Magdy Elpayaa, a larger-than-life character from Forest Park, recently died from COVID. Magdy and I coached youth soccer in Forest Park in the ’80s. He had played on the Egyptian National Team and was a mentor to kids on and off the field. He cared deeply about our community.

He moved to Forest Park in 1983, to join his bride, Beth, and never left. She met Magdy in Hawaii in 1982, while working as a visiting nurse. Magdy was the engineer on an Egyptian freighter, which had docked for repairs.

By the time the ship was seaworthy, the romance between Beth and Magdy was full steam ahead. Beth traveled to Egypt to meet his family. It was complete culture shock but the couple shared the same values and Beth just knew she loved him.

After they were married, Magdy found adjusting to American life challenging. He barely spoke English and studied at Triton College. He not only finished at the top of his English class, he completed automotive courses.

Magdy could fix anything but especially loved working on cars. He couldn’t use his engineering degree from Egypt, so he learned the insurance trade. He became a sales manager for Transamerica Life Insurance Co. Selling life insurance was a snap for someone with his magnetic personality. Magdy could have sold sand to Egypt.

Work, though, wasn’t his main focus. Family was everything and he reveled in their three children: Adam, Joe and Sarah. They excelled at soccer and Magdy coached them on traveling teams. One of their teammates thought of him as his “second dad.”

Magdy was like a father to his neighbors as well. He was their go-to guy for home repairs, or to fix their cars. He shoveled their walks without being asked. He put their garbage containers and recycling bins back where they belonged. They truly miss him.

His family, of course, misses him even more but Magdy imparted a strength to them that has helped them cope. His kids inherited Magdy’s work ethic and entrepreneurial spirit. Adam owns successful restaurants in Bloomington, Joe is a professional poker player, and Sarah is a local Realtor.

Magdy sold insurance for Transamerica for 20 years. After he died, his family received an outpouring of gifts and flowers from his co-workers. Magdy had the knack for making them laugh, even on their worst days.

One of his worst days came in July 2020 when he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Being sick just didn’t compute. He was strong and energetic. He didn’t drink or smoke and ate healthy home-cooked meals.

Like every obstacle he had encountered, Magdy faced cancer head-on. He endured the most powerful chemotherapy treatments without complaining. His doctor was amazed when his tumor shrank to nothing. Then on Nov. 11, he came down with COVID.

He had already been quarantining with his family for eight months and absolutely loved it. Being surrounded by family was heaven. He loved cooking for them because for Magdy food is love. His love extended to the poor in Egypt, who lack food, shelter and clean water. Sarah started a Facebook page to raise money for Egypt’s poor, called “Honoring Magdy Elpayaa” — 192 people donated $12,000. Sarah will distribute this money in Egypt and it will feed many families.

One of the tragedies of the pandemic is our inability to give loved ones the send-off they deserve. Someday we can have a gathering at The Park to honor Magdy for all he did for youth soccer and the joy he brought to everyone he met.

John Rice is a columnist/novelist who has seen his family thrive in Forest Park. He has published two books set in the village: The Ghost of Cleopatra and The Doll with the Sad Face.