Virgilio Duarte was a first generation American. He moved his family to New Bedford from Portugal in 1977, at the age of 44, seeking a better life and opportunities for his family. He settled with his wife, Maria, and his four children in the West End.
Duarte found work at Dartmouth Finish Co., operating the machines that loaded finished textiles onto rolls. Maria worked as a stitcher for Cameo Curtains. “They weren’t flashy jobs, but they paid the bills,” said their son, Carlos Duarte. “My parents both worked very hard.”
Before he moved to New Bedford, Virgilio worked as an ambulance driver for his town’s fire department in Portugal. He also drove a bus, and it was on one of those trips that he stopped at the roadside cafe, where he was introduced to the owner’s daughter, Maria. Virgilio and Maria would be together for the next 57 years.
After their retirement, Virgilio and Maria moved back to Portugal to be with family and enjoy the slower pace of life in the country. They lived there for 16 years. But two years ago they returned to New Bedford permanently to be closer to their children, resettling in the North End.
In September of 2020, both Virgilio and Maria contracted COVID-19 from a friend. Maria survived, but Virgilio succumbed to the virus after a week-and-a-half at St. Luke’s Hospital. He was 86 years old.
“He wasn’t a spring chicken; he was 86 years old,” said his son, Carlos. “But he still had a lot of life left in him. If it wasn’t for COVID, he wouldn’t have died so soon.”
Most of all, Carlos said he remembers his father for his passions. “He loved everything from soccer, to farming to fishing. He liked making things with his hands. Woodworking, carving. If he could think about it, he would try to make it,” Carlos said. “He lived a good life, and he enjoyed every minute of it.”
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