It’s a precious gift when you meet someone that has an undeniable positive impact on your life. Buddy Rabaya was one of these gifts to the people of Santee and the East County region. At the age of 58, we lost Rabaya on April 28 from difficulties linked to a hemorrhagic stroke, after he was hospitalized on March 25. This was devastating news to those who knew him and the unique support that he and his husband John Hossick was as inspiring as the work that Rabaya accomplished in his many roles as a community activist. Known for his “Buddy Bear Hugs,” hundreds posted signs, displayed teddy bears in their windows, porches and front yards as everyone hoped for his speedy recovery in the midst of the COVID-19 stay at home orders.
No one could gather together for comfort and even those closest to him could not visit. Many, including me, browsed daily on Facebook to see the impacts that Rabaya had on so many people as they demonstrated in the best ways that they could share their heartfelt memories, support his family and each other in the midst of these unprecedented times. But this also showed that distance is not a barrier when it comes to love and respect for each other.
As the president of the Santee Mobilehome Owners Action Committee, Rabaya not only advocated for mobilehome tenants’ rights, his love for seniors in the community were evident with the many altruistic community projects such as SMOAC Elves Adopt-a-Senior program, Easter baskets to families in need, filling food pantries for local communities within Santee and so much more. He never took credit for his leadership, but always expressed his love for the undeniable support of his husband John, his right-hand man in life and the projects that they worked on together as a family and the community to make Santee a better place for people of all ages. But the community recognized the sincerity of Rabaya’s actions and out of many of his acclamations, the Santee Chamber of Commerce presented him the distinguished honor of the 2018 Citizen of the Year. These recognitions were welcomed, but not a necessity of need for gain or fame, as Rabaya’s unceasing work originated from the heart.
Obstacles and the word “can’t” were not a part of his vocabulary. He sincerely believed that anything needed was a possible gain with a united community on any cause. He lived this personal mantra every single day from large projects to listening to a person that needed a compassionate ear. But he not only listened, he learned, he thought and then he acted. And his actions always superseded his words because they proved that his convictions to the community were authentic, not actions for public recognition, self-pride or his reputation. They all stemmed from the depths of his heart and his desire to make a difference, whether it was only one person or a large group of individuals.
The love, compassion, empathy and joy that he brought to us, and the life lessons that we learned from him are still here. They remain in our hearts. And it is already evident that those who loved and respected Rabaya are committed to carrying on his labor’s of love that influenced the lives of so many. As it should be.
I’m not one who believes in goodbye’s. Even in death. The many wonderful things that I have learned and implemented in my life from loved ones, friends and mentors lives inside of me every day. Goodnight Buddy.
Fulcher is managing editor of The East County Californian.