Posted by: gmontealegre | May 30, 2014

Juan Torres a determined man – father of Paterson’s Mayor-elect Joey Torres

In his final days, father of Paterson’s mayor-elect Torres took pride in son’s success

MAY 28, 2014


North Jersey photo of Juan Torres, father of Mayor-elect-Joey Torres


PATERSON – When Juan Torres and his family immigrated to Paterson more than 60 years ago, not everyone welcomed their arrival. One of his sons, Sam Torres, recalled the signs that hung outside some apartments in the city: “We don’t rent to Puerto Ricans.”

At first, Torres struggled to get a job, according to family members. The skills he learned working in the sugar fields in Puerto Rico didn’t help in the Paterson. At one point, he had to put some of his children in an orphanage until he could find his family a stable place to live.

But Juan Torres was a determined man, not the kind of person who quit easily. “No matter what,” Sam Torres recalled his father saying, “You keep on trying harder.”

Decades later, Juan Torres saw his children make good by following his advice, most notably his youngest son, Joey, who two weeks ago was elected Paterson’s mayor for his third term. Juan Torres was looking forward to Joey’s inauguration and the 95-year-old even bought a new brown suit for the occasion.


NorthJersey Photo Mayor-elect Joey Torres with his father Juan Torres

But Juan Torres died on Tuesday at St. Joseph’s Regional Medical Center after suffering a heart attack, according to his family. Nellie Pou, who was Juan Torres’ goddaughter long before she became a New Jersey State Senator, visited his hospital room during his final hours.

“I knew he was doing everything in his power to stay alive,” Pou said. “He was a fighter and he knew that his son wanted him to be there to hold the Bible” for the Oath of Office.

But 12 years earlier, Juan Torres had the pleasure of standing next to his wife, Catalina, as the two of them held the Bible after Joey’s first mayoral victory, when their son became Paterson’s first Latino mayor.

“We all grew up to be individuals that he was proud of, but I think Joey made him the proudest,” said Sam Torres, a retired city police officer.

“We couldn’t find a place to live, and now we all own our own homes,” said another of Torres’ sons, Freddie, who had been warden of the Passaic County Jail before turning in his pension papers.

Juan Torres came to America in 1949. Agents had come to Puerto Rico to recruit migrant workers for farms in the state of Washington, according to his sons. After trying that, Juan Torres was looking for something better and his friend from Puerto Rico, Teodosio Avila, suggested he check out Paterson.

The first job he landed in New Jersey was working in a bowling alley, setting up the pins by hand. He moved on to some factory positions before settling in as a bodega operator. In the 1950s, the family was living in an apartment on Mill Street when they had to move out because of building code violations, said Sam Torres. But there was nowhere else to go.

That’s when Juan Torres asked the orphanage in Totowa to look after some of his children for a few weeks until he could find them a home. “I remember they kept the boys and girls separate and the only time I saw my sister was through a chain-link fence,” said Sam Torres.

It was Avila, the friend from Puerto Rico, who came to the rescue of the Torres family. He and his wife offered their apartment on Main Street to Juan Torres so he could reunite with his children. Joey Torres had not been born yet, according to his siblings.

With the help of the Avila’s, the Torres family stayed on Main Street until they moved into the brand new Christopher Columbus public housing development in 1960. They stayed there for almost two decades.

Sam Torres said his father was a strict man with firm beliefs. He remembered going to a market in the Bronx to get supplies for the bodega and forgetting to pay for one of the items in the cart. His father scolded him.

“Don’t ever take anything that doesn’t belong to you,” Sam recalled his father’s words. “If you take something that doesn’t belong to you it will turn like salt in water.”

Juan Torres retired when he reached 65. In recent years, he took trips back to Puerto Rico and he stayed with his three sons in the Paterson area.

“His story was really like the American dream we talk about,” said Pou, whose father had been Torres’ long-time friend, Avila. “We should all be as strong and vibrant as he was at the age of 95,” she added. “He lived a great life.”
During the recent mayoral race, Juan Torres often inquired about Joey’s campaign, his sons said. At times, he offered to make some phone calls to help the effort.

On Election Night, before greeting his political supporters at the victory party at The Brownstone, Jose “Joey” Torres made a trip to the hospital to tell his ailing father the good news.

Juan Torres was born in Lares in Puerto Rico on May 4 1919. He married his childhood sweetheart, Catalina, on November 16, 1941.

He is survived by seven of his eight children, John Torres of Camuy, PR.; Gladys Torres of Hawthorne; Gerardo “Freddie” Torres of Paterson; Samuel Torres of North Haledon; Mary Jimenez from Paterson; Ida Jimenez of Paterson, NJ and Jose “Joey” Torres of Paterson. He is also survived by 27 grandchildren, 21 great-grandchildren and three great-great-grandchildren.

Funeral services are being held Wednesday and Thursday, 2-4 and 6-9 pm, at Martinez Memorial Home, 747 Market Street, Paterson. The burial is scheduled for Friday, with a service at the funeral home at 8:30 am, followed by a church service at St. Gerald’s on Chamberlain Avenue in Paterson at 10 am and burial at 11 am at Holy Sepulchre Cemetery in Totowa.

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