Rafael Perez, a strong advocate for the needs of the Hispanic community and retired director of Hispanics United, died Tuesday after suffering a heart attack in Los Tainos Senior Center, Buffalo, of which he had once been executive director. He was 65.
Born in Fajardo, Puerto Rico, he came to the United States at age 17. Not knowing any English, he settled for jobs washing dishes and running elevators until he obtained his general education diploma.
Mr. Perez went on to earn a bachelor's degree in Spanish and speech communication from the University at Buffalo.
Mr. Perez, an artist and poet, had been director of the Spanish Action League, a writer/columnist for La Panorama Hispano newspaper and a radio announcer on WXRL.
He served in the Army from 1961 to 1963.
Among his many honors was the community service award in 1996 from the First Hispanic Conference of Western New York.
He worked for Hispanics United in the early 1990s before becoming a counselor on HIV and drug addiction for the state Health Department.
After retiring from the Health Department in 2000, Mr. Perez went back to work in the housing department of Hispanics United and became executive director of Los Tainos Senior Center.
Survivors, all of Buffalo, include his wife of more than 30 years, Nivian Rodriquez-Perez; two daughters, Maria Perez-Gomez and Victoria Perez-Maggilo; two sons, Rafael J. and Victor M.; his mother, Dolores Mojer of Buffalo; and four grandchildren.
A Mass of Christian Burial was offered Friday in Holy Cross Catholic Church. Burial was in Lakeside Cemetery, Town of Hamburg.