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Thanksgivings at Sonny Quitlong’s house were the stuff of legend. There was rarely a sit-down meal. Instead, he’d set up the buffet line around noon and people would come and go throughout the day and late into the night.
There was, of course, turkey, stuffing and the standbys. There was also lechon — a whole roast pig — pancit, adobo, lumpia and other Filipino fixtures.
Upward of 100 people would trickle in and out of the South Seattle home Mr. Quitlong shared with his wife, Zenaida. Roughly half the guests would be from his large extended family, but there were also friends and co-workers who he knew didn’t have anywhere else to go.
“They invited and welcomed them to their home,” said his sister, Queenie Quitlong-Bruan. “The food was endless, it was an eating marathon.”
Mr. Quitlong died on April 6 of COVID-19. He was 70.
For decades, Mr. Quitlong worked as a checker at a Safeway on Rainier Avenue, and as a mail handler at the U.S. Postal Service distribution center in Tukwila. Even after he was hired full time at the Post Office, he kept working a few days a month at the grocery store because he liked seeing and talking to customers, family members said.
“Everyone knew Sonny,” his union at the grocery store, United Food and Commercial Workers 21, wrote after his death. “Customers went out of their way to get in his line, or just to come say hi if he wasn’t the one ringing them up.”
“He was one of the most generous people,” Quitlong-Bruan said. “When things were needed he was just one of the first to help out.”
At least 60 postal employees have died of COVID-19, according to the National Postal Mail Handlers Union. And at least 100 grocery store workers across the country have died of COVID-19, according to The Washington Post. Mr. Quitlong was among the first.
Querubin “Sonny” Dizon Quitlong was born Aug. 14, 1949, in the Pandacan district of Manila, Philippines. He attended the University of Santo Tomas, in Manila, where he studied electrics engineering and graduated in an ROTC program.
After college, he was commissioned in the Philippine Army, where he served as a communications officer in the southern Philippines, installing and maintaining communication lines in the region. He left the army as a first lieutenant.
In 1978, Mr. Quitlong’s parents immigrated to the United States, settling in Seattle. Two years later, Mr. Quitlong and his two siblings joined them.
“I think they still believed that America was the land of opportunity and thankfully we were able to achieve that through hard work,” Quitlong-Bruan said.
Mr. Quitlong returned briefly to the Philippines in 1981 to marry Zenaida Niere, whom he’d met in graduate school.
The couple returned to Seattle where Mr. Quitlong found work as a desk clerk at the Bush Hotel in the Chinatown – International District, before moving to Safeway in 1989. He joined the Post Office in 1994. He held both jobs — full time at the Post Office, part time at Safeway — until his death.
“If he was on break and I was in the break room, he’d offer me some of his lunch,” said Monica Bryant, a former co-worker at Safeway. “He was genuine like that. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one he looked out for.”
Mr. Quitlong had a near photographic memory, his sister said. He remembered the serial numbers of the men in his Army company. He remembered the children and the birthdays of his customers at Safeway.
Local Facebook pages were flooded with remembrances upon learning of his death.
“I always sought Sonny out when it came time to check out at Safeway,” one woman wrote. “He was so friendly and kind. I remember him making a big deal of any donation anyone made to the charity of the month.”
“His way of serving really stood out at Safeway,” wrote another. “Going through his line guaranteed a pleasant moment in my day, no matter how busy things were.”
Mr. Quitlong was a lector at St. Mary’s Church, where he and his wife were active members. He was a sharp dresser, frequently sporting a barong tagalog, the formal Filipino menswear. Friends called him senator. He loved karaoke (Tony Bennett’s “I Left My Heart in San Francisco” in particular) and family gatherings usually ended in singing and dancing.
His sister remembers how he would tell jokes and always end up laughing before he got to the punch line.
“In our world, sometimes people tend to be judgmental,” she said. “He was never that. He always saw the best in everyone.”