Mario Chavez embodied having a tough exterior and soft inner soul. He grew up as a “bad boy” in his home province Pangil in the Philippines, stirring up trouble and mischief; that is, until his mother called for him, at which point he would drop everything and head home, no matter where he was or what he was doing.
He carried that duality throughout his life. A lifelong fan of classic and muscle cars, he loved to test their engines on freeways and when no one was looking, city streets. Yet inside the confines of the vehicle, he was always playing romantic ballads and love songs with zeal.
Mario gravitated toward those songs in part because he found the love of his life early, as a teenager when he met Herminia. He took to her immediately and never stopped doting on her for almost half a century. When Hermie was studying at nursing college, he would wait around all day to watch over her, to the point where he befriended her friends and classmates because he was spending just as much time on campus as they were.
He and Hermie were a pair from then on. They made their way to the United States, starting with a modest life in a basement apartment in New York. Life took them to San Jose, where Hermie continued ascending in the nursing world, and Mario made a careers in the sprouting tech industry, then in airplane maintenance with American Airlines, before helping form the family business in health care.
Mario was driven in his work because of his passion and devotion to his children, Vanessa and Michael, committing to giving them a better life than he had. The way he watched over his wife carried on to his kids, and no graveyard shift could stop him from mustering the energy to drive them back and forth from school, and providing them the life for them he always envisioned.
Still, through all the hard work, Mario knew how to enjoy life. Sometimes it was about driving fast, sometimes it was about having a generous pour of Grand Marnier in his hand. Other times it was entertaining his friends with his trademark cavalier and brash wit. He had an uncanny ability to unleash a searing wisecrack or deliver a joke -- none of which are actually publishable -- that no one else could pull off without suffering real consequences, and with his earnest smile, you somehow felt embraced by the end of it.
In recent years, a lot of the enjoyment he experienced came from his five grandchildren, with whom he exhibited a newfound patience and shared a special bond. They adored their Lolo.
And even when Mario finally felt that he and his family had made it, it wasn’t enough. When he was a youth, he would take his friends to the movies on the allowance he was given, and snuck into the theater because it was more important to him that his friends were taken care of. Later on, every year he would send boxes of gifts and sundries he bought and gathered over the year to ensure that relatives and friends back in the Philippines could enjoy some of the comforts that he had worked hard to secure in the United States.
In the last decade of his life, he took that generosity to the highest level he could: Each year on his birthday on November 8, he would take money he might normally spend to celebrate and instead paid to feed 700 needy families in his home province.
In the end, he never stopped fighting for his family. In fact, that love for family is why he fought for four years against the illness that would ultimately take him from this world, to maximize the moments he had with them. Now he rests, assured that his sly grin, generous spirit and passion for life will live on in the minds and hearts of everyone he touched.
Romeo Mario Manalo Chavez is survived by Herminia Chavez, his wife of 44 years; daughter Vanessa and her spouse Ryan Ringo, and their daughter Gabby; son Michael and his spouse Christina Chavez, and their four children, Marcus, Mirabelle, Miranda and Mason. He is preceded in death by his father, mother and two brothers.
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