A Gentle Man’s Life: Remembering Sergio Quiano

They were born outside the United States, made their way to this country many years ago and found a home in Oak Park before dying recently at the age of 77.

One is internationally renowned and beloved actor John Mahoney. He died while in hospice care on Sunday, February 4th. The other is Sergio Quiano, found stabbed to death in his apartment on Friday, February 2nd.

Unlike many Oak Parkers, I never met John Mahoney, about whom many have already written tributes lauding his talent, kindness, and all-around goodness. Embodying a humble Everyman quality that was an integral part of his charm these past four decades, he made an outsized impact through his work in theater, film and television, through his philanthropic efforts, and through the many friendships he formed.

It is altogether fitting, this posthumous praise for Mr. Mahoney.

Meanwhile, as the mysterious circumstances of Sergio’s death form the bulk of what most people know about him, his life likewise deserves to be honored.

A little over a year ago, after years of seeing him mostly around Downtown Oak Park, I first met Sergio. We were standing in line at Prairie Bread Kitchen one cold December morning when he struck up a conversation with me. Within a few minutes, apparently sensing I was safe, he asked if I could drive him to an Elmwood Park drug store to pick up a prescription and some sundries.

Although the request would have been overly forward coming from most any other stranger-turned-fresh acquaintance, I agreed. He swayed me with his child-like innocence, soft-spoken demeanor, and artful close-the-deal declaration that he didn’t want to stand in the cold waiting for buses to take him there and back.

Throughout our excursion, we enjoyed a cordial conversation. My memory is foggy on the particulars, but I believe Sergio said he was from the Philippines. I do not recall him making any mention of relatives living nearby.

At the end of our impromptu errand, we exchanged phone numbers. Turns out we were virtually neighbors, as he headed into his apartment and I went to my office, a few doors down. The overall impression he left was that of a gentle, friendly man leading a simple life who enjoyed meeting people in his daily path.

Later that day, Sergio sent me a text again thanking me, wishing me a Merry Christmas and conveying well wishes for my family. Periods punctuating almost every word, the text matched the decidedly unhurried pace I had long observed in him.

The next time I saw Sergio inside Prairie Bread Kitchen, a week or two later, he was seated as I entered. He sprang up, approaching the counter as briskly as I ever witnessed him move. I was about to place my order when he insisted that he pay for my coffee. It was a sweet gesture, clearly communicating that he was a giver in this community.

Thereafter, our mutual regard sealed, we would greet one another along the sidewalk. I would be moving hurriedly for some appointment while Sergio would be inching along ever-so-slowly, often carrying a shopping bag and wearing a smile that lit up his face.

In life, Sergio Quiano was not a household name. In death, newspaper headlines have referred to him as “elderly” or as a “77-year-old.” After learning it was Sergio who was the man behind those generic headline terms, whose life had come to such a cruel end, my heart sank. Who would perpetrate this evil, and why?

It is my fervent hope that someday soon we will get the answers to those questions, and that justice is meted out to the individual or individuals responsible for his murder. Regardless of the outcome of the police investigation into his death, I regret not slowing down long enough to connect more with Sergio in these last months of his life.

(This piece was also published in the Feb. 14, 2018 edition of the Wednesday Journal of Oak Park & River Forest.)

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