Robert “Bobby” Salazar, the unofficial mayor of Aptos who served as security guard and maintenance man for Aptos High School for more than four decades, and who was known for his ever-present smile and exhortations for everyone he met to “keep smiling,” died March 17 after a battle with cancer. He was 62.
Born on Jan. 22, 1957 in Las Vegas, New Mexico, Salazar was one of seven siblings raised by a single mother and was considered a “rebellious youth,” said his daughter Melissa Salazar.
All of this likely led to his passion for helping people, particularly troubled youth and teens, she said.
“He probably saw himself in them,” she said. “He always told us, ‘learn from my lessons.’”
Salazar’s rebellious nature changed when he hitchhiked to California and soon thereafter met Rebecca, the woman who would become his wife.
“It was the day he changed his life,” Melissa Salazar said, adding that she liked to tease her father about his lifelong penchant for writing “mushy” love letters for his wife, and for gestures such as bringing her little gifts and coffee in bed.
The couple frequently took walks along Rio Del Mar Beach, she said. They would have celebrated their 43rd wedding anniversary on May 20.
At the same time Salazar met Rebecca, he began working for Aptos High School, where he lived with his wife in a mobile home. There, he was known for his friendly greetings and for being the first smile many people saw during the day, said AHS Principal Peggy Pughe.
“Bobby was a Mariner through and through,” she said. “The most genuine person. He had a smile and a laugh for every single person he ever met.”
Salazar was also known among the staff for participating in the school’s dress-up days, and it was not unusual for him to sing to them over the walkie-talkie radios, Pughe said.
A member of California School Employees Local 132, Salazar served as president for several years and became known as a caring and effective leader.
“He was amazing,” said current CSEA President Leticia Oropeza. “He never had a bad thing to say about anyone, and he always made a negative into a positive.”
Recently, Salazar said he had gone to the Safeway grocery store in Aptos wearing pajamas and a robe, “just to get a rise out of people,” Oropeza said.
“We laughed and laughed at that,” she said.
The Aptos Chamber of Commerce named Salazar as a Community Hero in 2015.
He volunteered and helped organizations such as the California Highway Patrol, Aptos/La Selva Fire, Cabrillo College and many athletic groups, including the Aptos Sports Foundation.
Pajaro Valley Unified School District Trustee Kim DeSerpa, whose trustee area includes Aptos High School called Salazar, “one of the finest individuals I’ve had the honor to work with and know.”
“Bobby made everyone a friend,” DeSerpa said. “I and many, many others will miss his positivity and kind spirit.”
A steadfast worker, Salazar stayed on the job until about a month before his death, Oropeza said.
Even confined to bed, he received visitors and dispensed advice, and posted on Facebook about how wonderful life is, she said.
And that, Melissa Salazar said, was the nature of her father, who frequently gave money or food to homeless people, and helped with fundraisers such as Relay For Life.
“He was always there for everyone, no matter what,” she said. “He was always putting people above himself. Even in his last moments he was more worried about me and my mom.”
“He is one of those rare people who is a saint among people,” she said. “He never did it for recognition.”
A rosary for Salazar will be held March 29 at 1 p.m. at Mehl’s Colonial Chapel in Watsonville. A celebration of life will be on March 30 at 11 a.m. at Aptos High School.