Guest Commentary

Dia de los Muertos remembrances of wonderful Tucsonans who are missed

With the commemoration of another Día de los Muertos, thoughts of past acquaintances are always rekindled. While these people may not have been close personal friends, they did leave behind lasting impressions.

Mario and Stella Cota-Robles--a loving, friendly couple--were small in stature, but had strong convictions about what was right and stood tall for their principles.

Back in the spring of 1988, Mario was chairman of the Plans Review Committee of the Tucson/Pima County Historical Commission. The committee had previously reviewed a controversial high-rise private dormitory near the UA, but--based on some new information about the proposal, and as director of the West University Neighborhood Association--I asked them to take another look.

At the meeting, my request was besmirched and belittled by attorney Si Schorr, who was representing the project developer. In blustery terms, he called my idea inappropriate and illegal. In a very loud voice, and while towering more than a head above tiny Mario, Schorr demanded that the committee reject the request.

In quietly spoken words, Mario firmly stood his ground. The committee would consider the project in light of the new information, he said, and they proceeded to do so.

As that case was being heard, the Tucson Toros were just beginning another minor league baseball season. One of their most loyal fans was David Bell.

Throughout warm summer nights that arched across many years, David sat in the nearly vacant left-field bleachers of Hi Corbett field. To harass the opposition, he often made up short, humorous jabs at their names. For future major leaguer John Kruk, Bell screamed out, "K-R-U-K--isn't that a radio station?"

David, who was not able to drive, rode his bicycle to the Toros games, and it was while riding that bike that he was run over. In a fitting tribute, the jogging path around Randolph Park--near Hi Corbett field--was named for him after his death.

Attorney Chris Nakamura was also killed while riding his bicycle. We served together on two nonprofit boards, and his easy chuckle, mild manner and willingness to do voluntary legal work for the groups was very impressive.

But this service went beyond the call of duty when one of the nonprofits got into serious financial trouble. Chris had to shepherd the organization through the government "closing-up shop" process, and spent countless hours filling out forms and talking to bureaucrats. During it all, and despite the slow, frustrating pace, he continued to smile.

Syed Salahuddin was another Tucsonan who smiled easily while constantly encouraging me to keep writing about the unseen side of Tucson life. He was also an avid reader who could converse on a wide range of subjects, but constantly wanted to share opinions as he looked for peaceful solutions to problems.

At his memorial service earlier this year--after he, too, was struck by an automobile while on his bicycle--his brother said of Syed: "Simple living and high thinking were lessons he learned in childhood." Standing next to a small jar of daffodils and three lighted candles in front of Syed's picture, someone else recalled, "He was never too busy to be kind."

But perhaps the most memorable message conveyed that day was from Syed's daughter. "My father was the most beautiful and courageous man," she said, "tall and strong and eloquent."

Someone else with a quick smile and an enthusiasm for living was Carol Fitch Juliani. Though she had traveled widely and lived outside the United States for many years, she was always more interested in talking about what others had done than about herself and her own experiences.

Shortly before her death last month, all Carol wanted to discuss was how proud she was of her husband of 50 years and his recent steady weight loss, never mentioning the debilitating cancer treatments she was enduring. She also expressed great satisfaction in my writing career, sparkling with pride at what had been accomplished.

If life is about packing an empty suitcase with memories before we travel on, Carol and the others certainly did that. They taught unspoken lessons about living an enjoyable life and leaving smiles on the faces of those left behind.

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