March 21, 2023


Delighting home maniacs

A singing custodian who played Santa for Christmas

A singing custodian who played Santa for Christmas

This story is part of an on-going Miami Herald series chronicling the lives of South Florida COVID-19 victims.

Tomas Edmundo Lopez was so full of life that he’d sing and dance every day at his job as a custodian at The Mandelstam School.

“He was much more than an employee,” said Rod Mandelstam, a founder of the school. “He was one of the most beautiful people I’ve ever met, an angel of a person.”

Nicknamed “el bon bon” when he was younger, Lopez often boasted about how he lived his life to the fullest. He completed his dream of traveling to Europe earlier in the year before passing away at age 61 from complications from COVID-19 on May 1.

Lopez was born in Pinar del Rio, Cuba, to Tereza Rivero and Juan Octavio Lopez on November 16, 1958. He was one of seven children. He worked as a Spanish teacher in Cuba, and in 1982, had his only daughter, Dunia Lopez, with Odalys Cruz.

He immigrated to Miami in his late 20s with his mother, father, and some of his siblings. He began working as a custodian after arriving and spent over a decade working for the Mandelstam School, a small private school in South Miami.

“Everyone at the school knew him and loved him,” said Deen Camacho, director of theater and gymnastics at the school.

For Christmas, Tomas Lopez would dress up as Santa for the school. It was his favorite holiday, and something he expressed by decorating every section of his house with decorations.

“He was the kind of person that at Christmas-time, every room in his house had lights,” said Mandelstam. “From the bathroom to the kitchen, to the living room to the outside.”

He had three grandchildren: María Cruz, Melissa Cruz and Jesús Cruz. Maria Cruz said she will continue the tradition of decorating the entire house since it is something she and her grandfather did together.”

“We will all miss everything about him but the most we will miss is his smile and his cheer,” she said.

Laura Antunez, a Florida International University journalism student, wrote this story for the Miami Herald.