Benigno Perez, Jr. always had a smile on his face and a tune in his heart. He loved to hum everywhere he went, and it was usually an old doo-wop tune or something from Motown.
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Diego Felix adored his grandfather. In fact, the 13-year-old wrote a lengthy email to NY1, telling us how he had lost one of his heroes to coronavirus.
Perez was battling metastatic esophageal cancer when he tested positive for COVID-19. The 74-year-old, whom everyone called Benny, died a few days later.
"It was just really sweet. He was just being really optimistic. Always looking forward to stuff," recalled Felix.
Perez's family said he was passionate about a lot of things including camping, history, and the Yankees, but most of all he loved them.
"I had a lot of special moments with him. Just him taking me to the pool, picking me up and taking me to school when I was a little kid. Just going to museums together and talking about video games, watching Yankee games," said Felix. "All of it was great and they’ll always hold a special place in my heart."
"It’s pretty shocking if you think about it," he continued. "I didn’t even believe it. It was almost like a sick joke when I first heard that he died. I’m in disbelief. He was such a good person and I feel bad that he had to go."
Perez was a Vietnam veteran. He was was born in Puerto Rico, but moved to the city as a child. He joined the Marines when he was 18 and after an honorable discharge he went into the printing business, where he worked as a lithographer for 40 years until his retirement in 2008.
Perez's daughters said he taught them how to find their inner strength.
"He was a strong person, he was a hard worker, he was positive," said his daughter, Jennifer Minca-Felix. "He was someone who taught us to go for whatever we wanted in life and not be afraid."
He's also being remembered as a good husband and friend in the Kew Gardens neighborhood where he lived for more than 45 years. His wife, who was his caretaker, is also battling the virus and many are praying for her, and for the day they can all hug and console each other over this loss.