Mourners bid fond farewell to a young friend

Gilroy firefighters, including Cliff Colyer, left, Greg Lopez

Gilroy
– Keith Malinao touched many in his relatively short life.
From his family, to his teachers, to his friends, to the
firefighters at Las Animas station, Malinao left a lasting
impression on everyone he met.
Gilroy – Keith Malinao touched many in his relatively short life.

From his family, to his teachers, to his friends, to the firefighters at Las Animas station, Malinao left a lasting impression on everyone he met.

Friday morning, Engine 61, of the Gilroy Fire Department, led a large gathering of mourners from Habing Family Funeral Home to St. Mary’s Cemetery in honor of the 20-year-old former Gilroy High School student. It was the same engine that the special education student rode on in a recent Memorial Day Parade with then-Chief Jeff Clet.

“He had a passion for fire fighting,” said Tim Price, a Gilroy firefighter. “His physical disabilities kept him from becoming a firefighter, but he had all the attributes needed to be one. He was a team player and a giving person.”

About 300 people crowded into the chapel before heading to St. Mary’s Cemetery where the young man was buried.

“Keith ran a race in life,” said Pastor Edward Fitz-Henry. “He ran a hard race – probably a harder race than most of us – and he crossed the finish line.”

Many of the mourners spoke about Malinao’s enthusiasm for life.

“He touched so many lives,” said Keith’s brother, Mike Malinao Jr. remembering his brother with their sister Desiree.

“He loved bowling at the Gilroy Bowl,” Desiree. “It was hard for him physically to bowl but he had help from people there … Thanks to Al and Joyce from Gilroy Bowl.”

Malinao had many hobbies that he pursued despite his physical set backs. He fished, swam and played video games. He even ran in the Special Olympics where he received a medal. He loved his family and helped a lot around the house.

But it was the firefighters that he took to.

Malinao could often be found pretending to drive the trucks at the Las Animas Fire Station. He enjoyed stopping by to watch the firefighters at the station who he greatly admired. The firefighters took a liking to Malinao and on one occasion the young man helped them wash one of the engines with a fire hose. Eight members of the Gilroy Fire Department attended the services Friday to show their support to the Malinao family and pay their respects to a young “honorary firefighter” they will miss dearly.

“A lot of us knew Keith and his family,” said firefighter Tim Price. “He came into the station frequently and we are honored to be down here. We came in honor of him because we really care about him.”

So much so that they recently gave him a pair of fire boots.

“He got his wish,” said Keith’s mother, Lisbeth Malinao, “His pair of fire boots … they made my son’s dreams come true. I can’t thank the fire department enough.”

His father, Michael, thanked the community for the outpouring of support.

“This town has given back so much more than I gave it and I am so grateful,” he said. “Thank you to (Chief) Dale (Foster) … and (Division Chief) Dave Bozzo. A father couldn’t ask for more.”

Speaking at the funeral, Bob Dillon, Malinao’s godfather and a city councilman, drew on the epic past to depict the young man’s life as one of struggle and reward.

Quoting a letter from the Duke of Wellington after the historic battle of Waterloo, Dillon said: “‘Nothing except a battle lost can be half so melancholy as a battle won,'” he said. “Welcome to the victory celebration for World War Keith.”

Dillon said that Malinao’s army was composed of the many Gilroyans who helped in the battle.

“Despite the fact that Keith could not speak and saw and heard poorly,” Dillon said after the funeral, “he made a positive contribution in the world.”

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