Robert E. Garcia Jr., a 1940s welterweight pugilist and World War II veteran who is in the Maryland Boxing Hall of Fame Ring 101, died May 24 of the coronavirus at Northwest Hospital in Randallstown. The Lochearn resident was 95.
“My uncle was always kidding around and a real jokester," said Larry Redemann, a nephew, who lives in Dundalk’s St. Helena neighborhood. “Whenever I went to see him at Augsburg Lutheran Home and Village, he’d say, ‘Did you bring any women?' He was just a lighthearted guy.”
Robert Edlberto Garcia Jr., son of Robert E. Garcia Sr., a distillery worker who was also a boxer, and his wife, Ruth Loman Garcia, a Hecht Co.-May Co. department store sales associate, was born in Baltimore and raised in St. Helena. He was descended from Native Americans and Mexican indigenous people.
He attended Baltimore County public schools.
Mr. Garcia followed his father, who was known as the “Mexican Wildcat,” into the ring when he made his boxing debut in 1941.
“Thursday night a tall, skinny kid will climb through the ropes at Carlin’s Arena for one of the four-round preliminaries, and when his name is announced it will bring back memories to old-timers of one of the fightingest scrappers ever to climb through the ropes around here,” The Sun reported.
“The kid is 17-year-old Bobby Garcia, a 5-foot-eight-inch lightweight and his dad was Bob Garcia, who fought around here after the last war. Bob senior quit the ring long ago, but the youngster is making his professional debut. When some of the fight fans who were following the game in the Twenties see the kid they will even see a resemblance between him and his father, who was a top-ranking featherweight in these parts and everywhere else that he fought.”
The son’s manager, Pete Jagodzinski, who was known in local fight circles as “Polish Pete,” told the newspaper, "The kid has always wanted to become a scrapper.”
As an amateur, Mr. Garcia had 35 fights and won 32 of them. “The one thing that shows most promise about his make-up are his hands. They are big boned and stringy looking,” The Sun observed.
He won his first fight Nov. 13, 1941, in a knockout against Robert Taylor at Carlin’s Park’s arena.
Mr. Garcia enlisted in the Army in 1943 and served in Guam with an ordnance unit and attained the rank of private. While he was in the service, he kept boxing and was “keeping his hand in by engaging in ring tests,” The Sun reported in a 1943 article.
In addition to bouts at Carlin’s and the Coliseum in Baltimore, during his career, Mr. Garcia fought in such legendry venues as New York’s St. Nicholas Arena, Hamid’s Million Dollar Pier in Atlantic City, New Jersey, Turner’s Arena in Washington, and the National Hall and Civic Auditorium, both in San Francisco.
He lost the last two of his 38 professional fights to Buddy Jackson and Dave Castilloux in 1947 in the Arena in Trenton, New Jersey. His record was 32 wins and six losses, with half his victories being knockouts.
His father, who was a 45-year-old distillery worker when killed by a runaway railroad boxcar, was inducted into Maryland Boxing Hall of Fame Ring 101 in 1974. When Mr. Garcia was entered the hall in 1991, they were the first father and son inducted.
After retiring from the ring, Mr. Garcia worked as a long-distance truck driver for Anchor Freight Lines until retiring in 1979.
He and his wife of 58 years, the former Frances Smith, a longtime M&T Bank teller who had lived in Woodlawn, enjoyed traveling across the country in their motor home and camping. She died in 2016.
Several years ago, Mr. Garcia moved to the Augsburg Lutheran Home and Village in Lochearn, where he lived independently.
The one fight Mr. Garcia couldn’t win was against the COVID-19 pandemic.
Mr. Redemann and his sister, Ruth Redemann of Dundalk, went to visit their uncle May 6. It was the last time they had any physical contact with him.
“He did suffer from a slight onset of dementia, but he knew who me and my sister were,” Mr. Redemann said. “He was talking about things we did as kids but couldn’t remember that we had taken him out for steamed crabs the previous weekend. He’d say, ‘When are we going out for crabs?’ He just couldn’t remember the present."
Then one night, the phone rang at midnight.
“A nurse called on Mother’s Day evening and said he had a fever and they were calling 911 because it possibly could be COVID-19 and they were very concerned about him,” Mr. Redemann said. “He was taken to Northwest Hospital and tested positive for it on Tuesday, May 12.
“While he was in the hospital, I talked to him on the phone, but he was confused. I told him that I loved him. They called and said he was pulling at the oxygen mask and they needed to restrain him. I hated the thought that they had to do that, but he needed oxygen because the COVID was in his lungs.”
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As the days passed, Mr. Garcia grew increasingly incoherent.
“The last seven days he was shutting down. He stopped eating,” his nephew said. "I don’t know whether he would have survived or not, but before all of this happened, he was still getting out of bed each day and getting dressed."
Mr. Garcia died two weeks after entering the Randallstown hospital.
“There are just two of us left now, just me and my sister,” Mr. Redemann said.