Garcia's stepfather

Greg and Gabriella O'Donnell on an outing. Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia's stepfather, Greg O'Donnell, has died from coronavirus complications — two weeks after the mayor's mother passed away.

Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia’s stepfather, Greg O’Donnell, has died from coronavirus complications, the city’s elected leader announced Monday, Aug. 10 — two weeks after the mayor lost his mother.

“It’s a heartbreaking loss for our entire family, especially for my brother, Jake,” Garcia said in a written statement. “Greg was a kind and good-hearted man, an amazing father and grandfather, and the best husband our mom could have ever hoped for.”

Garcia announced on July 13 that both his mother, Gabriella O’Donnell, and his stepfather were in the hospital with the coronavirus and on ventilators.

The mayor’s mother, who immigrated with Garcia from Peru when he was 5 years old, died July 26. She was 61 years old.

Greg O’Donnell, 58, died on Sunday, Aug. 9, one day after his wife’s memorial service, Garcia said.

Gabriella and Greg O’Donnell, Whittier residents, were married for 27 years.

“As my family is just broken with the loss of my parents,” Jacob O’Donnell, Garcia’s half-brother, said in a Facebook post, “I find comfort in knowing that they are together again — free of any pain or suffering.”

For Garcia, the death of his mother and stepfather has brought personal grief at a time when he’s had to lead Long Beach through the coronavirus pandemic, both as the face of the public health response and as the city’s mourner-in-chief — with 183 residents having now died from coronavirus-related complications.

Because Garcia’s mother and stepfather were Whittier residents, their deaths are counted among Los Angeles County’s total lives lost, but not Long Beach’s. As of Monday, 4,996 people had died from coronavirus-related causes in Los Angeles County.

Barbara Ferrer, LA County’s public health director, referenced the death of Garcia’s parents while illustrating the toll the pandemic has taken during a Monday afternoon briefing. She also noted that while the vast majority of those who have died had underlying conditions, 8% — or about 400 people — did not.

“Everyone needs to take care of themselves,” Ferrer said, “and all of the people who they interact with.”

Garcia, meanwhile, has stressed throughout the pandemic the need to have compassion for those who have died and are currently fighting the disease — while working as a community to stem the coronavirus’s spread.

“Every single one of them has a family, and they all deserve our love and respect,” Garcia told the Press-Telegram the week his mother died, referring to the Long Beach’s residents who have also lost their lives. “There are others struggling and fighting for their lives. We’re making progress, 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.”

He said these were difficult times.

“But when I signed on as mayor,” Garcia said, “I signed on for the good times and the hard times."

On Monday, as news of Greg O’Donnell’s death circulated, other Long Beach officials noted Garcia’s special position as both public leader and grieving son during the pandemic.

“My heart goes out to the mayor. I can’t imagine the heartache and pain he’s dealing with right now,” Eighth District Councilman Al Austin said. “The city family will work together to pick up the slack around him.”

Daryl Supernaw, the city’s Fourth District councilman, expressed sympathy for both Garcia and his half-brother, noting the city also works with Jacob O’Donnell, a field deputy for state Sen. Lena Gonzalez.

“I can’t imagine what he’s going through,” Supernaw said. “It’s just tragic.

"(Being mayor) is such a tough job to begin with, and then tragedy hits,” he added. “The city family will continue to come together over this.”

Gonzalez, who served as the First District council member for Long Beach — Garcia’s first elected post before becoming mayor — prior to winning election to the state Senate, said via Twitter that she was “saddened” by the loss.

“I don’t even have words, just so saddened again by this loss for our Senate family member Jacob & Mayor @RobertGarciaLB,” she wrote via Twitter. “Our Senate team & friends are here for you both & the whole family.”

Gabriella O’Donnell — who, along with Garcia — did not speak English when arriving in the U.S. and settling in the San Gabriel Valley. But she supported her son through every step of his academic and political careers, from making cookies for students when he ran for and won the student presidency at Cal State Long Beach, to receiving his doctorate in education there — to his first City Council election in 2009.

Garcia’s mother, who was a healthcare worker at City of Hope in West Covina, also attended the mayor’s State of the City speeches each year.

Her proudest moment, Garcia said recently, was when she became an American citizen.

“She taught me and my brother to love your country and always give back to the country that gave you citizenship,” Garcia told the Press-Telegram recently. “She came to the United States in search of the American Dream, and she found it.”

While Greg O’Donnell, a contractor and small business owner for 33 years, wasn’t as publicly present in Garcia’s political career, he was a loving husband and father, both the mayor and Jacob O’Donnell said.

Greg and Gabriella O’Donnell married in 1993, after the she divorced her husband — Garcia’s father — who lives in Las Vegas.

Jacob O’Donnell, in his Facebook statement, recalled a story about his parents’ relationship.

When they began dating, Jacob O’Donnell said, his father asked his mother if she was “for real.” What he meant, Jacob O’Donnell said, was that “my mom was such a good person that my father was in disbelief that he had met someone so special and so genuinely endearing.

“This is also true of my father,” Jacob O’Donnell said. “He had a heart of gold.”

Garcia, for his part, did not join Long Beach’s twice-a-week coronavirus press conference on Monday. He also bowed out of the press conference the day he announced his mother’s death, but returned for the following one and has continued leading the city — and tried to provide both realism and comfort to his community.

“These are tough times, really the hardest,” Garcia told the Press-Telegram, “but we will get through them.”

Former Long Beach Mayors Beverly O’Neill and Bob Foster on Monday touted Garcia’s leadership, even while grieving for his parents.

“Knowing Robert,” said O’Neill, who called Garcia a “true leader” after his mother died, “I know that he will have the courage and strength to continue with his leadership of Long Beach during these difficult times.”

Foster, for his part, said he hopes Garcia takes time to grieve and work through his loss.

“It is so tragic and devastating to lose both parents like this, especially in such a short time,” Foster added. “Robert is very dedicated to his job as mayor, and I know he will continue to be a great leader of this city.”

Harry Saltzgaver contributed to this report.

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