Orlando Gonzalez was a man of many different trades during his lifetime: clothing salesman, butcher, refrigeration equipment mechanic.
But the one consistency of his life was his dedication to his family. He strove to provide for them financially, but also emotionally, said his daughter, Kim Latkovich, of Manorville.
“Even though he worked hard and was exhausted, he would be the dad who would come home and play with all of us kids,” she said. His dedication continued with his grandchildren, going with them on Boy Scout trips and attending cheerleading practice. “Everything was about the family.”
Gonzalez died May 5 at his Manorville home of respiratory distress caused by pulmonary fibrosis. He was 73.
Born in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico, Gonzalez came to New York when he was 6. He and his family lived in the Bronx and from a young age, Gonzalez was intent on contributing to the household.
At age 10 he was selling paper bags for five cents each, his daughter said. “He was always doing something to help out his family, always,” she said.
Gonzalez attended the Fashion Institute of Technology High School in Manhattan. “He said he liked clothes, he liked to dress well and jokingly, he also said, ‘and there were plenty of girls!’ ” his daughter said.
After graduating, Gonzalez joined the Navy, serving from 1962 to 1966 throughout Europe. After returning to New York, Gonzalez managed an entire floor of clothing for B. Altman & Co., a Manhattan department store. After five years, Gonzalez went on to become a butcher for about 15 years, his daughter said, working out of the Hunts Point Market in the Bronx.
Her father then went to work for another 15 years for Standard Register Co., repairing refrigeration and other equipment.
“Everything was for the family and every paycheck went right to us,” his daughter said. “He taught us all how to work hard and be responsible.”
In the late 1960s Gonzalez met his future wife, Helen, at Orchard Beach in the Bronx. She was skeptical and only gave him her work phone number at first, but the pair eventually began dating and were married in 1969.
The couple had two children and in 1975 moved to Holbrook, where they lived for 30 years. Helen died in 2010 due to complications from Alzheimer’s disease.
Always interested in history and other cultures, Gonzalez pored over National Geographic magazines he collected. A politics vulture, Gonzalez loved to discuss and debate the issues of the day, calling up his relatives on Sundays after the morning news shows to hash out the day’s topics.
Gonzalez enjoyed fishing, buying all the best equipment and heading out to Great South Bay. Problem was, his daughter said, Gonzalez was a horrible fisherman.
“It was a running joke in our family,” she said, laughing. “He never caught anything good. He hooked a seagull once, a dead baby shark, garbage.”
Gonzalez could take the ribbing, said his nephew Damien Petzold of Queens, who recalled Gonzalez’s infectious laugh, which often broke out as Gonzalez was telling a joke. Petzold also remembered Gonzalez’s warm embrace and how he served as a father figure to him.
“He treated me and my cousins like we were his own sons,” he said. “He was a great example of what a family man should be.”
Gonzalez is also survived by son David Gonzalez of Middle Island; brothers Angelo Diaz of Las Vegas, and Ray Gonzalez of Glen Burnie, Maryland; sisters Maria Rosado-Gonzalez of Middletown, New York, Nieves Rodriguez-Gonzalez of Howard Beach, and Celia Gonzalez of Brooklyn; and three grandchildren.
Gonzalez was buried at Calverton National Cemetery.