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Out Of Devastating Death, An Act Of Kindness… Puerto Rican Welcomed Others

Out Of Devastating Death, An Act Of Kindness


March 30, 2004
Copyright © 2004 St. Petersburg Times. All rights reserved.

Robert Gomez stood up after kissing the cheek of his dead wife, then noticed the man who had just run her down.

Gomez approached the distraught driver, who had bypassed police barricades before accidentally striking Dalja Gomez on streets that were closed for a church fundraiser at Babe Zaharias Golf Course.

Robert Gomez took his hand.

"There's nothing we can do, sir,'' Gomez told him. "We have to trust in God now.''

Gomez and the driver, 87-year-old Diomedes Rivera, then joined hands with Gomez's pastor, and the three of them prayed over the woman who had been Gomez's life partner for 55 years.

While friends and family struggled Monday to make sense of the weekend tragedy, they also marveled over Mr. Gomez's reaction to his wife's death.

"Some people would have been angry, some people would have said, "You just killed my wife,' '' said Stan Beatty, pastor of Forrest Hills United Methodist Church, who recalled a scene he described as "surreal.''

"But at that point, he was more concerned and focused on that (driver's) grief than his own,'' Beatty said.

"I'm not sure I could have done that.''

Lifelong sweethearts

They were lifelong sweethearts. Born and raised in Ybor City by Cuban cigar factory workers, Robert Gomez and his future wife met at a Saturday night tea dance, their son, Robert Gomez Jr., a commercial real estate developer, recalled Monday.

The coupled married and raised their son in Ybor, taking government jobs for about 25 years. She was a clerk in the Hillsborough County Supervisor of Elections Office and he worked as a city utilities truck driver and crane operator.

They stayed faithful to their church, St. Paul United Methodist, even as other families moved away, even as they moved to a home tucked on the front of their son's four-acre property in Forrest Hills about 10 years ago.

After St. Paul's closed, the two joined Forrest Hills United Methodist, the younger Gomez said. They'd usher and help out in bake sales and fundraisers like Saturday's 5K Fun Run at the golf course.

Aside from church, the Gomez couple loved to walk, particularly Mrs. Gomez.

"She prided herself on being a good ol' walker,'' her son said. "She walked every day for the last 25 years.''

The Gomezes were mall walkers, regularly circling the inside of University Square Mall.

Through the fundraising walks, Mrs. Gomez, 78, and Mr. Gomez, 77, could combine both of their passions.

"She was on a pilgrimage raising money for her church,'' the younger Gomez said Monday, as his father roamed his property, unwilling to talk.

"She was a very brisk walker,'' said Beatty, the couple's pastor. During Saturday morning's walk, Mrs. Gomez sped out in front of everyone else. About 1 1/2 miles in, she was out ahead, leaving her husband and clusters of the other walkers behind.

"A couple of younger women were saying, "Gosh, we just can't keep up with her,' '' Beatty said. "Because she was so brisk in walking, she was alone.''

"To me, he's a saint'

At 8:15 a.m. Saturday, Rivera was on his way to Most Holy Redeemer Catholic Church, taking the same shortcut he took every day to Mass, when he saw the cones in the road.

He stopped on West Oregon Circle, Rivera recalled Monday in front of his home on South Fore Circle. He called out to a man from his 1991 Ford Escort station wagon.

"I have to go to church,'' he remembered yelling, nervous about being late for the 8:30 service.

He thought he saw the man wave him through. And there were tire tracks on the side of the road, where someone else had cut through. So he followed.

Up ahead, he saw a woman walking on the side of West Oregon Circle along the golf course. He drove in the middle of the road, he said.

The next thing he knew, he heard a loud crash against his passenger's side mirror, and the woman smashed into his windshield.

"I swear unto my Lord I don't know how she could get from the side to the middle of the road,'' said Rivera, who wears thick eyeglasses to correct for the 13 surgeries he's had in his right eye from glaucoma.

After all the commotion, Mr. Gomez rushed across the golf course and was intercepted by Beatty, who told him his wife was dead.

Rivera watched Gomez kiss his wife, and then he turned to Rivera to tell him to calm down.

"I thought, "Oh my God, this man is a holy man,' '' Rivera said.

Rivera, retired from the Army and a former sales manager with a flour milling company in Puerto Rico, was cited with three offenses Monday.

They include: careless driving involving death, violation of a traffic control device and improper and unsafe equipment on his station wagon - or bald tires, said Tampa Police spokesman Joe Durkin.

For the first citation, Rivera could lose his license, Durkin said. He has one citation on his Florida driving record for improper backing of a vehicle.

Rivera remained stunned Monday by Gomez's graciousness.

"I am a Christian, but I don't think I can act like that,'' he said. "To me, he's a saint.''

Puerto Rican Welcomed Others

Caraballo spent his life helping folks be accepted in Cleveland

Alana Baranick
Plain Dealer Reporter

June 28, 2004
Copyright © 2004
THE PLAIN DEALER. All rights reserved.

Since the mid-1980s, Miguel Caraballo greeted grieving Hispanic families, often with hugs, as they arrived at the Craciun Funeral Home in Cleveland's Detroit-Shoreway area.

"He received people, made them feel welcome, offered comfort," said the Rev. David Fallon of La Sagrada Familia church. "He knew how tough a time it was. He would be at the front door. When he couldn't stand [because of failing health], he'd sit there. He wanted to be there to greet the people."

Before his death June 11 at age 82, Caraballo spent most of his life helping folks coming from Puerto Rico to find jobs, houses, appliances, furniture, clothing and acceptance in Cleveland.

"We had a rough time in those days because we were newcomers to the city, we looked a little different, and we talked Spanish," said Arsenio Caraballo, no relation, whom Miguel helped.

Miguel arranged baptisms and wedding receptions for people who couldn't afford them. He recruited volunteer cooks and sometimes paid the social hall rental himself so that the newcomers would not miss celebrating the family milestones.

In his later years, Caraballo assisted with their funerals. He acted as interpreter and liaison between the funeral directors and the Spanish-speaking relatives. He called Spanish-language radio broadcasters to announce deaths in the community.

"Through hard times, Miguel was always there," Cleveland City Councilman Nelson Cintron Jr. said. "When a minister or priest wasn't able to be there, Miguel did the prayer for the family. The community embraced him more, because he was there to embrace us when we lost a loved one."

Caraballo was born the sixth of eight kids in the Santiago Caraballo family in Yauco, a rural community in southern Puerto Rico. He grew up in the city of Ponce, where he worked at a bakery, making crackers.

In 1949, he joined the early wave of Puerto Ricans who left the poverty of their homeland for jobs in the steel mills, automobile plants and related industries in Cleveland, Lorain and Youngstown.

Caraballo found a job as a foundry worker at Forest City Foundries, where he worked for 30 years.

He spent most of his free time volunteering with fraternal organizations and aiding newly transplanted Puerto Ricans.

"He put me in business," said Efraim Colon, who owns a car repair shop. "I remember the first 35 bucks I made at this garage. It was his car. How can I forget about such a guy as that? He wanted me to make it."

Caraballo served on the board of the Spanish American Committee and promoted the Puerto Rican Friendly Day Parade.

The great-grandfather volunteered at the Hispanic Senior Citizens Center and Friendship Senior Center. He encouraged youngsters at the Boricua-Taino Sport Center and San Lorenzo Club to get involved in athletics.

He worked in the kitchen, danced and played dominoes at the West Side Community Home. He was an officer of the Juana Diaz social club. On special occasions, he recited poetry at First Hispanic United Methodist Church.

During his early days in Cleveland, Caraballo attended Mass with the Irish congregation at St. Patrick Catholic Church on Bridge Avenue.

He later helped found the city's first Hispanic Holy Name Society and attended services at San Juan Bautista, Capilla de Cristo Rey Hispanic Pastoral Center and La Sagrada Familia.

"He was always offering to take me to lunch, so he could eat the things he wasn't allowed to eat," said Fallon, pastor at La Sagrada Familia.

After retiring from the foundry, Caraballo became known as "Rosario Man," because he frequently led prayers in Spanish at what is now the Nunn-Coleman-Bican Funeral Home and at Craciun's.

Caraballo was buried near the entrance to Riverside Cemetery.

"He said, The leaders are the ones who stand at the gate and welcome you,' " said his daughter-in-law, Linda Santiago. "He's there to welcome everybody. He said, Whenever you have problems, I'm standing by the gate waiting for you.' "

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