'He Wanted to Move Forward': Remembering Traveling Notary, Athlete Tony Escobar

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Tony Escobar loved sports, a passion dating back to his early days as a gifted athlete at Mission High School. (Photo courtesy Ivania Angel)

In a tribute video, Tony Escobar is seen celebrating life the only way he knew how — always on the go. Photos capture him dancing, giving birthday speeches and cheering on baseball teams.

“He wasn't happy unless he was moving around,” his son Jason Escobar said.

Tony was forced to stop on Jan. 10 when he passed away from COVID-19. He was 68.

“He was a shark in many ways,” said Jason inside the dining room of Beer Nerds, a pizza place he co-owns in the Mission District where his dad grew up. “He didn’t want to move backward. He just wanted to move forward.”

Jason, along with his sister Athena Labagh and aunt Ivania Angel, shared their memories of Tony as part of an ongoing series on The California Report Magazine reflecting on those who died from COVID-19.

Left to right, Athena Labagh, Jason Escobar and Ivania Angel at Beer Nerds in the Mission in June 2021. (Photo by Brian Watt)

‘Work Hard, Play Hard’

Jason said his dad instilled in his family a philosophy of “work hard, play hard,” which can be traced back to his early days growing up in San Francisco.

Born in 1952, Tony immigrated with his family to San Francisco when he was a kid, around 8 years old. Angel, the youngest of five siblings, recalls hearing stories of those days when her parents were trying to start a new life.

Tony Escobar was known for his jumps on the basketball as seen in this Mission High School 1969 yearbook photo. (Photo courtesy of Jason Escobar)

“They talked about how they lived in many houses around the Mission, and how they had to sleep on the same mattress at times,” she said.

As he grew up, Tony excelled in sports and was known as an athlete during his time at Mission High School. Angel said she and her family made it an all-day event to watch Tony’s baseball and basketball games.

“I thought that he had springs in his shoes because this guy could jump!” Angel said. “He just had so much energy.”

Tony’s love of sports stayed with him into adulthood. Jason said his dad volunteered to referee basketball, volleyball and flag football. But the biggest highlight of Tony’s sports career happened in 2017 when he was inducted into Mission High’s Hall of Fame.

“His speech was a half-hour long,” Jason said. “They were trying to get him to wrap it up. But he just kept going. That's just kind of who he was. He wanted to steal the show, so to speak.”

Mission High School inducted Tony Escobar into its sports Hall of Fame in 2017. (Photo courtesy Jason Escobar)

Tony pushed himself in his professional life, too.

“He was definitely a go-getter and a hustler,” Angel said. “He never let any opportunity go.”

She said Tony took after their father, a real estate broker. When he wasn’t running open houses, Tony sold air filters and served as a traveling notary.

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Cautious Opportunity

Jason said his dad saw an increase in demand for notaries during the pandemic. This surge was seen nationwide, according to the National Notary Association. In part, folks likely found themselves spending more time at home, thinking about refinancing mortgages and similar actions that require notary services.

“He just had all this business,” Jason said. “The other thing was that he had a little niche where he was one of the only notaries in a lot of his circles that spoke Spanish. My dad didn't say ‘no’ to any notary [job]. He would go from San Jose to Vacaville.”

Athena Labagh, Tony’s daughter, said Tony was careful at first. This was around the time when not much was known about how the coronavirus spread. She said he would meet with folks outdoors. He took hand sanitizer with him. People had to bring their own pens.

“He was scared like all of us,” she said.

Then, as the months went by, Tony let his guard down a bit, Labagh said. She’d remind him to wear his mask.

“I believe he contracted it doing a notary somewhere,” she said. “He was careful, but not as careful as he could have been.”

Tony Escobar and his mom Yolanda Escobar celebrating a family baptism in 2000. Photo courtesy Ivania Angel

Final Days

On Dec. 11, Tony got his COVID-19 test results. He tested positive — and things transpired quickly from there. In a few days, his parents were moving from their quarantine location in Auburn, which is about 30 miles northeast of Sacramento, to a hospital in the area.

“They were next door to each other during this time, and my mom [Gema Escobar] was actually going to be ventilated first,” Labagh said. “She had actually refused it and just told them, 'Tell me what I need to do other than that, and I'll do it.' ”

Jason said Tony was ventilated on Dec. 30. Gema eventually pulled through.

On Jan. 10, the hospital called Jason. He had to make a decision about taking Tony off the ventilator. He consulted with his mom, sister and younger brother, Anthony Escobar.

“Keeping with what I think his best wishes would have been, the best situation for my dad was to take him off the ventilator rather than push it forward and poke more holes in him,” Jason said.

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Jason said hundreds of people would’ve shown up to the service and entombment, but attendance was limited due to coronavirus restrictions at the time. Later in May, Jason invited family and friends to Beer Nerds, his pizza place, to pay tribute around the time of Tony’s birthday.

Jason added a combination pizza to the menu in his dad’s honor and named it Road Runner, Tony’s nickname in high school.

“Everything we got in the pantry, they put it on the pizza. It had to have a lot of sauce. That was my dad's style,” Jason said.

Tony never got to see Beer Nerds. Jason said it’s his biggest regret.

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