Al Diaz was a typical community newspaper editor.
He doled out advice to politicos and strangers who sought it. He expressed outrage through his columns when he thought that his community was getting a raw deal. He occasionally dipped into his own pockets to help out a reader with a hard-luck story. And he encouraged young Chicanos, who never thought that they could make it into journalism, to give it a try.
It was no wonder that Alberto C. Diaz, who died July 28, was dubbed "Mr. East L.A." in the 1950s by others who marveled at his knowledge and involvement of the area.
"He explained East Los Angeles to itself and to the outside world," said Felix Gutierrez, a newly appointed dean at USC. Gutierrez, a former journalism educator, called Diaz an important influence in his own media career and said, "He helped me get my first scholarship when I entered college."
Such was the tenor of the tributes to Diaz, who died of heart failure and complications from Parkinson's disease. Diaz, 72, was the longtime editor and publisher of two Eastside weekly newspapers--the Belvedere Citizen and the Eastside Journal.
Diaz was affectionately recalled as a man who deeply cared for his community at a time when the overwhelmingly Mexican-American area carried little political or economic clout.
"People would come into his office with some problem," said David Barron, a communications representative for Southern California Edison Co., who got his start in the media under Diaz's tutelage. "He'd make a few calls and get things squared away."
Diaz did more than that for countless hundreds over the years from his office on East 1st Street.
"His big thing was the annual Christmas party that he helped put on," said Sarah Dorado, a former colleague and current classified advertising manager for the two newspapers. "He always looked forward to it. He loved kids."
Diaz turned out to be a valuable source for politicians, other newspapermen and others who wanted to understand the Eastside.
"All the politicians running for office came through to see him--John Kennedy, Edmund G. (Pat) Brown, Ronald Reagan and Richard Nixon," Barron said.
But his insights were, perhaps, on best display in his column, called "The Beachcomber."
"Everybody waited for his column to come out and figure out what was really going on in East L.A.," said longtime Eastside leader Sal Lopez, who met Diaz while the two were students at Garfield High School in the mid-1930s. "He would cover the good and the bad."
In the 1960s, while political dissent over the Vietnam War divided the country, Gutierrez said Diaz gave coverage to those who opposed the war even though he disagreed with them.
Diaz, whose chronicling of Eastside life spanned more than 40 years, received numerous honors and appointments. He was a former president of the Belvedere Rotary Club and the Greater Los Angeles Press Club. In 1962, he was named to the state Recreation Commission and two years later to the state Athletic Commission.
He was recognized by the California Chicano News Media Assn. in 1983 for being among the first prominent Latino figures in Los Angeles journalism. But perhaps his greatest honor was in 1981, when county supervisors renamed a portion of Belvedere Park after him--the Alberto C. Diaz Plaza.
In later years, Diaz, who is survived by his wife, mother, a brother, three sons and three grandchildren, was slowed by diabetes and other afflictions. He was blind at the time of his death.
"But he used to say, 'I may be blind but I haven't lost my vision,' " Gutierrez said.