The borough experienced three notable passings last week.
Hector Aponte, former Bronx Parks commissioner for a decade; Congressman Robert ‘Bobby’ Garcia, who represented the borough from 1978 to 1990 in the U.S. House of Representatives and Joseph Orlando, longtime Jacobi Medical Center executive director have all passed.
Aponte, who friends and associates said had a soft-spoken demeanor and even temperament, spent ten years as the borough’s top ‘parkie,’ according to a statement from Mitchell Silver, NYC Parks commissioner, which also stated that he also held posts in Manhattan and Staten Island.
“Hector’s service across boroughs was notable but the Bronx was special to him,” stated the commissioner’s note. “When he was appointed Bronx borough commissioner in 2004, he said, ‘the Bronx—and their parks—shaped who I am today. I grew up running at Macombs Dam Park and Van Cortlandt Park and through that experience earned an athletic scholarship at the University of Puerto Rico.’”
During his time as commissioner, Aponte helped secure Croton Filtration Funds Plant mitigation funds for new and improved parks around the borough, and worked on the developing the new Yankee Stadium, said his successor Iris Rodriguez-Rosa, borough Parks commissioner.
He was active in the NYC Parks Latino Society, she added.
Aponte was born in Puerto Rico and got his start in public service in 1960s south Bronx politics and in the 1970s as a regional director of the New York chapter of Aspira, an organization dedicated to helping Latinos attain higher education, said longtime friend Rafael Rivera.
“The man was a giant in our community,” said Rivera, adding his friend was the kind of man who would always keep his word, had a great sense of humor, and looked to empower others.
Aponte liked motorcycles and traveling to far-flung destinations like Dubai and China, said Rivera, adding that Aponte was a Buddhist.
His wife Marta Aponte, daughter Michelle Armella, son Hector Aponte Jr., and a grandson survive Aponte.
Congressman Robert Garcia
Garcia passed away on Wednesday, January 25, his wife, Jane Garcia, confirmed. She said the cause was chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
Garcia, who was 84, served in Congress from a south Bronx district and was preceded by Herman Badillo and succeeded by Jose Serrano, who released a statement on his passing.
Serrano recalled that while Garcia was in office from 1978 to 1990, he worked on a variety of initiatives and in several capacities.
Serrano said Garcia was official representative of the U.S. Congress to N.A.T.O.; helped to convince President Carter to add the term ‘Hispanic’ to the census; developed legislation that led to the creation of the Empowerment Zone program for economic development and worked with the Congressional Black Caucus to establish Martin Luther King Jr. Day as a national holiday.
“For 25 years, Bob worked hard for the people of the south Bronx as its representative in the New York State Assembly, the New York State Senate, and eventually the U.S. House of Representatives,” stated Serrano.
Garcia resigned from the U.S. Congress shortly after being found guilty of extortion stemming from a 1980s corruption scandal known as Wedtech, which led to the convictions of several borough politicians.
Convictions against Garcia and his wife were overturned on appeal in 1990.
His wife remembered her husband’s desire to unify Latino groups, and his service as the de-facto representative of Puerto Rico in the U.S. Congress, because the island’s delegate cannot vote.
“His great thing was unity and I think that is what he will be remembered for,” she said, adding about his public service: “He never cared about money or glory; he wanted to pick up the phone and help someone.”
His first wife, Anita, as well as two sons and a daughter from a first marriage, four stepchildren, and 15 grandchildren, according to his wife, survive Garcia.
Joseph Orlando, Jacobi Medical Center’s executive director for a decade, died on Wednesday, January 25, said his brother Francis Orlando. He was 69.
Orlando was appointed to Jacobi’s helm during the Giuliani administration and remained there until 2005.
“He loved working at Jacobi,” said his brother, who added that the cause of death is unclear and that Orlando had been recovering from back surgery.
According to members of the Jacobi Community Advisory Board, some of his accomplishments were the addition of a new building and the creation of a memory grove that is home to the hospital’s September 11th, 2001 memorial.
Silvio Mazzella, Jacobi CAB chairman, stated that the CAB, staff and many patients who came through the hospital’s doors for help would remember Orlando fondly.
“During his time at the helm of Jacobi, he showed himself to be an extremely community minded person who extended himself and the hospital’s resources throughout the Bronx,” said Mazzella. “Through his work with the late Senator Guy Velella, we were able to construct a lasting memorial to the lives we lost on September 11th 2001.”
According to published reports from 2005, he was removed from his post at Jacobi after it was brought to light that over a 16-month period hundreds of women were not told of their cancer screening results.
Orlando grew up in Pelham Bay, said his brother, adding that he attended Salesian High School and Pace University.
Sylvia Lask, Jacobi CAB board member, said that Orlando worked well with the CAB and was encouraging.
“He worked well with us, he thought of us, and he loved the community,” she said.
Two daughters, four grandchildren, two former spouses and siblings survive Orlando.