The virus, he told his constituents, was serious.
In nearby West Covina, Garcia’s mother, Gabriella O’Donnell, was also battling the coronavirus — as a medical assistant in the clinic where she had worked for more than 25 years. She was, the mayor said, “a healthcare hero.”
But at some point, the family doesn’t know when, Gabriella and her husband, Gregory O’Donnell, became infected. On July 13, Garcia announced that his mother and stepfather were hospitalized and on ventilators.
“The covid-19 health crisis is impacting our country, our city and my family,” Garcia said on Twitter. “As a son, and as your mayor, I promise to continue to lead us through this pandemic with resolve and compassion.”
That job would only get more difficult.
On July 26, Gabriella O’Donnell died of complications from covid-19. She was 61.
“She immigrated from Peru to the United States in search of the American Dream — and she found it,” Garcia said of his mother. “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.”
In an interview with Long Beach Press-Telegram public editor Rich Archbold, Garcia said two of his mother’s proudest days came a few years apart, when Garcia and his brother each graduated from California State University at Long Beach. Their family has since established a scholarship there in her honor to assist women and immigrants studying health care.
In the interview, Garcia also said he and his mother shared a fondness for comics and horror films.
“She was a little bit of a nerd, like me,” Garcia said. “She loved going to Comic-Con. She liked reading books about vampires and monsters. And she loved going to movies. We went to a lot of movies and especially liked scary ones.”
On Aug. 9, the day after Garcia’s family held a service for his mother, Gregory O’Donnell, her husband of 27 years, also died after his own fight with the coronavirus. Gregory O’Donnell was 58, stepfather to Garcia and father to Jacob O’Donnell, who memorialized his dad in a Facebook post Monday as “a great man and an amazing person.”
Gregory O’Donnell, Jacob wrote, was a small-business owner for more than three decades, who passed on his sense of humor and his love of Jimi Hendrix and Led Zeppelin.
“As my family is just broken with the loss of my parents,” Jacob O’Donnell wrote in his tribute, “I find comfort in knowing that they are together again — free of any pain or suffering.”
Garcia and his family have received an outpouring of support from political leaders across California and the country. Two days after his mother’s passing, the mayor received a call from former vice president Joe Biden.
“I can’t express enough how much comfort it brought me,” Garcia said in a tweet.
Sen. Kamala D. Harris (D-Calif.), who as the state’s attorney general swore Garcia into office, told him: “My heart breaks for you and your entire family after another devastating loss. May your stepfather and your mother be your guiding light in the years to come.”
In the coming months, Garcia will have to continue to balance personal grief with a city’s anxiety over the virus that is still infecting scores of his constituents.
“We’re making progress,” Garcia said in his interview with the Press-Telegram’s Archbold. “But we have a ways to go, and we shouldn’t let up. We are on the right road, and we will get through this together.”