The door to Vladimir Collazo’s home was always unlocked.
The cozy house in North Miami Beach was always open — for basketball games in the front yard with the neighborhood kids, for beers in the back alley before a fishing trip and for meals with anyone who wanted a laugh and a bite to eat.
“His heart was as big as a house, which — coincidentally — were both always open,” said his oldest son, Alexander, during a memorial service Saturday.
The door was unlocked one last time Saturday morning as friends and family gathered to remember Collazo, who died Monday from cardiac arrest. He was 54. Everyone knew him by a different name — Manny, his preferred nickname, Papa and Pops among them — but everyone knew they could call him for anything.
“He gives his heart and soul to everyone,” said Jackie Wilson, 52, a family friend for the past 23 years. “He would drop everything and never expect nothing in return. To me, that’s a true humanitarian.”
Everything Collazo did was to help the people around him, whether it was a stranger or a friend. He knew everyone in his neighborhood, offering to repair their air conditioning or to visit their sick loved ones. Driving with his family, he would pull over to help someone push their broken-down car.
And eventually his desire to help others led him to became one of the first supervisors for the Florida Department of Transportation’s District Six Road Ranger program and trained others to pull over and help with car issues. Until a stroke ended his 13-year career in 2011, Collazo spent his days monitoring some of the major expressways in Miami-Dade and Broward counties, including the Palmetto Expressway and the Dolphin Expressway.
“That job was everything,” Alexander said. “He was always helping someone.”
Collazo was born March 30, 1962, in Havana. After moving to Madrid for a couple years, Collazo and his family found a permanent home in Little Havana. There, Collazo made a name for himself as a troublemaker, bicycling away from home and sneaking into clubs.
But he changed on May 30, 1979, when the teenager in a Panama hat met Maria Elena Egues, a shy 16-year-old, in Sunny Isles. Less than a month later, on the day she graduated from North Miami Beach High School, he proposed. Exactly six months after they met, the two were married.
“He was my protector,” said Maria, who threatened to run away if her parents did not approve the marriage. “We used to laugh, to cry, to argue. It was always me and him, me and him.”
For Collazo, his family was everything. Each morning, he would make breakfast for Maria and tell her how beautiful she was. After working on the highway for 13 days, he would come home and spend another two hours throwing a baseball with his sons, Alexander and Jonathan.
“My dad taught me everything,” Jonathan said. “Everything I know is because of him.”
Before working with the Road Ranger program, Collazo spent most of his days working as a repairman or in construction. He would apply those skills to his own home, knocking down walls with Maria and looking for anything that needed fixing.
“It was a life people told him a blue collar worker could not provide,” Alexander said. “But he proved them wrong.”
Collazo is survived by his wife, two sons, mother Coralia, sister Aurora, daughter-in-law Barbara and grandchildren Adrian and Gabriella. Services were held.