Some stories: When my brother Raymond was 14, perhaps in the ninth grade or earlier, he told me, “The Olympics are going to be in Los Angeles in 1984, and I’m going to be working for ABC Sports, and I’m going to cover it.”
This was more than a dozen years before LA had even been announced as a host city. But it was typical determination on his part. He knew what he wanted in his life, and few challenges were too tough.
Though we lived more than 16 miles from Santa Monica, he once took up my brother Mario’s offhanded challenge to walk from our Highland Park home to the beach. Arising early on a Saturday morning, with likely only lunch and bus fare home, he set out towards downtown, walking south on Figueroa to Pico, and then west to the beach, arriving on the sand in mid-afternoon.
Once there, he gazed at the water briefly, and then turned around and headed home on the bus.
That focus defined him through his life, as he eventually figured out how to get into college with only average grades but fierce determination. Two (or three) years in a community college, and he was off to San Francisco State University to study broadcasting.
Sometime later, we were strolling along a residential street in Bakersfield, where he had taken a new job at an ABC-TV affiliate.
“How about that apartment there?” I pointed out.
“Hmmm, okay,” he said, strolling across the lawn to the manager’s apartment door. He lived there a few days later.
When the Olympics came to LA, I reminded him of his promise so many years before. He was not at ABC, which covered the Olympics. He was now at KNBC in Burbank, working for NBC Sports.
“Oh,” he said, casually, “I’m in a much better position now than I thought I would be then.”
That “much better” position took him around the world, more than once. From there, he was in the truck as a videotape engineer for every Olympics, and every Super Bowl, and every World Series that NBC produced for 30 years, gathering up a total of six Emmys for his work.
This is not a gathering of his achievements at work, however. He would be the first to tell us we are far more than our careers.
Let’s move forward twenty years or so. I’m in a department store during the holidays, and as I turn the corner, I see him walking towards me, pushing a shopping cart heavy with children’s toys.
I looked at him, quizzically. He looked back at me, smiling sheepishly.
“Ssshh,” he said. “I do this every year, and I just go drop the toys off at the fire station.” I could tell he was a little embarrassed.
“Don’t tell anyone about this, okay?” he said, as I turned to go.
That was his way. His was a generous heart and a quiet soul that didn’t want or need a lot of attention.
Conversely, all of his circle of friends from the neighborhood knew of that generosity. Over the years, there wasn’t one friend or even family member (that would be me), that he had not quietly helped out of a jam at more than one point.
That’s what defined him.
“You know, I’m not religious,” he told me a few weeks ago from his hospital bed. “I think, ‘just be a good person.’ I think I’ve been a good person.”
When he met his lovely partner Patricia about a dozen years ago, she was struck by his kindness and his gentleness. She returned the favor, as they traveled together summer after summer, usually to Spain. He had already traveled much through work, and he encouraged others to do the same.
When both our parents finally passed and we eventually sold our childhood home, my brothers and sisters found ourselves with a little fistful of money in our pockets.
“That’s your travel money,” he told me. “Go see the world.” And I did.
Now his own travel had new meaning.
They trekked the Camino de Santiago, walking its northern route from the French border to the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in the northwest corner of Spain. They walked it together nearly half a dozen times, as he himself completed ten routes, walking the equivalent distance from LA to Santa Monica every day, for weeks.
Meanwhile, his generosity continued to manifest, as he and Patricia adopted a local family for the holidays, eventually helping the older son enter college, while the younger one is completing high school.
When they first contacted the mother through a relief agency, they asked, “What would you like? What do you need?
“We only want a Christmas tree, like everyone else,” she said.
When they brought the tree over, along with dinner and simple instructions, Patricia said, “Just heat this up. It’s all there.”
Mom hesitated. “We don’t have a stove,” she said.
Thus their mission began.
Then, between his travels, perhaps six years ago, doctors discovered an arrhythmia in his heart. Common enough, but untreated, it can be deadly. Mindful and determined, he not only underwent the surgery, but he literally became a poster boy for the condition, appearing on the cover of at least one medical magazine.
But his heart condition worsened, as he developed a stubborn infection that perhaps opened the door to his eventual cancer diagnosis. Still, he was the ideal patient, joining support groups and offering advice and counsel to others, myself included, even as his own strength ebbed.
Then, with remission in the air only months ago, the cancer recently returned. Methodically, he and Patricia planned his departure. It would be quiet and peaceful, with no formal services. He was adamant.
The lights would go out, the door would softly close, and he would go.
And for me, it was like losing the sky.
A Pasadena resident for more than 30 years, Raymond Rivera is survived by his partner Patricia Hinojosa, brothers Rick, Mario, Edward, Reuben, and sisters Sylvia and Susan, along with a niece, two nephews, and numerous cousins. No services are planned.