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Robert Guevara Made A Difference, Set Path For Others To Follow

by Myriam Marques

April 13, 2000
Copyright © 2000 THE ORLANDO SENTINEL. All Rights Reserved.

If he wasn't working over here, he was over there. Robert Guevara, it seemed, never stopped. Always on the go. Always working to make Osceola County and Florida a better place. Until the end.

Today, the loving husband and father rests in God's arms.

The Osceola County commissioner's big heart gave out early Tuesday, a bit past midnight, as he sipped some coffee after returning home from a meeting. His wife, Dali, tried valiantly to save him, but God had his own plan for the 60-year-old. It was swift and merciful.

Guevara made history four years ago when he became the first Puerto Rican elected to the Osceola County Commission. It was a victory for Central Florida's Hispanic community, but he didn't court only the Hispanic vote in his Buenaventura Lakes district. That's what made his victory so sweet.

Back then he told me, "Equality is very important -- not just for Hispanics but for everyone. I will be looking out for the whole county..., looking for fairness in code enforcement, looking for ways to reduce juvenile crime and to bring clean industry that will pay better."

Guevara worked diligently to deliver on those promises and then some. Whether he was pushing a property-tax break for seniors, cutting a deal for a publicly financed hospital to serve the county's mentally ill better, setting up a mentor program for high-school students or courting businesses to expand opportunities in the county,

Guevara never lost sight of his duty as a public servant.

"Roberto's favorite Bible verse," Kissimmee civic activist Armando Ramirez told me Tuesday, "was 'It is better to give than to receive.' That's how he lived his life."

Ramirez, a retired New York City police officer who has lived in Osceola County for a decade, praised Guevara's moderate political style. "He always tried to strike a balance," Ramirez said, "to focus on the positive and to get people from different backgrounds to work together."

Guevara, who became the second-in-command of Florida's Democratic Party in 1998, never forgot where he came from. At heart, he was a Puerto Rican kid who wanted to do good.

You first have to know who you are to do justice to all, he told me a few months back when we were discussing his re-election efforts.

Rick Hernandez, president of the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of Central Florida, said Guevara was "doing extraordinary things." Hernandez spent time with Guevara on Saturday at the chamber's Business Expo in Orlando.

Among Guevara's causes was the YMCA Hispanic Achievers program, which he wanted to start in Osceola County. Dan Garcia, who heads the Hispanic Achievers effort, said Guevara spent an hour talking with him at the Expo to devise ways to attract mentors for high-school students.

"We are missing a huge human being," Hernandez said. "It will be hard to replace him."

It will, indeed. Guevara was running for re-election countywide. He ran a district race four years ago. That same year, voters changed the county's charter to require commissioners to run at large -- likely a last-ditch effort by non-Hispanic voters to keep Hispanics "in their place" and out of political office.

State Rep. Anthony Suarez, who represents parts of Orange and Seminole counties, lamented Osceola County's loss. He spent time with Guevara on Sunday at the Medina festival in Orlando. "Robert and his wife were talking about the stress of public life. There's so much heat in public life. I can't believe he's gone. It's devastating."

Devastating, perhaps, but not hopeless. We are left with the legacy of a man who lived each day trying to make a difference in people's lives, to help the disenfranchised and the voiceless. Surely Robert Guevara set a path for others to follow.

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