More than 900 miles separate Hollywood and the state of New Mexico, but the distance is even greater between the Land of Enchantment and New York. For more than 50 years, one person links both centers of culture and entertainment.
You might recognize Neil Patrick Harris and Marlee Matin from the big and small screens, but they have one thing in common: their ties to the Borderland through New Mexico. Specifically, literary artist Mark Medoff who recently passed away.
“He didn’t seem like anyone famous. He didn’t seem like anything out of the ordinary,” Debra Marks, Medoff’s daughter told us. Rachel Harrison, one of Medoff’s other daughters agreed. “I didn’t see him as everybody else did. He was just daddy.”
Marks, Harrison and their sister Jessica Bunchman grew up living what they thought were normal lives, never thinking anything was out of the ordinary.
“We grew up in a home filled with music and literature and art,” Marks remembered.
Just a part of that art was created by their father, an award-winning playwright, who ventured to Las Cruces in 1966 never expecting to make it his home.
“He chose to stay here because this community that we live in this state is extraordinary and the love he has for this state is amazing,” said Marks.
Medoff was a nationally acclaimed Tony Award Winner and Academy Award nominee for “Children of a Lesser God,” an Obie Award winner for “When You Comin’ Back Red Ryder,” and who worked on more than 30 plays, a dozen movies, and a novel through his illustrious career.
Across the entertainment and literary community, Medoff was a superstar who helped influence the likes of acclaimed actors Neil Patrick Harris and Marlee Matlin. At home in Las Cruces, those who knew him remembered him in different ways, like his deep love for teaching and a giving spirit.
“Mark kind of assembled our team. He’s our Ironman if we think about it like the Avengers,” Amy Lanasa, Department head of NMSU’s Creative Media Institute describes.
Medoff found his home at New Mexico State University where he taught for 52 years in the English, Theater and Creative Media departments.
“He taught a lot of kids in this area. He left his mark on a lot of work so his legacy will carry on and carry on,” local actor and director Mark Vasconellos said.
In fact, he was vital in creating NMSU’s Creative Media Institute which is now the biggest undergraduate media program in the state, creating a lasting ripple effect of talent.
“It’s had this exponential effect that even two generations from now the films, the commercials, the music videos, the animated projects that come from this area will bear his mark,” Lanasa said.
Although he spent years educating and inspiring, everyone that knew him agreed his greatest achievement in life was his family.
“I’m gonna miss that a lot. The touch of him,” his Harrison said. “The thing that I really miss about him today is his hands I loved his hands and his smell I remember what he smells like,” Marks remembered about her father.
Of all things in his life, there was one person whose heart he touched indelibly from her first breath to his last.
“She kept him going for the past five years of his life even before we knew he was sick,” Harrison said of her daughter Hope.
Hope Harrison was the inspiration behind the Hope E. Harrison Foundation. Hope was born with Trisomy 18, a life-threatening disorder that affects 1 out of every 3,000 pregnancies in the United States. Hope has already beaten many odds, just by surviving to her fifth birthday, she’s become an odds-breaker. The foundation was created to help raise awareness and funds for scientific research for the genetic disorder.
Medoff died in April after a battle with cancer. He was remembered by the Las Cruces and NMSU community during a memorial service on May 19.