Scores of residents in the Red Hook section of Brooklyn and co-workers at New York City’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH) on Saturday paid their last respects to Jose Rivera, a long-serving employee at DOHMH, who died on April 14. He was 53.
Rivera, who lived in Red Hook for most of his life and whose late parents, Jose and Georgina Rivera, hailed from Puerto Rico, died at Methodist Hospital in the Park Slope section of Brooklyn, family members told Caribbean Life. He died five days short of what would have been his 54th birthday, they said.
Rivera worked at DOHMH as a principal administrative associate until he was hospitalized, according to his only son, Jose Antonia Rivera, 30. He said his father was a DOHMH employee for 30 years.
“He was sick for some time, but we didn’t know the severity — that it [death] will happen,” said the younger Rivera in an interview during the wake Saturday evening at Raccuglia & Sons Funeral Home, 323 Court St., in the Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn.
Netisha Rivera, 35, Jose Rivera’s elder of two daughters, said her dad was an extraordinary human being.
“I loved my father to death,” she said just before the Home Going Service began at 7:30 pm on Saturday. “He was the best dad and great father. He was very kind — an all-round great dad.”
Richard Campbell, Netisha’s Jamaican-born fiancée, said he knew Rivera “for as long as I’ve known his daughter – 14 years.
“God has blessed us with a nine-month-old daughter [Savanna], and Jose got to meet his granddaughter before he moved on,” Campbell said. “My mind is overwhelmed.”
In their tributes, Rivera’s former DOHMH co-workers told Caribbean Life that he had lived life to the fullest.
“I missed him,” said Haitian-born registered nurse Gracita Marcellus-Coq. “He always called me ‘Me Amor’ [my love in Spanish]. He helped me to improve my Spanish.”
Trinidadian Margaret McMillan, another former co-worker, said Rivera was “one of us – another human being like us – it [death] could [have been] one of us.”
Outside the funeral chapel, Lab Associate Michael Lamar, said he worked with the bilingual Rivera for 20 years.
“He loved life,” he said. “He loved to fish; he loved the Pittsburgh Pirates. Everybody loved him.
“Jose was a good person,” he added. “He’ll go out of his way to do things for you. I used to call him ‘Wasabia’ – it’s a back-in-the-day commercial. I the morning, we greeted each other as ‘Wasabia’; and, going home, we said ‘Wasabia.’”
Fellow mourner, X-ray Technician Erica Flowers, agreed that Rivera lived a good life.
“He was a great guy,” she said. “I couldn’t miss the memorial service for anything. He lived life under his own terms, and I loved him for that.”
One of Rivera’s former supervisors also told Caribbean Life that Rivera “dedicated decades of his life to serving the citizens of New York by providing critical services to the Health Department.”
In his homily, Fr. Joseph Diele, chaplain for Caring Hospice on Avenue U in Brooklyn, said: “Jose sounded like a man who enjoyed life (as mourners concurred by clapping and shouting ‘Amen!’).”
Fr. Diele noted what were characterized as some of Rivera’s favorite indulgences – “the music and the grilling.”
“If we cannot enjoy life now, then we would not enjoy life there [in Heaven],” the Catholic priest said. “So much so, he knew his own sickness and did not say a word about it.
“He wanted to enjoy life, and he did,” Fr. Diele added. “He knew how to live life. He did it his way.”
Rivera’s son said his father’s body will be cremated and his ashes taken by Netisha to Puerto Rico.
Rivera is survived by another daughter, Milaya, 23.