Professor Emeritus, Dr. Alejandro Garcia, 83, passed peacefully after an extended illness at Upstate Hospital on Friday, November 17 surrounded by the presence and loving thoughts of family and friends.
A Professor of Social Work at Syracuse University since 1978, he is known locally and nationally as an effective advocate for social justice for older Americans, Hispanics, the poor and many others. He taught gerontology, social policy, and human diversity courses for over 43 years, shaping Falk College’s School of Social Work and generations of students. He held the Jocelyn Falk Endowed Professorship of Social Work at the time of his retirement in 2021.
His strong lifelong connections and pride in his family and Hispanic roots was at the center of much that he did. Raised in one of the poorest neighborhoods in Brownsville Texas, he was one of six children of parents who migrated from Mexico. After learning English in grade school, he was recognized as an outstanding student. His musical talent propelled him into the best high school in Brownsville at a time when discrimination and racism limited such opportunities.
One of very few Hispanics studying at the University of Texas, after graduation he enlisted in the United States Army. He earned his Masters of Social Work (MSW) degree at Cal State Sacramento where, years later, he was honored as being the “Alumni of the Decades”. He was recruited by the National Association of Social Workers to fill a new leadership role as the National Student Coordinator. Encouraged by NASW leadership to pursue doctoral studies, a few years later he was accepted at Brandeis University’s Florence Heller School for Advanced Studies in Social Welfare, leading to one of the very first studies of the economic status of elder Chicanos and Chicanas, a dissertation entitled “The Contribution of Social Security to the Adequacy of Income of Elderly Mexican Americans”. An elected member of the National Academy of Social Insurance and Fellow of the Gerontological Society of America, he was also designated by the NASW as a “Social Work Pioneer”.
He co-edited three books, including Elderly Latinos: Issues and Solutions for the 21st Century (with Marta Sotomayor) (1993), HIV Affected and Vulnerable Youth Prevention Issues and Approaches (1999) (with Susan Taylor-Brown), and La Familia: Traditions and Realities (1999) (with Marta Sotomayor). He also authored numerous articles and book chapters. He also served on the editorial boards of several Social Work Journals and the Encyclopedia of Social Work.
Most notably, a remarkably kind, generous and gregarious man, he loved spending time with family and friends, sharing his humor, laughter and broad knowledge of art, literature, Hispanic culture, Social Work, Syracuse and so much more. He was a dear friend and mentor to many, taking interest in a remarkable number of people’s lives and supporting and challenging those he cared about to be their best version of self. Deeply loved by many, he became more than a friend, but a family member.
Over the years, Dr. Garcia also served in many other leadership roles, including most recently as an Emeritus Board Member of the Syracuse Rescue Mission, Chair of AARP’s National Policy Council, Chair of the National Hispanic Council on Aging, member of the boards at the Syracuse’s Spanish Action League and the Council of Social Work Education and NASW. He received the Scholar/Teacher of the Year award at Syracuse University and was recognized as a “Hometown Hero” by its National Veterans Resource Center. He served as the Director of the School of Social Work for five years and in many other leadership roles.
Alejandro’s deep love of family and friends; his passion for social, racial and economic justice, and commitment to working to better the communities he touched permeated everything he did in life. His humor and warmth enlivened the lives of family and friends. He is survived by his brothers, Joel, Ruben, Leon, and Arturo Garcia; nieces Linda, Ann, Janey, Alice, and Alma; nephews Rudolfo and Carlos; three children named for him, many other close relatives; too many dear friends to mention and generations of Social Work students and colleagues. He is deeply missed.
Donations in his memory will be welcomed at the Syracuse Rescue Mission and the Syracuse University Alejandro Garcia Book Fund.