The first Christmas after the height of the COVID pandemic was a time to celebrate, a time to finally be out and about and get together with family and friends.
Robert Gutierrez, 52, had big reasons to celebrate. First was his family, including wife, Gerallie, and daughters, Ariana and Carisa.
Second was his career. He was passionate about working on behalf of seniors and had returned to school for a master’s degree in public health and hospital administration from UCLA.
Gutierrez had just begun a new career, driving daily from his Camarillo home to Montrose, where he’d hired an entire staff and prepared a new assisted-living facility that was set to open in January.
He wouldn’t get to see the opening, however. His life ended the night of Dec. 9, 2022.
Standing on Santa Barbara’s Stearn’s Wharf at Cabrillo Boulevard and State Street at 8:45 p.m., Gutierrez was the random victim of gang violence, killed by a stray bullet.
“He happened to be standing there when the bullet hit him. He had no chance,” said his gym buddy and running partner Jack Dvir.
Paramedics took Gutierrez to Cottage Hospital, where he remained on life support until Dec. 20. All the while his wife and daughters waited, hoping for a miracle that did not occur.
An avid runner, Gutierrez participated in Conejo Valley’s annual Love Run, benefiting the nonprofit Senior Concerns, which provides support for older adults and caregivers.
Formally the Neftin Westlake Mazda Love Run, the June 4 event supports Senior Concerns’ Meals on Wheels program, which helps ensure that homebound seniors do not go without food.
Through the program, volunteers deliver freshly prepared meals 364 days a year. Funds raised from the Love Run help enable Senior Concerns to provide Meals on Wheels scholarships to those who cannot afford the program so no one in financial need is turned away.
To honor Gutierrez, friends and family have formed the “Running for Robert” team, committing to running or walking the 1-mile race, though some will run the 5K and 10K.
“He was a model person,” Dvir said. “Honesty, his work ethic, the way he raised his daughters, the way he would volunteer at church or soccer, he made a big difference in people’s lives.”
Gerallie Gutierrez, who will participate in this year’s race along with her 15- and 18-year-old daughters, said she expects emotions to run high at the event, but she puts one foot in front of the other to get through each day without him.
“The Love Run is bittersweet,” she said, “knowing he ran each year and not having him there. . . . There is such a large group, 42, 43 people running. It’s amazing. Some I know and some I do not know. It’s a good feeling.
“He worked really hard for us. Being grateful every day is a big thing for me and appreciating life. It’s cliche, I know, but life is too short.”
A GoFundMe account has been made for the Gutierrez family. To donate to the fundraiser, go online to gofund.me/e1e101c8.
IN A NUTSHELL
The Conejo Valley’s annual Love Run benefits Senior Concerns, a nonprofit that provides programs and services to support and improve the health and well-being of older adults and family caregivers.
The event features 10K, 5K and 1-mile runs and two virtual races.
To register for the June 4 race, go online to seniorconcerns.org/love-run.