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Roy Alves was 11 when he emigrated with his mother from the Azores — from the weight of starting life as an illegitimate child in a Catholic community, to a less burdened beginning in Rhode Island.
"It obviously bothered him quite a bit that he never had a father," remembers his son, Tim Alves. "But he turned that into a motivating force to do the things for his family. So he took that hurt and turned it into a gain for everyone he was related to."
Neither Roy nor his mother spoke English when they arrived in the United States. "It was just my dad, my grandmother. They had to make ends meet somehow. So he would go to school during the day and work 8 hour shifts afterward," Tim recalls.
In the factory, Roy missed so many school days he might have been held back, except that he charmed his teachers. After college, he became one. "He never remembered a time when he didn’t have the desire to teach," Tim says.
But it was more specific than that. His immersion into a new culture with an unknown language guided Roy’s entire career. For almost 30 years, he worked as an ESL teacher and guidance counselor in the Pawtucket School Department.
"A lot of it was about these kids who didn’t have a lot of parental guidance growing up, and their parents would be working all the time. And my dad realized that and at times had to be a parental figure to these kids. So when they got in trouble, my dad would just have to set them straight," Tim recalls.
When one girl, only 13, became pregnant, Roy pondered the options best for her. "I remember him coming to us and asking, 'What would you say if we adopted a baby?' So he was very close to adopting the child of one of his students because he wanted her to, you know, to achieve things that he was afraid that having a baby at 13 wouldn’t allow her to achieve," Tim remembers.
He didn’t adopt. But he never stopped parenting. "One of his goals in life was he wanted to have kids and to be a father — to actually be a father to someone, to give someone the father that he felt everyone deserves," Tim says.
For his own two children — and the children he taught and counseled, worried over and mattered to — he was.
Roy Alves lived in Rhode Island for 60 years. He died last April, after retiring to Manchester, New Hampshire, with his wife. He was 67 years old.
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This story aired on August 3, 2016.
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