NEWARK, NJ — Longtime youth mentor and sitting Newark Board of Education member Octavio “Tave” Padilla, 57, died Wednesday at University Hospital. 

Padilla, a lifelong Newarker, was taken to UH last week after suffering a stroke, according to individuals close to him. He is survived by a son, daughter, granddaughter, five siblings and his mother, Carmen Padilla. 

Born to Puerto Rican parents in Newark’s North Ward, Padilla was known for his warm, amicable personality and love of coaching. His long record of public service with the North Ward Center, where he served as co-director of Youth Development and Recreation for more than a decade, cemented his legacy as a community leader. 

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Padilla’s son attended Robert Treat Academy Charter School, which was founded by The North Ward Center. The center posted its condolences to Facebook on Thursday.

“Tave was the heart of us. He was always there, ready to lend a hand. His boisterous personality matched his giant presence,” the post said. “You always knew Tave was in the room. His voice was as distinctive as his personality. Farewell Tave. You will remain in our hearts forever.”

Many of those who worked with Padilla over the years came to know him through youth sports leagues, including former New Jersey Assemblyman Wilfredo Caraballo, who hired Padilla as his chief of staff from 2002 to 2007. 

Carabollo said he remembers Padilla as a “popular guy” who everyone liked and respected. Caraballo’s son played on teams coached by Padilla and the two men at one point lived across the street from one another. 

“He was always available to everybody and worked with everybody, and he always tried to bring people together,” Caraballo said. “What you remember most about him is that he had this infectious spirit. People liked being around him.”

North Ward Councilman Anibal Ramos Jr. said he considered Padilla a close friend and colleague.

"Tave was full of life," Ramos said. "He left his mark of kindness, laughter and loyalty to so many who knew him."

Padilla's career in politics includes includes serving as a legislative aide to New Jersey Senate President Stephen Sweeney and former State Senator Nellie Pou. He also served as the vice chair of the Newark North Ward Democratic Committee.

“Tave was part of the North Ward Democratic organization for the last two decades,” said Sam Gonzalez, the chairman of the North Ward Democratic Committee, who met Padilla while working at The North Ward Center. “He loved this community and he loved Newark. He was highly respected by residents. This is a huge loss for our North Ward Democratic family and the city and a tremendous loss for his family.”

As an experienced manager, recruiter and marketing executive, Padilla also ran a successful shoe store on Broad Street and later on Halsey Street for 20 years. 

First elected to the Newark Board of Education in 2016, Padilla further established his presence in Newark’s education circles by contributing decisions on district policy and fiscal and educational operations. He was re-elected to the board in 2019 and acted as chairperson for the Operations Committee, vice-chairperson of the Fiscal Committee and also sat on the Governance Committee. 

NBOE President Josephine Garcia, whose relationship with Padilla goes back 19 years, said she and Padilla’s board colleagues are hit hard by his sudden death. Garcia’s son, who also attended Robert Treat Academy, was coached by Padilla. 

“Tave was more like family, not a board colleague. We all looked up to Tave for advice,” she said.”It’s a sad and difficult time for all of us. He was part of my family, we worked together on the Puerto Rican Day Parade as well.”

At the time of his death, Padilla was actively involved with youth as a fundraiser and board member for Roberto Clemente and North Ward baseball leagues and the Newark Small Fry Basketball League.

“He’s helped thousands of young people through that program,” said Gonzalez, who managed Tave's campaigns for the BOE. “Working with young people, working with families making sure they get the best education possible. That’s why he was selected two times to be a school board member — because of his commitment. He was a sincere person.” 

A viewing will be held at Zarro Home Funeral Home, 145 Harrison St., Bloomfield, on Tuesday, Dec. 1 from 3:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. A mass will be held on Wednesday at 10:00 a.m. at St. Lucy Church in Newark followed by a burial at Holy Cross Cemetery in North Arlington.

In lieu of flowers, donations can be made in his name to The North Ward Center, 346 Mt. Prospect Ave. Newark, NJ 07104.