Tribute For Waldemar Gonzalez, Social Worker Who Drew on His Own Hard Life, Dies at 72

This obituary is part of a series about people who have died in the coronavirus pandemic. Read about others here.

Waldemar Gonzalez was an angry young man who turned his life around: completed college and graduate school, had a career as a teacher and social worker, became “Dad 2.0,” as his children called him — calmer, less aggressive and demanding, easier on himself and others.

It was a life that began in poverty with an alcoholic disciplinarian father who committed suicide. It ended in comfortable semiretirement in a suburban house, with six children who had all completed college or more, a second marriage to a superb dance partner, and a fitness regimen designed to vanquish mortality.

The novel coronavirus took all of that away. Toward the end of March, both he and his wife, Jackie Arandes, were found to have the virus. She recovered; he went on a ventilator at White Plains Hospital and died on April 24, three weeks after their wedding anniversary, his children said. He was 72.

Mr. Gonzalez was born on Jan. 18, 1948, in Yauco, Puerto Rico. His father, Marcos, worked a variety of jobs; his mother, Rosaura Casiano, concentrated on the four children.

The family moved to a small apartment in the Bronx when Waldemar, the third child, was 5 or 6. Orsini, his younger brother, remembered Waldemar getting in trouble for cutting school in junior high.

“Waldemar was a restless soul,” Orsini said. “His saving grace was trombone and also sports.”

Waldemar played basketball at Morris High School in the Bronx and then at Bronx Community College and the City College of New York, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in English in 1969. He got his master’s in social work from Hunter College in Manhattan in 1988.

He married his high school girlfriend, Mildred Cruz, in March 1970, when he was 22. The couple had two sons, Rodrigo and Ariel, before divorcing a decade later. “That was devastating to him,” Orsini Gonzalez said.

By the time he met Ms. Arandes, a teacher, at a salsa dance in 1987, Mr. Gonzalez had a daughter, Aitza, and a direction for his pent-up energies, working with children and in community groups.

Three more children followed — Julian, Andres and Leah — and a big fixer-upper house in the Bronx, where he added a basketball court and a garden.

Dad 1.0 had been intensely demanding of his children, pushing them never to experience the poverty of his early years. But the second marriage softened him, his children said. The family moved to Hastings-on-Hudson, N.Y., just north of the city, in 2006. Even then, “He was working two jobs and coaching, working really late,” Ms. Gonzalez said.

He worked as a social worker and administrator in public schools before becoming chairperson of the committee on special education at the Mount Pleasant Cottage School in Westchester County, and after he retired he still counseled very young children with autism a few days a week. He was fastidious about his health — the rare owner of a Bowflex exercise machine who actually used it.

But his efforts to avoid exposure to the coronavirus were not enough. The hardest part, his children said, was that he had done everything to have a big family around him but that at the end he was alone because of the quarantine. Along with his wife and his brother Orsini, he is survived by his six children; two sisters, Trinidad and Judith Gonzalez; and eight grandchildren.

“He would want people to know that he was a brilliant man, that he believed in hard work and unconditional love,” Ms. Gonzalez said.

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