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BU mourns custodians’ deaths in the wake of COVID-19

facilities management truck at boston university
Truck outside the Facilities Management and Operations Office. Boston University custodians Juber Lopez and Jose Ferreira passed away from COVID-19 in January, but are remembered by their families, friends and colleagues. SERENA YU/ DAILY FREE PRESS STAFF

When Boston University custodians Juber Lopez and José Ferreira died in January due to complications from COVID-19, it was a loss for the whole BU community.

With decades of work and service for BU between them, their deaths have left university members heartbroken.

Ferreira, 63, originally from the Azores in Portugal, resided in Everett and worked at the George Sherman Union.

Lopez, 70, was a Salvadoran immigrant who lived in Lynn and worked at the School of Medicine’s pharmacology and experimental therapeutics department.

Teresa Florio, Ferreira’s daughter, said her father was a hard worker who never wanted to miss work — even while battling cancer and dealing with chemotherapy.

“Never a bad bone in his body, never fought with anybody, never argued, he always tried to make me happy,” she said. “He worked to the end, never wanted to take a day off even when he was really sick.”

Ferreira had worked at BU since 1985 — work that Florio said her father enjoyed. She said he avoided missing shifts because he would have been unhappy otherwise.

“I think he just loved his workers, his friends, everybody there,” she said, “and they would all joke around, you know. But yeah, he enjoyed still going to work and seeing everybody.”

Bianca Lopez, Juber Lopez’s daughter, described her father as a family man who always made sure to take care of them.

“He was very caring and very calm,” Lopez said, “He rarely got mad. Pretty much a very down-to-earth guy.”

Lopez said her father would always offer support for others, whether at work or otherwise.

“He would always go out of his way to help people,” she said, “and he was like that to us and he was like that to his work.”

BU spokesperson Colin Riley said the loss of the two employees was devastating and heartbreaking for the University.

“They administered the hard work of keeping the university clean and safe,” Riley said. “It’s a terrible loss. They were part of our family.”

In an emailed statement, Assistant Vice President for Facilities Management and Planning Bill Walter expressed his condolences.

“The staff are still sad at losing a friend and colleague,” Walter wrote. “They honor their memory by continuing to do the work necessary to keep the campus clean and safe.”

While it is impossible to know where her father contracted the virus, Florio said BU was an accommodating, mindful employer that always showed care for his safety.

“They always watched out even with the cancer, and the COVID, and making sure that he went for his tests,” Florio said. “You know, make sure he wore his mask, to make sure he was safe, that he stayed away from people. He told me all of this and that they did watch out for him.”

Sara Johnson, administrative manager at the Department of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics at the BU School of Medicine, said she worked with Lopez and described him as a “sweet man” who would often help her practice her Spanish.

“He had a very full life outside of Boston University,” she said. “He just did his job.”

Johnson said she regretted not being able to say goodbye to Lopez, and the circumstances were particularly tragic because he was approaching retirement.

“As with all the custodians surrounding the pandemic, they’re cleaning up to keep us safe,” she said. “This man passed away before he could get a vaccine. But most importantly, before he was ready to retire.”

Johnson said custodial staff at BU work hard to ensure faculty and students can work in a safe and clean environment.

“They come in on nights and weekends to do things like wax the floors or clean refrigerators,” she said. “You know, extra tasks that are not just the routine of cleaning up, but that keep this environment safe and still do for us every day.”

She added she believed custodians served as important frontline workers who deserved just as much respect and recognition as others.

“As far as I’m concerned, the custodial class, they’re right up there with the first responders and the people on the frontlines dealing with COVID patients,” Johnson said, “because they have to deal with it every day.”

Molly Farrar contributed to the reporting of this article.

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  1. This breaks my heart. This is why we must continue to stay as safe as possible and follow all medical guidance. It’s a shame this was not reported first by BU and instead in the BU student paper. May their memory be a blessing. May students ans all of us remember this every time we feel pandemic fatigue. God bless their families.
    Perhaps students can do something special ans permanent in memory of these heroic staff members who lost their lives serving everyone else.

  2. Ms. Kellermann, Joel Brown wrote a lovely memorial to these two custodians that was posted in BU Today on February 2, 2021. ( Perhaps you missed it.

    Boston University is a large urban campus and yet, the administration does it’s best. Just like all large organizations, there are so many people working behind the scene to ensure the safe, seamless, stiumulating, and continuous academic environment for faculty to do their best teaching, training, and preparing of our exceptional students for the world now and in the future. .Especially during the COVID pandemic, we have all put our shoulders to the wheel to meet the daily challenges of this unprecedented emergency.

    It’s been an exhausting year and yet most of us are still here doing the best we can. That includes celebrating the lives of all of our colleagues who lost their lives in the last year, especially those who succumbed to COVID. While we miss and mourn them, we also thank them for what they did for us and their families. And we move on each day, keeping the doors open where it’s permitted, meeting virtually from home where we must, and looking forward to the day we can celebrate in person together, maskless, and on our beloved campus. We are united and committed. We are Boston University STRONG!