Dominic Ortega

2023 Greater Tucson Leadership Tucson Man of the Year 

By Valerie Vinyard

It would seem after you’ve been awarded Man of the Year, your work is pretty much complete.

Not for Dominic Ortega.

Describing the 67-year-old as a “dynamo” is not an exaggeration.

The Brownsville, Tex. native is passionate about a number of nonprofit organizations in Tucson, and he loves to spread the word about their great works. He estimated that he’s connected to 50 nonprofits in Tucson.

“The biggest thing is telling their story,” Ortega said during a recent interview at his Foothills home. “I help them tell their story, or I’ll share their story.”

Greater Tucson Leadership will honor Ortega as its Man of the Year at the annual Community Impact Awards at Casino del Sol on Mar. 22.

Ortega retired from being a senior consultant at Allstate Insurance about nine years ago, but his work for nonprofits is far from over. “Now that he’s retired, he works harder than when he was getting paid,” said his wife, Myriam, laughing.

Family friend Neelam Sethi proudly claims credit for tagging Ortega with the nickname, “Mr. Tucson.”

She and her husband, retired cardiothoracic surgeon Gulshan Sethi, have known the Ortegas for about 10 years. Neelam said she first met Dominic at one of the 100-plus fundraisers and galas he attends each year.

“He was always such a star, talking to everybody, promoting every cause,” she said. “Our friendship got deeper and deeper,” said Sethi, estimating that she sees the Ortegas at least twice a week, partly because she lives close to them.

“We are like family,” she said. “He is such an amazing human being. A genuine man with no ulterior motives.”

She said that Ortega acts as his own public relations machine for all of the nonprofit organizations he supports.

“His photographs are the best PR ever,” said Sethi. “He posts them, and his photographs tell the story. He kept every nonprofit, every fundraiser in the public eye during the pandemic.”

Ortega attributes his actions to how he was raised.

“I got my spirit from my mother and father,” he said. “They taught me to be good, to be kind. My real mission is I just want people to know that everyone can do something.”

About 17 years ago, Ortega became connected to the University of Arizona Hispanic Alumni Club, a fairly small club at the time. He served on its board and was instrumental in growing the club, which he said moved the graduation rate for Hispanic students from 45% to 90%. 

Using his honed “elevator pitch,” he was able to recruit UArizona alumnus and founder of HSL Properties Humberto Lopez to donate $40,000 to the group in 2006, and the college matched it.

“It became the club on campus,” he said proudly. Ortega also helped grow the funds raised for the club’s annual dinner from $35,000 to $325,000.

Other organizations that are dear to Ortega include El Rio Health, Youth On Their Own and the YWCA. Ortega connects with the YWCA because of its fight for equity and social justice. He mentors teens through Youth On Their Own and he’s in awe of the breadth of services El Rio Health offers. 

He’s no stranger to garnering accolades. In 2019, he was named Outstanding Philanthropist of the Year by the Southern Arizona Fundraising Association, and in 2020, he was given the Women Who Soar award − an honor usually reserved for women. The organization made an exception because “I advocate so much for women,” Ortega said.

“(The awards) are greatly appreciated, but it’s not why you do things,” he said. “Simply to be thanked is all I ever ask for.”

Even while Ortega worked at Allstate, he won the company’s Chairman’s Award – twice. That award was given to only four people nationwide each year. He’s been married to Myriam for almost 45 years and writes annual love letters to her in the Arizona Daily Star. The two have a 37-year-old son and 35-year-old twin daughters.

Myriam, who is retired from the Catalina Foothills District where she taught Spanish immersion classes, describes herself as more of an introvert.

“He’ll stand on top of the table, and I’ll be under the table,” she said. “I don’t like the light shining on me. I support him in what he does. I’m humbled and I’m honored that he was chosen for this award.”

She added jokingly “He still has to do his chores – he doesn’t get a free pass.”

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