Obdulio De León was constantly looking for ways to make others’ lives better, family and friends said. He mentored kids, volunteered as an emergency medical technician, was a Guardian Angel and flew to Guatemala and Peru to assist in earthquake relief.
"He was the person always taking care of everybody else," said Kristin Conway De León, his wife of nearly seven years.
De León died Friday of colon cancer. He was 46. In addition to Conway De León, he leaves behind three children: Mateo, 16, Ava, 10 and Quinn, 5.
De León lived in Lake Grove for the past two years but spent most of his life in Brentwood and did most of his volunteer work there and in surrounding communities.
De León was born in Guatemala City and, at age 11, immigrated to Long Island with his mother Blanca, now 85, and brother Melvin, now 59, and a sister, Shirley, who died about 20 years ago, Conway De León said. His father died in Guatemala last year.
The family first lived in Hempstead and later moved to Brentwood. When he arrived at Brentwood High School, "immediately he got involved," said Marvin Jaime-Vasquez, who had been close friends with De León since high school.
He cofounded Latinos en Acción, a club for Latino students, and a Spanish-language student radio program, Jaime-Vasquez said.
"He wanted to make sure that we experienced being heard…so we could empower ourselves," he said.
De León did not speak English when he arrived, and his mother, a nurse in Guatemala but a home health aide on Long Island, struggled to make ends meet, said Luisa Lojan, who is Mateo's mother and De León's former partner for seven years.
But "Oby," as family and friends called him, persevered, Lojan said.
"He went to college and got his master’s and did really well," she said. "He said that at the end of the day, if you keep pushing yourself, things are possible."
The master’s, in international business, is from Hofstra University, and the bachelor’s in business administration is from St. Joseph’s College. He worked as a bank compliance officer.
Lojan is executive director of The Knowledge Project, a nonprofit De León helped found in 2017 that provides mentoring and college scholarships for Brentwood High students and, pre-pandemic, brought speakers to the school.
De León saw himself in those students, and that was one reason he was so driven to help them, she said.
Lojan said that when she dated De León, volunteer work "was all he would do on the weekends," and he often invited her to come with him to help.
"I'm very involved in the community now, and I can say that comes from him," she said.
De León also was an integral part of Teatro Yerbabruja, a nonprofit arts center that began in Brentwood and is now in Bay Shore.
"He understood the need and importance of embracing our art as Latinos, to perform in our language, to celebrate our own," said Margarita Espada, the theater’s founder and executive director.
He acted in plays such as a 2009 bilingual production of "What Killed Marcelo Lucero?" based on the 2008 anti-Latino murder of the Ecuadorian immigrant in Patchogue, and did "whatever we needed," including building props, Espada said.
Lojan and Conway De León said their children are "devastated" by their father’s death. But his values and the example he set will live on with them, they said.
"My daughter said to me, ‘Who’s going to push me now?’ " Conway De León said. " ‘Daddy always pushed me to be a better person.’ "
Visitation is 2 to 4 p.m. and 6 to 8 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday at Michael J. Grant Funeral Home in Brentwood.