Mayor’s Mother Dies from COVID-19

By Kirt Ramirez

Gaby O’Donnell, the mother of Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia, succumbed to complications from COVID-19, her son announced Monday. She was 61.

O’Donnell was a medical assistant at City of Hope Medical Center. She leaves behind two sons, a husband, family and friends. Co-workers paid tribute to her in television news broadcasts.

A brokenhearted Garcia released the following statement in which he described his mom as a loving, kindhearted person:

“It is with deep sadness that I share that my mother, Gaby O’Donnell, has passed away due to complications from COVID-19. My brother and I are heartbroken. Our mother was the kindest and most compassionate person we’ve ever known.

“She immigrated from Peru to the United States in search of the American Dream – and she found it. She became a healthcare worker, caring for thousands of patients over her career and assisted nurses and doctors who she loved dearly.

“She loved to help people and lived a happy and joyous life. She will always be our guiding light and the center of our lives.

“My brother and I want to thank the incredible team at Long Beach Memorial for taking care of our mom during her last days. They are heroes and we are forever grateful. My stepfather, Greg O’Donnell, is still in the hospital and on a ventilator. We pray and hope for a full recovery.”

Garcia said family and friends would be notified of service arrangements in the days ahead.

Garcia, 42, was 5-years old when his parents immigrated to the United States from Lima, Peru. He grew up in Southern California. His mother’s first job in the U.S. was in a thrift store, he said previously on Facebook.

She worked various jobs including housecleaning to put food on the table. He credits his mother for having instilled in him a strong work ethic.

Garcia earned his B.A. degree in communications from Long Beach State, his M.A. from USC and his Ed.D in higher education from Long Beach State.

He was an active member of Long Beach State’s Delta Chi fraternity and other groups. He also was president of the Associated Students.

He founded Long Beach Post, was chief of staff for Councilman Frank Colonna, was a public information officer for Long Beach City College, as an educator, taught college and university courses, was 1st District Councilman, Vice Mayor, and became Long Beach’s 28th mayor in 2014.

Among other groups, the Latino and openly gay mayor served on the California Coastal Commission and currently is a board member for the Los Angeles Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

Garcia married his longtime partner Matthew Mendez in 2018.

In a Mother’s Day Facebook post in 2016, Garcia wrote:

“My mom made the decision when I was 5 to immigrate and move our family to the United States for the American Dream. We didn’t have much money and she cleaned homes, worked multiple jobs, and was a single mom.

“She struggled and I remember the nights when she was sad even though she tried to hide it. She was tough and positive and treated everyone with love and kindness – even the people that didn’t respect her. It amazed me. She taught me to love our new country and community, and to value education.

“While she never had the opportunity to go to college, she made sure that I did. She always had less so I could have more. She eventually worked her way to a middle class job, and paved the way for me and my brother. She is strong, beautiful, and full of love. Happy Mothers’s Day to all the mom’s like Gaby.”

Tim Patton, who is Garcia’s senior administrative deputy, remembered O’Donnell on Facebook Monday:

“Heartbroken at the loss of Gaby O’Donnell. I loved every moment I ever spent with her. One of my greatest joys was going to Comic-Con with Robert Garcia and his mom a few years back.

“It was so lovely and dear to see the two of them – him geeking out while still making sure his mom was enjoying herself and Gaby loving the hustle and bustle while still spending the time with him.

“Gaby and I bonded over being about the same age (Me being actually older), shopping and telling everyone else to ‘slow down.’ It was a perfect weekend. She raised two outstanding, caring and kind sons, besides being one of the sweetest people God ever put on this earth. Rest in peace, Gaby. I’ll miss you.”

Garcia friend and 2nd District City Council candidate Cindy Allen posted to Facebook Monday: “I am so sad and sorry to hear this news. I absolutely adored Robert’s mom and our hearts are heavy. Praying for the family.”

Political differences aside, 2nd District City Council candidate Robert Fox asked his Facebook friends for prayers Monday and wished Garcia well:

“I have just heard the incredibly tragic news that Mayor Robert Garcia’s mother has passed away due to complications from coronavirus. Please keep Mayor Garcia in your hearts today and join me in praying that his stepfather, who is currently hospitalized, pulls through.”


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