First Latina Legislator and Community Volunteer
by Emily Peterson
Bobby Florez blazed trails as the first Hispanic woman to serve in the Utah State Legislature. She had watched her mother, who was very active in the community, often volunteering to serve those in poverty during the Great Depression. Although her mother died when Bobby was young, Bobby would emulate the example of her mother’s compassion throughout her life.
Bobby was born in Rock Springs, Wyoming, to John Felix Valdez and Edna Maude Camplain. Her family first moved to Idaho, then California, and eventually settled in Salt Lake City’s West Side when she was 6 years old. After Bobby graduated from West High School, she worked at O.C. Tanner making jewelry. At the age of 23, she married her childhood sweetheart Rey Florez on March 26, 1949.
The couple shared a passion for community organizing. Rey Florez was one of the founding members of SOCIO, the Spanish-Speaking Organization for Community, Integrity, and Opportunity, which advocated for the rights of Utah’s Hispanic community at the height of the national Chicano civil rights movement. Rey and Bobby participated in SOCIO until its decline in the 1980s. Bobby also regularly volunteered at food pantries and served on the PTA and the board of the Salt Lake City Library.
Described as “a warm, outgoing woman whose house is constantly filled with wall-to-wall children,” Bobby opened her home to young people of various racial and ethnic backgrounds. As a host of an “emergency home,” she took in children and young people who had dropped out of school or been removed from their families to give them a temporary place to stay. In addition to raising and supporting her own four children, she worked to make sure that no child was left without a home.
In 1981, Rey suddenly passed away just after being elected to his second term as a Utah state legislator for District 25 on the west side of Salt Lake City. Governor Matheson appointed Bobby to serve in her husband’s position, making her the first Latina legislator in the state of Utah and one of only 9 total female legislators (which was one of the highest numbers in Utah history at the time). As part of her term, Bobby served on the Public Education Appropriation Committee.
Because of her involvement in the community, Bobby was able to sympathize with historically marginalized groups in Utah, and advocated for policies on their behalf. With the support of her community, Bobby was elected to two more terms in the legislature. She served as a state representative from 1981 until 1986. Bobby passed away at the age of 87 in 2010.