Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia’s Family Starts Scholarship In Mother’s Memory After Her Coronavirus Death

LONG BEACH (CBSLA) — Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia is speaking out after his mother died from coronavirus complications and encouraging people to take the pandemic seriously.

“To lose her is incredibly devastating for me and my brother and our family but she lived a joyous life. We’re very proud of her,” Garcia said.

Garcia’s mother, 61-year-old Gaby O’Donnell, moved her family from Peru to the U.S. when Garcia was five years old.

He says O’Donnell represented the American Dream and worked to clean homes, learn English and raise her two sons before eventually getting a job in a clinic where she worked for more than 25 years. She also later got her U.S. citizenship.

“When I was young she would work multiple jobs. She’d come home from the clinic and work a shift. And then nights, she’d take another job. Or she’d work in a different clinic and take another shift,” Garcia said.

Garcia said his mother’s hard work inspired him and his brother Jake to both pursue higher education, leading to them graduating from California State University Long Beach.

The Long Beach mayor is hoping to keep his mother’s memory alive, honor front line workers throughout this pandemic, and encourage Americans to do all they can to prevent the spread of coronavirus.

“People need to take this seriously. Young people need to be responsible, have some self-sacrifice, wear a mask, social distance,” Garcia said. “If you’re still out there calling this thing a hoax. Honestly, you’re causing a danger in our community.”

O’Donnell wore her protective equipment at work but it’s unclear where or how she contracted the coronavirus.

Her sons have started a scholarship fund at Cal State Long Beach for immigrant women who are pursuing a career in health care.

O’Donnell’s husband and the mayor’s stepfather, Greg O’Donnell, is currently on a ventilator as he battles the coronavirus as well.

Garcia said former Vice President Joe Biden reached out to him after hearing of his mother’s death.

This evening I received a call from Vice President @JoeBiden about my mom. I can’t express enough how much comfort it brought me. My family will be forever grateful for his words and support.”

“I became a citizen when I was 21. I became mayor at 36. That’s because of my mom. That’s because of her work and her sacrifice,” Garcia said.

Mayor Garcia did not test positive for the virus.