Taking your driver’s test is a rite of passage. But if you’re like most people, you might not remember much about it except maybe the parallel parking. And you probably don’t even remember the person sitting in the seat next to you with their foot hovering over the emergency brake pedal.
That is, unless you grew up in Juneau in the last 20 years, where many teenagers took their driving test with Reynaldo Caparas, known to most as Uncle Rey.
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Caparas’ daughter, Marina Banks, says that of all the things her dad was to her and to the community, he would really love to be remembered as “the DMV guy.”
Caparas was born in 1955 in Manila, Philippines. When he was a young man in his 20s he got a job on a cruise ship, first as a line cook and then as an entertainer.
“Oh my gosh,” Banks said. “My dad had a very strong voice. I would say my dad was an alto kind of singer. And he just loved the spotlight for sure.”
After a few years of visiting Juneau on the ship, he decided to immigrate. Banks says that was partly because there were so many Filipinos in the community already, but mostly because he met his wife Melba and decided to stay and start a family.
In the 1980s and 1990s, he worked at hotels around town and at the ticket counter for Delta Airlines. He had a gift for customer service. He got energy from helping people.
He eventually landed a job with the state at the DMV, where he worked for 20 years making people laugh in one of the most unlikely places.
Banks said the family got their dad a fart machine one year.
“And he brought it into the DMV,” she said. “And he would place it in random spots in the office when there was like a long line. And my dad had the little remote and he would like play it, and it sounded like someone farted in the corner. And my dad thought that was so, so funny.”
He retired from the DMV at the end of April and spent his time at the other place a lot of people knew him from: the gym. He was a regular at the Alaska Club in the valley. Even in his 60s he would play basketball with high school kids, telling them he would live to be 100.
That’s where he was when he collapsed in mid-May. According to one family member, he told the paramedics that he hadn’t had a chance to enjoy his retirement yet. But he died later at the hospital of a pulmonary embolism. And that’s been hard for the family to swallow because he was so healthy.
About 10 years ago, his daughter says, he started eating really healthy. He stopped eating pork and white rice — staples of Filipino food. He switched to brown rice and fish, and he exercised a lot.
Caparas had COVID-19 earlier this year, and Banks, who is a nurse, thinks maybe that contributed to the blood clot that killed him.
“From all the things I’ve read, COVID has shown to kind of mess with the clotting factor in the blood,” she said. “And it’s just crazy, because my dad was so healthy. And I think that’s why most of us are just so, so devastated. And just so in disbelief because my dad was the healthiest person we know.”
But there’s some comfort in blaming COVID for his death, she says. It’s just something to kind of explain the suddenness of it, which is so hard to process.
In the Filipino Catholic tradition, mourners pray with the body for nine days. The Caparas family didn’t do that, exactly. Instead they hosted two days of long viewings, where dozens of people came to pay their respects.
But after the viewings, Marina says the strangest thing happened. The family came home and the room filled with the scent of flowers and her dad’s cologne. She says he always wore way too much, but it made the smell unmistakable.
“And so my mom would just sit in there and talk to my dad, you know, let him know that we’re here,” she said.
By morning the smell would be gone, but it returned the next night when they got back from the viewing. Banks says that since they are not ready to let him go, they will hold on to him this way until even the scent of him has moved on.
Reynaldo Caparas died on May 16, 2022. He was 66 years old. He leaves behind his wife, six children and eight grandchildren.
This story is part of KTOO’s participation in the America Amplified initiative to use community engagement to inform and strengthen our journalism. America Amplified is a public media initiative funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.