M. Jose Armas, a former supervisor with Florida’s Cuban Refugee Assistance Program, had helped so many Cuban immigrants find new lives in the States his legacy would be assured.
But Armas, who died at 90 on Oct. 4, had one last task to complete at his home in the Roads neighborhood of Miami, the same house he settled in when he arrived from Cuba with his wife and three children in 1961.
“He was very ill and on his death bed but he rallied a few days before his death. He asked us to throw him a party and he wanted a band and a cake in his honor,” said daughter Mercedes Armas Bach, a retired judge. “We brought mariachis and the last thing he did was toast to everyone around him with a beer in his hand and he played with the mariachis. He was such a joyful man and that was his way to say, ‘Goodbye.’”
Armas, born in Bejucal, Cuba, on Dec. 20, 1924, graduated from the University of Havana School of Law and practiced in Cuba. “He always represented people and labor unions and factory owners and business owners who were going up against the government in eminent domain proceedings,” Armas Bach said.
His passion for assisting others was inherent in his personality, his daughter said. “He was butting heads with the government and the way they were nationalizing people’s properties. He felt you had to help those who were less fortunate than you were.”
Soon after arriving in Miami, Armas became a supervisor with the refugee assistance program and was a state employee for 30 years.
“When we arrived here he had the good fortune to be an English teacher before he was an attorney — he spoke English fluently — so he was able to help the rest of the Cuban refugees become employed and navigate through the system. He gave them English lessons in the evening. He thought it important that in the U.S., to succeed, they would have to learn the language.”
In the late 1960s, Armas also helped implement the Project Independence initiative at Walt Disney World to transition new arrivals into jobs in Orlando at the time of the resort’s construction and opening in 1971. “There was nothing in Orlando — it was not a center where they could pull a work force from,” Armas Bach said. “So he settled a big work force there and got them started that year Disney opened.”
In addition to his daughter, Armas is survived by his wife Mercedes Herrera Armas, sons Dr. Jose J. Armas and J. Alfredo Armas; eight grandchildren, two step-grandchildren; four great-grandchildren and his sister Concepcion Alvarez. Services were held.