Maria Carrillo has learned to steel herself before she starts editing the latest round of coronavirus obituaries. Since April, Carrillo, the Tampa Bay Times’ senior deputy editor for enterprise, has worked with a group of reporters to collect the names and tell the stories of Floridians lost to the pandemic.
Over time, she has tried to stay focused on the details. For enterprise reporter Claire McNeill, those details turned the 20,000+ deaths in Florida into more than just numbers.
“The ‘mean sandwich maker,’ the woman who hid in the hayloft with books as a girl, the nurse who looked forward to a cold bottle of Coors Light at the end of a shift. The guy who hugged his daughter’s nervous fiancé hard, so he would feel like family. The janitor who drove kids to baseball practice and the obstetrician whose motto was somos felices. We’re happy.”
The reporters all volunteered for the assignment. The team searches news items, family obituaries and medical examiner reports. One week at a time, they find family to talk to and gather stories about their lives. So for, they’ve written close to 650.
It’s a fraction of the total deaths and a staggering collection.
Here are a few of the stories that they’ll remember.
Dioscora Parido, 90, of Pinellas Park
“Her entire obituary is a journey, not because of its literal journey from the Philippines to the U.S.,” McNeill said. “The cliché that ‘she led a full life’ rings true here. And who could forget her love for Chuck Norris films?”
In her native Philippines, Dioscora Parido’s education halted after sixth grade, cut short by World War II. She had an ear for languages, though, and when her husband, Julio, died early, she took over his grocery with ease. At “Parido’s Store,” she employed her family, sent her daughters to college and supplied college-age employees with tuition, uniforms, room and board.
Her taste in fashion and jewelry was elegant, but she didn’t forget where she had come from. She poured money into Calbayog City, sponsoring the hometown fiesta and, as a faithful Catholic, building a rural community chapel. She kept running the grocery even as she moved to the United States to help raise her grandchildren. They often heard her singing — a recent favorite was You Are My Sunshine — and anticipated her requests for a ride to Taco Bell for Nachos Supreme. She loved karate thrillers and gardened fruits and vegetables, orchids and roses.
Ada Ficarra, 79, Winter Garden
“I remember writing about how at her assisted-living facility, when another woman complained about her cursing, Ficarra told the woman to go to a new table,” environmental reporter Zack Sampson said. “It reminded me of my stepmom and aunt — their bluntness and absolute protectiveness.”
Ada Ficarra once bought a car on the spot even though she didn’t have a license. Her husband didn’t, either. A native of Sicily, Ficarra grew up in New York. She loved books and Pavarotti.
Desi-Rae Nicole McIntosh, 26, Fort Walton Beach
“The story of 26-year-old Desi-Rae Nicole McIntosh who went to her job at Tom Thumb with symptoms and later died, stopped me in my tracks,” said enterprise reporter Kavitha Surana.
Desi-Rae Nicole McIntosh was working the night shift at a Tom Thumb grocery store when she fell ill. She and her husband were living in a motel to save money, and she was afraid of losing her job. She went to work with symptoms.
A friend found her coughing and short of breath.
She still went back to work the next day but left early to go to the emergency room and was soon put on a ventilator. Her husband wouldn’t see her again until right before she died. “We were pretty much inseparable,” he said. “We always held hands and cuddled and kissed and hugged every chance we got.”
Alfonso Cardenas, 55, Tampa
“Alfonso Cardenas died and left his three children orphaned,” said Pasco breaking news reporter Romy Ellenbogen. “His story struck me as an example of how a death from this virus is not just tragic in itself, but how it has an irreversible effect on others.”
Alfonso Cardenas would do anything for his three children, especially after their mother died years earlier. He coached all three in soccer, which was his passion. He was always the loudest one on the field and could bring his positive attitude to anything, his daughter said. “We could always talk to him,” Jhoana Cardenas said. “He was kind of like our shoulder to lean on.”
Donald Jack, 75, Seminole
Vincent Narcisi, 91, Seminole
“I talked to their sons for the Freedom Square project, so those just really stuck out to me,” said courts reporter Kathryn Varn. “We spent a lot of time talking and, on top of the deaths of their dads, they were both also grappling with all the communication issues that came with the outbreak at Freedom Square.”
Donald Jack was born and raised in Chicago but moved to Florida in 1976. He worked in construction and maintenance and rose to the top of his field, as the global construction and facilities manager for Jabil Circuits, said his son, Michael Jack.
Mr. Jack’s work took him all over the world: Malaysia, Hungary, his father’s birthplace in Scotland. Back home, he was a member of the Seminole Jaycees, a volunteer organization.
His two favorite things were golfing and the Chicago Cubs, his son said. He was such a Cubs fan that he wants his ashes spread at Wrigley Field.
“I don’t think it’s legal,” his son said, “but some of them are going on that field.”
Once an Army medic in the Korean War, Vincent Narcisi went on to run an electronics business in St. Pete Beach for decades. TV & Music Center sold Sony products, with Mr. Narcisi and one of his sons, Bruce, at the healm.
Another son, Todd Brusko, described a gentle but firm father, one who never spanked or yelled but instilled the importance of school and work ethic.
After testing positive for COVID-19, Mr. Narcisi hung on for weeks in the hospital, a testament to his grit, Brusko said. After his death, Brusko took to Twitter.
“If you think you are being tough for not wearing a mask and continue to go out into large crowds, I can assure you that you are not. If you keep it up, chances are good that you will survive, but someone like my father will not.
“When that happens, I can assure you that if there is an afterlife, some day you will have to meet my father, and when you do, I can see him punching you square in the face.”
Elias Figueroa, 63, Tampa
“Figueroa’s family mentioned his diagnosis and his fight against coronavirus in his obituary, and it struck me as very bittersweet,” said breaking news and health reporter Natalie Weber. “He seemed like a very outgoing and loving family man, whose life was cut short by the pandemic.”
From Panama to the Burger King on Dale Mabry Highway, Elias Figueroa made lifelong connections wherever he went.
Mr. Figueroa was born in Puerto Rico and joined the Army in his early 20s. While stationed in Panama, he married Ross Hubbard, his “souvenir” and wife of more than 30 years. He was known for his gentle manner and for being the family comedian who wanted to make sure everyone had fun.
After contracting COVID-19 during the summer, Mr. Figueroa’s lungs suffered irreparable damage, and for three months, he fought to stay alive.
“Elias was a fierce fighter until the very end, and his family is very proud of him,” his family wrote. “He will truly be missed and forever in our hearts.”