Longtime Paso Robles school board member and community activist Joe Quiroz died Monday morning at Mission View Health Center in San Luis Obispo.
Quiroz, 64, who served 31 years as a program manager and gang specialist with the California Youth Authority, suffered a stroke in December 2010 and had suffered from health complications since.
During the 1980s, when graffiti and a handful of gang-related homicides hit the North County, police sought Quiroz’s advice because he worked with gang-member wards at the youth facility.
Quiroz, who resided in Paso Robles, worked with the Paso Robles Police Department and city government on fighting the gang problem and gave talks to the community in English and Spanish.
Quiroz’s goal, he said, was to teach kids at a young age to stay away from gangs.
Active in organizing local Hispanics in community programs, Quiroz played a key role in the development of a county Latino leadership program called Vision Unida and the Latino Outreach Council.
He also volunteered in the Red Cross disaster relief and traveled throughout the United States — including Southern communities devastated by Hurricane Katrina.
Quiroz also helped start a Cinco de Mayo celebration in Paso Robles with Rich Benitez, a former Paso Robles school district administrator.
“Joe was a high-energy guy,” said Benitez, a close friend and collaborator in several programs. “He was always ready to go, ready to participate, ready to take a leadership role.”
Benitez fondly recalled attending a Los Angeles Dodgers game with his friend in which Quiroz brought a backpack full of supplies — including a glove and radio to listen to Vin Scully broadcast the game.
In 2005, Quiroz overcame complications from a liver transplant that led to a build-up of scar tissue and knotted intestines, requiring two surgeries at Stanford.
That year, at the age of 57, Quiroz continued to serve on the local school board from his hospital room at Stanford Medical Center, communicating through a teleconference system.
Quiroz credited his then-fiancee, Suze, for helping him through a difficult year by changing bandages and staying at the Stanford hospital with him. He called her “my angel and my rock” in a Tribune article. They married in 2005.
Suze Quiroz said she met Joe at a candlelight party in 2000 hosted by mutual friends and initially ignored his advances, thinking he was already married.
“But my friend later found out he didn’t have anybody in his life,” Quiroz said. “Shortly after that, he called me and asked to go to the movies. I said OK, but I was so nervous I couldn’t remember my address for him to pick me up.”
On another date, they heard the song “At Last,” and that became their song. In recent days, they heard the tune on the radio again and exchanged vows of “I love you,” Suze Quiroz said.
“He was a good family man,” Suze Quiroz said. “He was a good man.”