Victoria Gama was small in stature, large in heart

Victoria Martinez Pineda Gama presided over her extended family with benevolence, intelligence, understanding and, most of all, family pride from her home in Fresno.

Mrs. Gama, 77, who died Oct. 24 of coronary illness, mixed wit reminiscent of Will Rogers with the motherly protectiveness of a vigilant lioness, her family said, but even brave lions can suffer too much.

A daughter, Sandra Ramos, died in January. Mrs. Gama's brother, Cleofas Pineda, died in May. And her husband, Jesus, died July 11. Another daughter, Teresa Ávila, said the succession of losses proved "just too much."

Ávila remembered how her mother took care of Ávila's grandparents. After Ávila's grandmother died, her mother told Ávila's grandfather, "Papa, you're coming with me."

This reflected what Ávila and her comadre Gloria Gonzales, the maid of honor at her wedding, called Mrs. Gama's profound impact on those around her and others she never met. Mrs. Gama used to mail unknown poor people relief packages in Mexico.

On her tougher side, Mrs. Gama didn't suffer bigots kindly. She appreciated boxing and loved Muhammad Ali for his courage to sacrifice his heavyweight title for what he believed, which was to avoid killing and refuse Army service.

Mrs. Gama applied her strong convictions and a height of 4-feet-8 to a 6-foot neighbor's failure to follow her generally understood principle, which Ávila summed up: "Don't cross her."

The 6-footer did. Towering over Mrs. Gama, he came from across a vacant lot and commanded, using derogatory language, that she keep her children from doing what, in fact, they had not done in the first place.

"She decked him," Ávila said.

Mrs. Gama came from a long line of well- and self-educated people, Ávila and Gonzales said. Mrs. Gama's father, Manuel Manriquez Pineda, who died in 1985, was a poet who spoke at Sept. 15 Mexican Independence festivities and celebrated Mexican patriotism in general.

"We used to walk through Chinatown," Ávila said, "and people would say hello to my grandfather: 'Good morning, Don Manuel.' "

As her father had taught her, Mrs. Gama stressed proper English and Spanish. She, too, was a poet who enthused in talking about U.S., world and Latin-American politics with her father, who regularly quizzed her on her Spanish.

Grandson Nopaltzin Torres attended the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and now works in information technology. He identified his grandmother as family matriarch and medical consultant. She didn't let lack of a medical license keep her from challenging and correcting doctors and diagnosing other people she suspected of suffering diabetes similar to her own. When she determined that their symptoms called for it, she injected her insulin according to her understanding of her disease.

"People came to her," Torres said, "and she would change doctors' diagnoses. My grandfather told me she had saved his life."

Mass was celebrated this week.