1. Opinion

Hooper column: A well-lived life is worthy of celebration

The son came to this country from Cuba in 1960, watching as his family gave up everything to give him freedom.

He responded with a steely determination in school, giving his all at Tampa's Jesuit High School and performing so well that classmates got mad when he kept setting the grading curve. His ambition ultimately helped him return the support to his parents.

The husband met his wife at a high school dance after actually bringing her sister to the party. The Cuban native forged his love for the Irish lass with affection that sometimes went unspoken but never misunderstood. If they fought, the argument always ended with a promise to see each other again. So began a marriage that has lasted for 45 years.

The businessman earned his accounting degree from the University of South Florida and eventually started his own firm with a Type A approach that drove him to examine every detail. He dotted every i, crossed every t and ensured every figure added up. But he also wove a sense of community into his efforts. Sometimes he charged clients a little less because he knew they couldn't pay more. The firm continues to serve today.

The civic leader never shied away from helping. He played a role in the formation of the Greater Brandon Chamber of Commerce and became a vital member of the Ybor City Civitan Club when he opened an office in the historic district. When he moved to Apollo Beach, he joined that chamber as treasurer and ultimately helped merge the organization with its Ruskin counterpart, forming the SouthShore Chamber of Commerce. He remains a respected entrepreneur today.

The father stopped at nothing to help his three sons become better soccer players. He never played soccer, but once they took up the sport, he went on a mission to learn as much as he could. He read books, earned coaching certifications and even if he drew laughs awkwardly trying to demonstrate a skill, he never yielded.

The coach spent hours on the field with the Brandon Area Youth Soccer League, not only guiding his sons but hundreds of other players. Even during 100-hour tax season weeks, he remained involved — always taking time to build a player's confidence or counsel a parent. For 25 years, he provided a familiar voice at BAYSL.

The advocate noticed the school district provided player of the year awards for the best football and basketball players, but nothing for the top boys and girls soccer standouts. So with the district's permission, he created his own award in 1985. For 30 years, he has feted the county's best soccer players. Leto High standout Brett Phillips, who won in 1987, said of all his rewards he earned as a soccer player, the only one he still keeps on his desk is the one that bears the name of the advocate.

Jose Alvarez — the son, husband, businessman, civic leader, father, coach and advocate — has filled all those roles with amazing heart during his 66 years on this planet. He always put family first, but so often his definition of family extended beyond his blood relatives.

His son Steven, a partner in the accounting firm, called this week to share all those stories as his father lay in hospice care in Sun City Center.

In June, Alvarez suffered what doctors first believed to be a stroke. But his condition grew worse. Doctors eventually came up with the proper diagnosis: a rare neurological disorder called Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease that affects approximately 300 people a year in the United States, 1 in a million worldwide.

There is no cure.

"I think of it in sports terms," said Steven, who earned a soccer scholarship to Saint Leo University. "I feel like I'm losing Michael Jordan and Phil Jackson at the same time.

"I'm losing my business partner, mentor, friend and, most of all, my father."

Sometimes, people ask why journalists interview a relative as they mourn or prepare for the loss of a loved one. It can be a challenge, but relatives often welcome the opportunity to express their feelings. Steven not only talked about his father but how so many have humbled him with their own stories of Jose's generosity and care.

When a life turns into a legacy, there's so much you want to tell the world — and so much you want to tell your loved one.

That's all I'm saying.

Follow Ernest Hooper @hoop4you