Graphic via COURIER. Image via Kristin Urquiza
Graphic via COURIER. Image via Kristin Urquiza

Mark Urquiza passed away on June 30, 2020, after a three-week battle with COVID-19. He was 65 years old.

The number of Americans lost to COVID-19 in just six months is staggering. Get COURIER’s full coverage on crossing this threshold here.

Mark Anthony Urquiza loved sports. He had a particular affinity for NASCAR and football, but when it came down to it, he would watch any sort of game.  

Nicknamed “Black Jack” by his friends and family, Urquiza was himself a former high school athlete, loved nature, and had an appreciation for the night sky.

“He was also the type of person who loved to bring people together to celebrate, whether it was a birthday or a commencement or some other touchpoint of celebration,” his daughter Kristin Urquiza told COURIER. “I think my dad was just a really fun-loving guy and often the life of the party.”

When you speak to her, it’s evident how much Kristin loves her father. It’s also clear that others did, too. 

“So many people have come forward over the course of the last couple of months to share stories with me about my dad, and a consistent theme is that when my dad entered the room, everyone knew because his smile just lit up the entire room,” she said. “So my dad just had a ton of positive energy that he brought into each of the spaces he was in.”

Mark Urquiza passed away on June 30, 2020, after a three-week battle with COVID-19. He was 65 years old. 

The death has left Kristin grief-stricken, but also angry. Her father was healthy, he had no underlying conditions, and he had recently been given a clean bill of health by his doctor, she said. 

But Urquiza took his cues from Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey and President Donald Trump, both of whom he supported, and both of whom said it was safe to resume normal activities.

“He lived at the time in Arizona, which is where I grew up, and the state had just a few weeks prior reopened. The reopening was very aggressive with the governor and the president basically just saying that we were on the other side of the pandemic, and if you didn’t have underlying health conditions, it was safe to be out there,” Kristin said. 

It wasn’t safe. 

“My dad woke up on June 11 with a fever, cough, exhaustion—sort of the telltale symptoms of COVID,” Kristin said. Urquiza was taken to the hospital on the 16th, and passed away two weeks after that. 

Kristin returned to Arizona to make the necessary arrangements, but wasn’t able to properly mourn her father’s death. 

“I wasn’t really able to spend any time with my mother. She was COVID-positive at the time, so that meant I couldn’t hug my mom or be in the same space as her for long periods of time. We sat out in the Arizona sun, over six feet apart with masks on, to ensure that I was safe,” she said. “It was very bizarre.”

The family held a small memorial service for immediate family, which included Kristin, her mother, and her father’s five siblings. But they had to exclude dozens of his nieces and nephews, plus countless friends. 

Image via Kristin Urquiza

“Had my dad passed underneath a different time, there would have been people overflowing both the church and cemetery and festivities to celebrate his life that day,” Kristin said. “No one’s really been able to do that, and it definitely creates a bigger hole for all of us in that we are not able to spend that time together in a safe way to collectively mourn and collectively celebrate.”

Having to navigate the loss of her father while spending most of her time in isolation has only made things harder, Kristin said. So too has the knowledge that his death was preventable. 

“The past three months have really been the most difficult period in my life,” she said. “I always knew that losing a parent would be difficult, [but] losing a parent due to a global pandemic and losing one so needlessly given our inability to prioritize public health in this country takes this to a whole different level.”

Since her father passed, Kristin has given interview after interview to express her anger and ensure that leaders like Trump and Ducey are held accountable for the death of her father and so many other Americans.  

“They have blood on their hands and that is not something that I am going to turn a blind eye to,” Kristin said. “My father was one of those people, and he did not deserve to die alone in a hospital, with a nurse holding his hand.”

As part of this effort, Kristin and her partner Christine Keeves launched Marked by COVID to ensure that the human aspect of the lives lost wasn’t forgotten, and to hold lawmakers accountable for their response to the pandemic. 

“We’re not only personifying and creating a collective movement of folks calling for space for grieving and mourning; we’re also raising important questions about ‘Did it have to be this way?’ and ‘Does it have to be this way?’” Kristin said. “And it doesn’t. That’s the truth.”

But becoming something of a full-time advocate has taken a toll. 

“I feel like I kind of know what Prometheus felt like. It’s not necessarily my liver that’s being attacked every day. It’s my heart,” Urquiza said. “I’m doing it for a bigger cause—out of love.”

Image via Kristin Urquiza

Mark Urquiza was 65 years old when he died on June 30, 2020, from COVID-19. He leaves behind his daughter, Kristin, his wife, Brenda, and his siblings Frank C. Urquiza, Benny C. Urquiza, Richard C. Urquiza, Diana U. Camacho, Gina Urquiza Waters; siblings in-law Carol Urquiza, Chris Waters, Yvonne Urquiza, and Ray Camacho; his nieces and nephews; the broader community of Tolleson, Arizona; and countless friends.