When Jesus Collazos met his future wife at a party 50 years ago in Cali, Colombia, the first thing he did was ask her to hold his watch. He wanted her to keep it safe overnight so he could visit her the next day.

“He said he was worried he’d get robbed,” Luz Collazos said. “That was an excuse for him to come see me.”

About a decade later, he and Luz immigrated to the United States and settled in Arlington, Va., where he spent 25 years as a postal worker. They raised a family in a home he bought after admiring it on his delivery route.

On June 6, about a year into his retirement, he died of covid-19 at 67. He was battling chronic health issues and was vulnerable to the illness, his family said, but they aren’t sure where he contracted the coronavirus.

“We limited our contact with people,” said his son, Michael Collazos. “We sprayed our shoes whenever we came in from being out. . . . We’re baffled by what happened.”

Jesus Collazos was born in 1953 in Cali’s Barrio Obrero, a poor neighborhood he would leave for opportunities in the United States. His daughter, Vanessa Collazos, said his stories about his childhood showed the great poverty he overcame.

In high school, he organized a project with classmates in which each tried to teach three people in the neighborhood how to read.

“My dad always reminded me that, as a child, whenever he had a hole in his shoes, he would put a piece of cardboard inside as a sole, since his family could not afford to buy him a new pair,” Vanessa wrote in an email. “Stories like these gave me a whole new appreciation for the little things that are so easy to take for granted in life.”

Jesus had studied accounting, but he left Colombia for Virginia in 1978 to begin working as a taxi driver and a hotel valet. He briefly returned to Colombia in 1980 to marry Luz, but she couldn’t join him in the United States until he was injured in a fire months later and a doctor wrote the U.S. Embassy in Colombia, asking that her visa be approved so she could help him recover.

Luz said her husband’s career at the post office began after a hotel co-worker gave him a blank job application. On a whim, he filled it out and he got the job, reveling in his contact with customers on the route.

He would recommend contractors for home repair, change lightbulbs or adjust television antennas, Luz said. He answered Santa Claus letters that children wrote before Christmas.

Buying a house on the route was “our American Dream,” Luz said. Jesus chose a home in dire need of repair, persuading the seller to select his family over other would-be buyers who were offering more money.

Once the house was renovated and the family moved in, Luz said, her husband could boast that he was his own mail carrier. When he was promoted to a supervisory position, he demoted himself after a month, preferring the social circuit that came with delivery.

“He was a staple in the community,” Michael said. “If anybody needed anything, they knew to go to my dad. . . . He was basically the middle man.”

After retiring last year, Jesus enjoyed time with his twin grandsons and granddaughter. Earlier this year he found a lump in his neck and was diagnosed with lymphoma.

Before his treatment began, he went to the hospital in May with a fever. He died of coronavirus-related complications at George Washington University Hospital just weeks after Luz’s brother died of covid-19 in Colombia.

At the Arlington home that was the center of his universe, hundreds of condolence cards are on display — an outpouring of support from the community he spent his adult life serving.

“He did so much for us,” Vanessa said. “We’re picking up the pieces.”