‘A beautiful soul’: Remembering Americans lost to COVID-19

The first known death related to COVID-19 occurred in the United States in February 2020. A year later, more than 450,000 Americans have died. Here are some of their stories.

US dead
Supporters of the COVID Memorial Project place US flags on the National Mall. The US coronavirus death toll has surpassed 450,000 [File: Jim Lo Scalzo/EPA-EFE]

One year ago, the first known coronavirus-related death in the United States occurred in Santa Clara County, California.

Patricia Dowd, 57, had reported flu-like symptoms and died abruptly at home on February 6, 2020. Her death was not initially linked to the coronavirus, but in April US media reported that Dowd had died from COVID-19.

In the past 12 months, more than 26 million COVID-19 infections have been reported across the US. The number of new infections and hospitalisations recorded each day has fallen in recent weeks and the government has accelerated its vaccination programme, but the discovery of new variants of the virus are fuelling concerns about its continued spread. Many hospitals around the US are stretched to full capacity.

The US has recorded the highest death toll in the world, surpassing 450,000 this week. On February 4, 2021, the seven-day average for COVID-19 related deaths was 2,997 deaths per day, according to the COVID Tracking Project. President Joe Biden has warned that the total number of deaths would pass half a million in February.

The people profiled below represent a small fraction of the lives lost to the pandemic.

They include a gifted engineer who helped pioneer the technology for laptop computers, a psychologist who dedicated his life to helping those suffering from mental health and substance issues, a speech pathologist who left a lasting impact on everyone he met, a respiratory specialist who risked her own life to save others during the pandemic, and a lawyer who dedicated his life to fighting for justice and equality. These are their stories.

Araceli ‘Cely’ Danilewicz, 73, New Jersey

Araceli ‘Cely’ Danilewicz, 73, a loving mother and grandmother, passed away on April 30, 2020 [Courtesy of Cecile Pagliarulo]

Araceli “Cely” Danilewicz, a native of the Philippines and a longtime resident of Passaic, New Jersey, took great pride in being a grandmother and considered the light of her life to be her two-year-old granddaughter, Adriana.

When Danilewicz was not spending time with her granddaughter, she enjoyed playing bingo and being a doting cat mom. Additionally, she was an active member of her prayer group and was always present to pray the rosary each month.

Danilewicz entered hospital on April 14 and passed away on April 30 from complications due to COVID-19. She was 73.

In addition to her granddaughter, Danilewicz is survived by her husband of 29 years, Miroslaw; her son Carlo; her daughter Cecile; and her son-in-law Carmine.

Cecile remembered her mother’s courage, strength and bravery throughout her life.

“I describe my mom most as brave,” she said. “Brave because she left her country without knowing a single person in the United States. During her sickness to COVID, it was even proven further how brave she really was. She was alone in her fight because we couldn’t be with her in the hospital but I know she fought it bravely.”

Dean Pryor Perkins, 65, Texas

Dean Pryor Perkins, 65, was a successful engineer and loving family man [Courtesy of Rayonon Covert]

Dean Pryor Perkins, of Houston, Texas, was known for his sharp wit, numerous talents and sense of humour.

Perkins spent much of his career working at Compaq Computer Corporation, where he played a key role in pioneering the design of the laptop computer.

“Something I’m very proud of is when they made the movie The Lost World, Steven Spielberg’s people actually called Compaq to use my dad’s computer, ‘The Armada,’ in the movie,” his daughter Rayonon Covert fondly remembered. “He had the prototype at my house. I remember he would bring it home from the lab and work on it,” she added.

An accomplished engineer, Perkins had a dozen US patents to his name, and helped Compaq secure its first European patent.

Covert reminisced about her father’s vivacious sense of humour, even if it was “embarrassing at times”.

“He was always making jokes and he was just a great, great dad.”

“He was one of those dads who never missed a recital, no matter how busy he was, he travelled a lot, but he was always there for us,” Covert added.

Perkins had an affinity for giving back to his community. He would adopt a family to provide for during the holidays or build homes for the less fortunate in his spare time, always making sure to include his children and pass down important lessons.

He was a family man and always puts his two kids and grandkids first. He was known affectionately as “Papa” to his two grandchildren, who were his life’s pride and joy.

Perkins passed away on August 5, 2020, after a hard-fought battle with COVID-19 at the age of 65. He leaves behind his high school sweetheart and wife of 43 years, Kim, as well as his children and grandchildren.

Thomas A Kirk, 78 and Janet Kirk, 73, Connecticut

Thomas A Kirk, 78, and Janet Kirk, 73 of Chesire, Connecticut, were married since 1977 and passed away nine days apart due to COVID-19 complications [Courtesy of the Kirk family]

Thomas A Kirk, Jr, PhD dedicated his life to helping individuals who struggled with mental health and substance abuse.

Dr Kirk obtained his PhD in experimental psychology and began his career as a psychology professor at Virginia Commonwealth University, where he met his soulmate and wife of 42 years, Janet.

Kirk spent most of his career helping struggling families and individuals in Cheshire, Connecticut. Among his many accomplishments, Kirk was appointed as deputy commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services (DMHAS), where he was later promoted to commissioner from 2000 until his retirement in 2009.

Under Kirk’s leadership, Connecticut, along with Ohio, was named the best state for mental health systems in the United States by the National Alliance on Mental Illness in 2006.

“It wasn’t just a job for Tom, it was really a personal career. And because he saw losses, especially our sister Marie who died of hepatitis at the age of 30, Tom became even more committed to helping others,” noted his sister Tricia Kirk, a Benedictine sister.

“We still get notes from people that he had worked with and befriended. Tom was a ‘connector,’ bringing people together, which I have to say is part of who we are as the Kirk family,” she added.

Kirk was a loving husband, brother and father. He shared a special bond with his siblings Clare and Tricia who say he will be remembered for his huge heart.

Tricia remembers how Tom was always there for her when she became prioress of her religious community.

“He would call every week, usually Friday night. And, you know, he would be my advice person, greatest support, just [a] really wonderful man and great brother.”

One of Tom’s most ardent supporters was his wife, Janet. They married in 1977 and were inseparable.

“They were an interesting couple. She was an artist and he was a head person,” Tricia stated.

But as their daughter, Jessica Kirk, observed, “their differences did not matter.” Tom was in awe of Janet’s talents and would frequent museums featuring her work.

“Tom could not have done all that he did if it wasn’t for the support of Janet,” Tricia added.

Janet, who had lung cancer, passed away nine days before Tom after experiencing COVID-19 complications. Janet was “the first person in their Connecticut town to pass away from the virus,” Jessica said. Tom passed away on April 9, 2020.

“They were close in life and they were close in death. But to lose both of them at the same time was just tragic,” Tricia stated.

Vi Lieu, 44, California

Vi Lieu, 44, pictured here with his three children, was known as a selfless man who always put his family first [Courtesy of the Lieu family]

If there were only one word to describe Vi Lieu, it would be “selfless.”

“He was one hundred percent of the time a giver and someone who is just so, so very kind to other people,” his brother Theo Lieu fondly remembered.

Born to a Vietnamese family that emigrated to the United States when Vi was a small child, he worked hard to achieve the “American Dream” for his family in California.

“Vi and my husband’s family were immigrants and refugees, so they came here to America with very little, like almost nothing. And so Vi worked tirelessly. He was extremely hard working to make sure that his family had everything that they [needed],” noted Theresa Lieu, Vi’s sister-in-law.

Regardless of what challenges life threw at Lieu, his family always came first. His children were his pride and joy and he would drop everything in an instant to help out those closest to him.

“He, at all expense and at all costs, focused on his family and his kids,” Theo noted.

Although family came above all else for Lieu, he will also be remembered for his sensational sense of humour and love of sports and R&B music.

Lieu was ill with COVID-19 for about a month before he passed away due to complications on December 27, 2020 at the age of 44.

During this time, Lieu was diagnosed with pneumonia caused by COVID and was treated with steroids and Remdesivir. On December 20, Lieu was rushed to the ICU and placed on a ventilator, where he remained for a week until his heart ultimately gave out.

Despite gradually getting sicker and weaker over his four-week hospital stay, Lieu never let it show.

“He didn’t show it. We would FaceTime him every day with the kids, and he would always muster up a smile and he would talk to them and he would sort of joke around with them, which is who he was,” Theo remembered.

Lieu is survived by his parents Thomas and Linh Lieu; his sister Amy Lieu Neumann; his brother Theo Lieu; his wife Chai Saechao; his three children, Lana, Ellie, and Samuel Lieu; and his two stepchildren, Kaitlyn and Annabelle.

“The legacy and what I think I want people to remember about him is how much he loved his kids,” said Theo.

Mohammed ‘Manik’ Gaffar, 71, New York

Manik Gaffar, 71, moved to New York City in the 1970s, but always made sure to visit his old friends in Bangladesh every winter. [Courtesy of Jessica Gaffar]

Mohammed Gaffar, known as Manik, moved from Bangladesh to New York City in the 1970s. His friends and family affectionately  knew him as a negotiator and peacekeeper.
“We would make fun of him because he barely smiled

“We would make fun of him because he barely smiled – he was [a] serious business, to the point [type of person]. So it was much more entertaining to joke around with him,” his daughter Jessica Gaffar fondly remembered.

Gaffar had worked for the New York Housing Authority, but was making the most of his life post-retirement. Every winter, he would take a trip back to Bangladesh to have a reunion with his MBA college buddies.

Gaffar was passionate about classic films, a huge fan of Tiger Woods and loved learning how to cook new meals related to eggs.

“Even from when he was in Bangladesh, he was very big on movies like Hollywood, like those Academy Award-winning movies,” Jessica said.

Despite Jessica’s initial reservations, Gaffar travelled back to Bangladesh on February 21, 2020, as the coronavirus was spreading around the world.

By March 1, he was feeling ill. A diabetic for 50 years, Gaffar’s blood sugar suddenly skyrocketed, leading him to check in to a hospital.

There, doctors did a chest x-ray and found that his lungs looked as if they had been battling pneumonia for over a year.

“He had just [seen] a doctor in January, [and his] lungs were clear,” Jessica noted.

Gaffar suffered multiple massive heart attacks and was transferred to an international hospital.

His wife Yasmin travelled to be by his side. A political junkie, he asked her by writing on Yasmin’s hand, “who won the Democratic nomination?”

“When we told him Biden won, he had a big smile on his face, and that was the last smile alive he gave,” Jessica said.

On March 14, the day after Jessica and her brother Sammy saw their father for the first and final time, Gaffar suffered another massive heart attack. Jessica recited the Kalima, an Islamic oath, by placing her hand on his forehead three times. On the third recitation, his heart stopped, and Gaffar passed away an hour later.

Due to the raging COVID-19 crisis in New York during this time, Gaffar’s family could not bring his body back to the US. He was buried next to his father in Bangladesh.

Gaffar leaves behind his wife and two children, among many other friends and relatives.

Paul Abramson, 92, New Jersey

Paul Abramson, 92, still lived an active and full life. He was technologically savvy and was always keeping himself busy with sports and games of bridge [Courtesy of Nancy Abramson]

Paul Abramson, of Teaneck, New Jersey, was 92 years young.

“Even though he was 92, he still led a really full life. He was very technology-oriented. He would FaceTime with his grandsons, he was active on Facebook, he joined webinars,” his daughter, Nancy Abramson, remembered.

Abramson had been a travel agent and had an affinity for discovering all that the world had to offer. He had been on more than 300 cruises throughout his lifetime.

He was also a die-hard fan of Brown University’s sports teams and was just as happy to be watching a game from the comfort of his home. Abramson remained very active and found many different ways to stay busy.

“He played the stock market, he bet on sports, he played bridge,” Nancy said.

Abramson was always ready to have a good time. He was the life of the party and had a brilliant sense of humour.

“There was never a party he didn’t like. If they had a cocktail party at his community, he was part of the event, having a drink,” Nancy said. “Enjoying the party atmosphere, connecting and talking with people. He could talk to anyone about anything.”

“He was a really fun guy, always up for a joke, always tried to make people laugh,” she added.

“Even though he was 92, he still had more life to live. And I personally feel robbed … It wasn’t his turn yet.”

Abramson had been living in a retirement community and most likely contracted the virus while in close contact with others during group activities. He passed away on April 23, 2020.

Gaetana Deserto, 63, New York

Gaetana Deserto, 63, will always be remembered for her selflessness. She would drop everything in an instant to make sure she was there for her family when they needed her [Courtesy of Rosanna Logozzo]

Gaetana Deserto’s battle with COVID-19 happened in the blink of an eye.

“My mom contracted COVID at the end of March, she was hospitalised, and within 24 hours she was intubated. Within a week she had passed away,” her daughter, Rosanna Logozzo, said.

Despite being ill, Deserto did not want her family to worry.

“My mom was always the type of person that didn’t want anyone to be bothered by her,” Rosanna said.

Deserto’s selflessness extended to all aspects of her life. She was always ready to take on the role of caretaker for those she loved the most.

Her husband had been ill for many years and was diagnosed with pulmonary fibrosis in 2017. While working a full-time job, she also made sure to always be there for her family.

“She would spend hours in the waiting room with my father by herself because she did not want my brother or I to deal with that stress,” Rosanna added.

When Rosanna was diagnosed with ovarian cancer 12 years ago, Deserto dropped everything to make sure she was there for her daughter.

“My mom was basically our caretaker, did everything for us, would walk a thousand miles with no shoes on if it meant bringing a smile to our faces.”

Rosanna’s father passed away in February 2019, leaving her and her brother without both of their parents within the span of a year.

For Deserto’s family, the hardest part was being separated from her in a time when she needed them the most.

“It just kills me that I couldn’t be there for her,” Rosanna noted.

The pride and joy of Deserto’s life were her four grandchildren. Rosanna has seven-year-old twins, and her brother has two sons, ages five and six.

“Everybody loves going [to her] house, and they would always leave with a plastic bag full of goodies … My mom did anything to make them smile,” Rosanna said.

Always one to put herself last, Rosanna and her family wanted to do something special for their matriarch.

“She always put everybody before [herself]. She never took care of herself.”

“We were going to take her on a cruise. She was going to go swimming with the dolphins. We were supposed to leave on Easter, and she passed away a week before she was supposed to leave,” Rosanna added.

Deserto passed away on April 6, 2020 in Brooklyn, New York.

Trinidad ‘Trine’ V Martinez Jr, 77, Illinois

Trine Martinez, 77, was a staple in his Carpentersville, Illinois community. Everyone always knew to be on the lookout for his black Chevrolet truck. [Courtesy of Kira Caballero]

Trine Martinez was originally from Cotulla, Texas, but spent the past 41 years of his life living in Carpentersville, Illinois.

Martinez was a staple in his community. Friends were always on the lookout for his black Chevrolet Silverado truck, and he was often found running errands at local stores.

“My grandfather was just someone that the whole community knew,” his granddaughter, Kira Caballero, said.

Martinez was married to his wife, Rosemary, for 54 years. Together they had one daughter, Anita; three grandchildren, Alec, Tara, and Kira; and six great-grandchildren, Aiden, Maya, Elly, Addison, Lilah and Guillermo, Jr.

Kira and her siblings grew up living with their grandparents for most of their lives.

“My grandma and grandpa were literally my second pair of parents,” Kira said.

“He helped out me, my brother and my sister our entire lives. Whether it was a ride to work, financially, or housing … He was just that kind of guy, just kind-hearted, made friends with whoever met him,” she added.

Martinez never missed a sports game or opportunity to try the latest recipe his grandkids were testing out.

He developed his caring nature very early on in his life. As a young man, he grew up picking cotton with his father in Texas.

“He would tell me stories about how they would have people from Mexico come and help them. And my grandpa said his dad would help them out, too. And I think that’s where the nature of caring for people came from,” Kira said.

In his free time, Martinez loved gardening, watching sports, and playing board and video games with his family.

He was a huge fan of the Chicago Cubs baseball team and the Bears football team, staying loyal to his state. He also loved the Dallas Cowboys and watched their games “every chance he could”.

Martinez also had quite the green thumb.

“He planted tomatoes and jalapenos and kept up with the most beautiful hostas,” Kira remembered.

After he was admitted to hospital, Martinez spent three weeks on the ventilator. He passed away on April 21, 2020 from COVID-19 complications at the age of 77.

“There [is] a lot of life that he is going to miss and we miss him very much. But he lives through us every day,” Kira said.

Martin Addison, 44, New Jersey

Martin Addison, 44, was a beloved speech pathologist and devoted father. He had a unique way of making the most mundane tasks feel special [Courtesy of Pamela Addison]

Martin Addison was a beloved speech pathologist in Waldwick, New Jersey.

Those who knew Addison saw first hand the impact his work had on his patients and his colleagues.

“Many of [Addison’s younger colleagues and students] have reached out to me and said that they’re the speech pathologist they are today because of him,” said Addison’s wife, Pamela Addison.

“One of his students actually made a keychain that says,’Don’t forget the elephant,’ because that was one of his little stories to help them remember something so that stuck with her … I think that just shows what an impact he had on all the people he took under his wing,” she added.

Outside of work, Addison was a dedicated family man with a knack for making even the most mundane days feel special.

At the time of his death, Martin and Pamela’s daughter was two years old and their son was five months old.

“You don’t expect your kids not to have their dad, which is something I’m still struggling with and just try to keep his memory alive,” Pamela said.

One of the last family memories the Addisons have together is their daughter’s birthday party, which took place one day before Martin became symptomatic.

“He just made sure it was the most special day for her,” Pamela remembered fondly. “[My daughter] just remembers making a cake with Papa [and] that they wore hats. And he made it special because I was bummed that it had to be virtual.”

“He just tried to make everything, even the smallest little thing, so special,” Pamela added.

Addison originally lived in the United Kingdom but came to the US a few years after his parents’ divorce with his mother, with whom he shared a special bond. They even shared the same February 24 birthday.

“It’s kind of ironic because he would always talk to me like one day I’m not going to have my mom here on my birthday and that’s going to be sad for me,” Pamela noted.

Addison was also known for his deep passion for music and instant ability to recognise almost any song.

“We would be at a restaurant and he would pause and hear the music, he would go into this deep space, and within like five seconds, he could tell me what the song was and who was singing it,” Pamela remembered.

Martin passed away on April 29, 2020 at the age of 44.

Tracey Murchison, 55, New York

Tracey Murchison, 55, was a true ‘people person.’ She loved being with her family and always persevered through life’s obstacles. [Courtesy of Lakecia Murchison]

Tracey Murchison was the embodiment of a “true hearted people-person”.

Her daughter, Lakecia Murchison, remembered the close bond she shared with her mother.

“When I was younger, I used to think I was going to be a hair stylist, so my mom was always my guinea pig … she used to always just go along with it.”

“I just feel like I had everything I could ever ask for plus more … she was everything,” Lakecia added.

When Lakecia was a child, she moved to North Carolina with her mother while most of their family remained in New York. She fondly remembers the frequent train trips and bus rides she would take with Tracey to go back and visit.

“Those little moments, those quality [moments] with me, those are the ones I will always remember.

“She was just so proud of me as her daughter … she always bragged about me,” she added.

Murchison struggled with her health and was living in a nursing home.

“Despite all of her health issues, which were a lot, she never gave up. She never stopped pushing,” Lakecia said.

She always held out hope that she would be able to leave the nursing home in New York and be reunited with her daughter in Washington, DC. Lakecia was in the process of searching for a home that would be able to accommodate her mother’s needs.

“Even in her nursing home, everyone knew who I was, even though I was four and a half hours away. She just always made sure everyone knew that our relationship was one of a kind.”

In her free time, Tracey loved to cook and play cards. She also loved being with her granddaughter. Lakecia noted how Tracey absolutely cherished her daughter.

“She would do anything just to keep a smile on her face.”

Lakecia jokingly remembered how as long as grandma was around, her daughter could do or say nothing wrong.

“It’s a weird feeling, not having her here or having her around me. So it’s very tough, because I was very emotionally dependent on her,” Lakecia said.

Tracey passed away from COVID-19 complications at the age of 55 on April 7, 2020.

Andrew ‘Andy’ Rotman-Zaid, 68, Illinois

Andy Rotman-Zaid, 68, struggled with a rare condition known as Churg-Strauss vasculitis, and became one of the first people in the world to go into remission [Courtesy of Sara Atkins]

Andy Rotman-Zaid was a leader in his community and a champion for those suffering from vasculitis.

He was diagnosed with Churg-Strauss vasculitis, a rare disease that causes inflammation of the blood vessels, and became one of the first people in the world to go into remission.

“He was a leader in the Churg-Strauss community and he went in and out of remission throughout my life, but he was somebody who was there for the community, who was constantly helping others in the community understand what it was,” his daughter, Sara Atkins, said.

When the difficult conversation about whether or not to put Rotman-Zaid on a ventilator came up, it was not the first time his family faced a life-or-death situation.

“I can count a number of situations where we didn’t think he would survive it and he did. He had two forms of cancer. He had Churg-Strauss vasculitis. He beat it all and thrived,” Sara said.

They ultimately decided not to put Rotman-Zaid on a ventilator.

He passed away on December 2, 2020 after a memorable text conversation with Sara.

“He sent me a red heart and a butterfly. And I wrote him back, ‘today is a better day.’ And he sent me a purple heart,” she remembered.

After Rotman-Zaid’s death, it was clear what a significant effect he had on the lives of those around him.

“People came out of the woodwork telling us about how he reached out to them when something was going on with them to either share information he knew or to give them resources or to just encourage them,” Sara said.

“He was constantly connecting people,” she added.

Robert ‘Bobby’ McCoskey, 55, Indiana

Bobby McCoskey, 55, was well-known for his artistic creations and made everything from pot-holders to key chains [Courtesy of Debra McCoskey-Reisert]

Bobby McCoskey spent his life defying the odds.

The third of six children, Bobby was born with intellectual disabilities. Despite doctors suggesting he would never speak, Bobby overcame the obstacles he was faced with and began speaking by the age of seven and a half years.

“[My mom] would try to get him to talk by saying, ‘Bobby, you can have anything you want if you just say it,” said Bobby’s sister, Debra McCoskey-Reisert.

McCoskey always lived life to the fullest and had a unique ability to see when people needed help.

“He was just always living in the moment and very generous. He had a very limited income because of his disability, but he had this unique ability to see the needs of others,” Debra said.

McCoskey was well-known for his artistic creations and made everything from pot-holders to key chains.

“What he was most notable for was his arts and crafts,” Debra fondly remembered.

Bobby was an active member of his community. He rang the bell for the Salvation Army for most of his life. He was also a boy scout and active participant in the Special Olympics.

“He was a silver medallist in the state of Indiana,” Debra said, proudly.

He also enjoyed dancing and listening to music. One of Bobby’s favourite songs was Closing Time by Semisonic.

The song carries significant meaning for the family and was the last song played at Bobby’s funeral service.

Bobby had been living in a nursing home while waiting for a spot at an assisted-living facility to open. There, two patients who were later found to be COVID-positive had been brought into close contact with McCoskey. On April 8, 2020, he was sent to hospital.

His case was initially believed to be mild, and he was discharged from hospital on April 23, 2020 after showing signs of improvement.

Bobby passed away unexpectedly on April 29.

Alan Hirshman, 89, New York

Alan Hirshman, 89, had a deep affinity for art and culture [Courtesy of Alison Hirshman Brettschneider]

Alan Hirshman was a true New Yorker. Born and raised there, he knew all the ins and outs of the city. He could always be found with a copy of The New York Times under his arm.

“Every single person [in their tribute to Hirshman] started with, ‘I will always picture your father in a tennis outfit with the headband and The New York Times under his arm,” his daughter, Alison Hirshman Brettschneider, said.

At 89 years old, he remained active and knew of every “hot spot” in town.

An avid lover of the arts, Hirshman would often see multiple movies and shows on the same day. He was also a huge fan of jazz music and could often be found inside a jazz club.

Hirshman was always available and willing to help. Alison fondly remembers how she would call her father at 3am to ask pressing questions about a huge legal case she had been assigned to.

Unfazed by the time, he would always answer the phone with: “Alison, what can I do for you, my dear?”

A lawyer who dedicated his life to achieving justice and equality, Hirshman’s clients also remembered him for being there any time they needed him. He practised law until the day he passed away.

“His phone would ring all hours of the night, like I remember growing up with that,” Alison said.

Alison’s friends still fondly remember how Hirshman taught them valuable lessons about tolerance and racial injustice.

Hirshman began to feel ill in March 2020 while working on a trial case at the time. Despite being tired and having a fever, he initially seemed to be handling the virus well.

He was admitted to hospital after fainting at home. Despite showing signs of improvement, Hirshman’s condition unexpectedly took a turn for the worse.

Hirshman passed away on April 9, 2020 from COVID-19 complications, just three weeks shy of his 90th birthday.

Eva Medrano, 59, California

Eva Medrano, 59, was passionate about gardening and loved planting flowers and new types of produce [Courtesy of Kelly Vargas]

Eva Medrano was a fiercely independent woman.

Originally from Guerrero, Mexico, Medrano moved to the US with her five children in 1996 in search of a better life.

Her daughter, Kelly Vargas, was born in 1997, and remembers how her mother was always determined to make sure she had everything she needed.

“She always wanted to do things to better herself. She didn’t speak English that well, but she figured out a way to sign me up for schools [and] to get me to my doctor’s appointments,” Kelly said.

Despite facing many obstacles, Medrano was always determined to succeed. She took English courses for adults at her local high school and eventually became a US citizen.

“She was so proud of the fact that she was now a US citizen, and that’s one of my favourite memories that I helped her in doing that,” Kelly added.

Medrano was passionate about gardening and loved planting new types of produce from figs to lemons to habanero peppers. She also loved planting flowers. She loved orchids, but her distaste for roses, because of their short lifespan, was well known.

Medrano’s most recent project included planting a vibrant display of flowers in her front yard.

“They bloomed and people [would] stop to look at them. But my mom didn’t get to see those. I’m hopeful that wherever she is, she is seeing them,” Kelly said.

Medrano was also fiercely dedicated to her family. She leaves behind 11 grandchildren in addition to her six children.

Medrano’s whole household became ill with COVID-19, but she did not let it show that she was not feeling well. Instead of resting, she made sure to take care of everyone around her.

“The day that I got out of isolation is the day I was taking her to the emergency room because she couldn’t breathe,” Kelly noted.

Medrano was intubated on August 30, 2020 and spent 29 days on the ventilator.

She passed away on September 28 at the age of 59.

“I want her to be remembered [for her kindness]. She was motherly towards everybody, she had this beautiful soul,” Kelly said.

Isabelle Odette Papadimitriou, 64, Texas

Isabelle Odette Papadimitriou, 64, risked her life as a respiratory specialist working on the frontlines to save lives during the pandemic. [Courtesy of Fiana Tulip]

Isabelle Odette Papadimitriou was a respiratory therapist who risked her life to be working on the front lines.

When the pandemic struck, Papadimitriou’s daughter, Fiana Tulip, realised how much of an effect her mother really had on people’s lives. To her, Papadimitriou had always just been “Mom,” but for so many individuals, she was their life saver.

“I never realised what a hero she was. I didn’t realise how proud of her I was. And I didn’t realise what a difference she made in so many people’s lives within her job and outside of her job,” she said.

Papadimitriou was a selfless soul who positively affected the lives of everyone around her.

“My goodness, the stories that have come out from people who remember that she was by their dad’s side when he was alone and scared and she sat there, maybe a little too long, but she did it [because she] didn’t want anybody to feel alone,” Fiana said.

“My mom was a really special human and she loved people and she craved her family so much,” Fiana added.

Papadimitriou lived with her son in Dallas, but the majority of her family was living in Brownsville, Texas, making it difficult for her to see them often. Fiana is currently living in Brooklyn, New York.

“I think as a replacement, she just adopted everyone around her,” Fiana said.

Papadimitriou became a grandmother last year with the birth of Fiana’s daughter, and she cherished every minute of being a grandmother.

“It was like everything in her world changed. She lit up. She was smiling a lot. She was constantly sending things … And so it was special to see her in grandmother mode,” Fiana remembered.

Papadimitriou passed away on July 4, 2020, one week after battling mild COVID-19 symptoms.

She always taught her kids to “fight, fight, fight for what you know is right”. Those words now carry more significance than ever for Fiana.

“They’ve stuck with me forever. And I’m glad that the fight for what you know is right will always be in my heart and a very fond memory I have of her,” she said.

Warren P. Hager, 79, New Jersey

Warren Hager was well-known for his hobby, amateur (ham) radio.

His passion took him around the world and resulted in many lifelong friendships.

“One of my favourite stories is my dad speaking to the king of Jordan. King Hussein is a ham operator and so was his brother. And I was sitting in my dad’s radio shack listening to the king of Jordan and my dad having a conversation”” Hager’s daughter, Erika Giordano, remembered.

Hager also played a large role in connecting service men and women with their families during the first Gulf War.

“I remember back in the early 90s during the Gulf War and me sitting in the room and him doing phone patches for servicemen and women that wanted to call home,” Erika said.

“Dad was just really great about trying to make connections with people. Always very friendly, very community oriented, and wanted the best for people,” she added.

Outside of his passion, Hager worked for the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) in Floor Operations for almost 48 years.

Hager’s selfless nature was on full display after the September 11 attacks in New York City.

“[Hager and his team] worked tirelessly, according to his manager, getting the exchange back up. So, you know, him and a few others are very much tied to that legacy for the NYSE,” Erika noted.

Hager passed away on April 17, 2020 in Hillsdale, New Jersey, where he resided for 48 years.

Source: Al Jazeera