Later that day, long time Walton Avenue resident Mario Rodriguez, 53, passed away.
“I was blessed to be able to see him at that moment, when he opened his eyes,” Rodriguez’s good friend Lucille Roland said.
Celebrated at a fundraiser that ended up paying for his funeral expenses, no one knew his time was almost up. Though Rodriguez patiently waited for a liver transplant, friends said his spirit continued to soar.
“He found joy in everything,” Roland recalled about her experiences working with Rodriguez in former Borough President Fernando Ferrer’s office.
Previous office co-worker Tracy McDermott agreed. “I was always amazed about his boundless energy,” she said. “That’s why everyone called him Super Mario.”
And it was why friends gathered for the Nos Quedamos-sponsored fundraiser, just eight days prior to his passing.
“We loved him,” said Anna Vincenty, of Nos Quedamos. “I thought he was a dynamic individual who made sacrifices for the good of the community.”
Known as the “Little Mayor of Walton,” Rodriguez was always fighting for issues affecting residents and their children.
Vincenty recalled a time when a man was reportedly flashing young girls. “Mario immediately hit the streets,” she said. “That’s what he did. If it affected the community, he was there.”
Even more so as a friend. Roland laughed, recalling their 15-year friendship and Rodriguez’s infectious humor.
She said one day as he approached her in the office lobby he moved into an unexpected boxing stance. Surprised by the motion, she said she reflexively punched him in the ear.
“I said, ‘What did you expect a Bronx girl to do,’” Roland remembered, still giggling about the scenario.
Transitioning from his community affairs position at the borough president’s office to his most recent employment at the Department of Homeless Services, Roland said Rodriguez was constantly working for the people of the Bronx.
“Mario was a true inspiration,” McDermott said. “When there was someone in need of help, he never said no. That word just wasn’t in his vocabulary.”
Having spent his whole life in the south Bronx, Roland said nothing happened without him knowing.
“Everywhere you go, he was talking with somebody,” she explained about five-minute strolls that would surely last about an hour. “It was hard walking with him in public.”
Rodriguez’s passion for the borough rang true after a brief stint in Florida failed to impress. “The Bronx was just in his blood,” Roland explained. “He had to come back.”
As a devoted husband, father of five, grandfather of four, with one more on the way, Rodriguez will be deeply missed.
His wife offered her gratitude saying, “Mario’s family, friends and loved ones would like to thank everyone so much for all their love and support during this difficult time. All of your prayers are helping us receive the comfort and strength we need at this time.”
Rodriguez was buried at Calverton National Cemetery, in Calverton, New York on Monday, May 5.
©2008 Community News Group