for care.
“I belong to the Parkinson’s Coalition,” Koch says. “We had 3,000 email addresses of people who have Parkinson’s, so we organized them two years ago for the (legislative) session.”
Thirty-five coalition members testified at hearings that led to House and Senate memorials directing UNM Health Sciences to start planning for a dedicated movement disorders center. A construction appropriation followed in 2018, and earlier this year the Legislature earmarked $1.3 million to staff the new facility.
Koch expects the new center will also serve as a vehicle for educating physicians and patients about the possibility of a Parkinson’s diagnosis, because many people may be experiencing symptoms without realizing it.
“Doctors throughout the state who are not neurologists will say, ‘You should go to the movement disorders center at UNM Hospital,’” he says.
Koch traces his UNM roots back to his maternal grandfather, a prominent early 20th century member of the Biology faculty who specialized in studying mushrooms. After college, Koch took over his father’s commercial laundry business and later went to work for Daniels Insurance, a statewide independent insurance agency. He served as its president from 1991 to 2014.
Koch served in the New Mexico Legislature from 1968 to 1974 and was instrumental in passage of the state’s Open Meetings Act and Inspection of Public Records Act. He later was recognized for this achievement with the William S. Dixon First Amendment Freedom Award from the New Mexico Foundation for Open Government.
Afterward, he went on to chair the New Mexico Game Commission, serve as finance chair for former governors Bruce King and Bill Richardson and serve on the UNM Board of Regents from 2002 to 2015.
With his wife Nene, Koch brought to New Mexico Project SEARCH, a national evidence-based program that gives young adults with disabilities life skills and independence via a one-year school-to-work internship. There are now five Project SEARCH sites statewide, including the Nene and Jamie Koch Project SEARCH training program at UNM Hospitals.
Koch summed up his long career in 2018 with the publication of New Mexico Political History 1967-2015: Conversations With Those Directly Involved (Sunstone Press). It includes candid recollections from many of his collaborators – and sometime adversaries – about pivotal moments in the state’s history over the past half century.
After all this time, Koch says, “I’ve had a lot of fun.”