By JESSICA WETZLER
Daily News-Record 12/27/19
Pablo Cuevas sat in the Daily News-Record newsroom for three hours telling stories that would end and begin in between tangents of conversation.
He didn’t start with his days leading up to leaving Cuba in 1958, but how a man from Cuba was invited to the White House to meet President Richard Nixon when some people born in the United States had never even been to Washington, D.C.
“I must have brought him bad luck,” Cuevas said while laughing, as his trip to the capital was followed by the Watergate scandal months later.
His stories would be interrupted the moment someone walked by, starting a new conversation with someone else that led to him showing videos of his cabin overseeing the Allegheny Mountains and western Rockingham County, or making a deal to bring Casa Cuevas Cigars in from Miami — which he did on Christmas Eve.
Every story he told were things he didn’t expect he would be able to tell when he immigrated to the U.S. with no family of friends, or how his love for baseball would lead him to meeting his wife, Elaine, or getting his first and second job.
How the notion of retiring as vice president of Riddleberger Bros. Inc. would be his future when he stepped foot in Rockingham County, or if the county would accept him at all.
He didn’t know he would be spending a Tuesday morning talking about his experiences serving on the Board of Supervisors for 30 years, but he did know that one day his time on the board would come to an end.
“All my life, all the impact at the end came from the people who gave their time to allow me to be a part of their life,” Cuevas said.
And as much as Cuevas, 78, tells stories of the people who impacted his life, there are nearly double the amount of tales from people who were impacted by Cuevas.
After spending nearly his entire life in Rockingham County within the public service realm, Cuevas announced his retirement from the Board of Supervisors effective Dec. 31 due to family and health reasons.
Within weeks of his announcement, Cuevas received gifts, cards, phone calls and offers to get free coffee by people he knew and some he didn’t.
“Someone at 7-Eleven wanted to buy my coffee,” Cuevas said. “All the thankyou cards I am getting who I don’t know who they are … that is the reward you get. It tells you that maybe you have been doing things somewhat in the right way.”
Within the stack of cards he received sit two letters from Democratic Sens. Tim Kaine and Mark Warner.
Cuevas opened the card from Kaine and chuckled at the sight of a silver donkey charm inside of the envelope.
“I think it’s cool,” Cuevas, a Republican, said of the gift.
The thank-you cards, resolutions and conversations walking down the street were all things Cuevas didn’t think his life would become when he would retire.
“I look back sometimes and think about the first and second farm dad had and mom making shirts out of flour bags,” he said. “It was a good family, a good upbringing. I saw my dad work harder and harder.”
Before leaving Cuba, Cuevas worked on his father’s farm, but it was later dispossessed by the Marxists.
“You go from nothing to a lot to ‘oh, no’ to starting low and playing baseball and being accepted and there you get to where you can help people financially, and that is a heck of a ride,” Cuevas said. “I was able to go through all these bumps and all the experiences and see what life may be like for you, and then you see people who were a part of your move across the way help you do some good and be a part of the good that came out. ... Don’t forget those types of people.”
Daniel Blosser was working at the Shenvalee Golf Course in New Market when Cuevas offered him a job at Riddleberger Bros.
“I didn’t know what Riddleberger was,” Blosser said. “But Pablo has the power of persuasion.”
Blosser was 18 years old and a recent graduate of Broadway High School when he was hired as a helper washing delivery trucks.
With Pablo being a “Broadway guy,” he was always recruiting for Riddleberger.
Another thing Pablo didn’t know was that the simple hire off of a golf course would lead to Blosser becoming president of the company.
“He always made time to see my progress here and he treated everyone the same,” Blosser said. “He makes connections with everyone in all walks of life. … The job title didn’t matter to him.”
In the 40 years Cuevas worked for Riddleberger, he took the company to “the next level.”
“Pablo made a mark here and left his mark on a lot of folks,” Blosser said. “His contacts and marketing and negotiation skills took us to that next level. I still lean on him for advice to this day.”
Along with Charles “Chuck” Ahrend, Cuevas also helped Chaz Haywood change his career path to become the Rockingham County clerk of circuit court.
In 2006, Ahrend and Cuevas asked Haywood to join them for a cup of coffee.
“My first thought was they were the real powerhouses of the Board of Supervisors,” Haywood said.
The meeting was about getting Haywood to run for the clerk of court, in which Haywood asked the pair, “What is that?”
“They planted that seed,” Haywood said. “For me, I can’t thank Pablo enough for putting me in a different situation. I wouldn’t be on this path without him.”
While every encounter with Cuevas is unique for different individuals, the message being sent to Cuevas is being said in unison: “Thank you.”
Thank you from Sallie Wolfe- Garrison, who said due to Cuevas believing in her as she took on a new role as District 2 supervisor, she was accepted.
Thank you from Marsha Garst, who became the first woman elected as a commonwealth’s attorney and someone Cuevas supported and asked what the county could do to continue that support.
Thank you from Sheriff Bryan Hutcheson, who described Cuevas as someone who genuinely wanted to help all people in Rockingham County because he cared.
Thank you from County Administrator Stephen King, who said Cuevas consistently put the best interest of Rockingham County first.
And the list of thank yous increase by the hour, with some more emotional than others.
After the board appointed Brent Trumbo to fill Cuevas’ empty seat, Bill Kyger sat in an empty Board of Supervisors room thinking of something he could say to Cuevas.
His eyes focused toward the back of the room as they filled with tears. His hand holding his chin up while covering his mouth as he pushed the words “Thank you” in a faint quiver.
Kyger knew Cuevas before he was elected to serve on the Board of Supervisors.
“He is a guy you want on your side during a fight because he is a worthy opponent,” Kyger said.
Kyger was serving his first term on the board when Cuevas was elected, and throughout 30 years the pair shared numerous moments and memories.
“There are so many stories, some I can’t tell, but they are funny stories,” he said.
To Kyger, Cuevas was a “triple sized Energizer Bunny” who was warm, cuddly and never afraid to make new friends.
“You better expect frankness and an honest conversation with him, but listen and he will give you due respect,” Kyger said. “We will miss his wisdom, but I have enjoyed his friendship more than anything.”
The relationship Kyger and Cuevas shared expanded outside of the Board of Supervisors, spending personal parts of life with each other, including all big events such as weddings and celebrations.
“We have been great friends on different political sides,” Kyger said. “I doubt there will ever be another Pablo to serve under the Board of Supervisors.”
As Cuevas’ final day as a supervisor came to an end on Dec. 11, he was greeted by a crowd of co-workers, legislators, friends and family who would be there until the final minutes.
Cuevas met with every single person, shaking their hand before the meeting started and letting people know that the girl standing on the corner taking pictures was his daughter, Erika Cuevas Morris.
“They say it takes a village to raise a child,” Morris said. “And that is my village.”
When Cuevas and Elaine made the commitment to have their lifestyle revolve around public service, they brought Erika along with them.
“That opened up their doors when he came from Cuba,” Morris said.
When Morris made the trip from Chesterfield County to see her father during his last meeting, she felt an overwhelmingly warm sensation due to the amount of people there to support her father, and crediting the town of Broadway for being an inviting place.
“Seeing that kind of love is wonderful, but that area gave my dad a home,” she said. “He has built many relationships over time, and it is obviously a sentimental time for me because I grew up in the environment of public service.”
Pablo Cuevas may be stepping down from the board, but that won’t stop him for continuing his work in public service, according to Morris.
“I think they are always going to find the next public service adventure,” she said. “They are not going to stop doing things for others. … That is just who they are.”
“It will be hard for him to retire,” Elaine said.
Cuevas’ first instinct to help others will never stop, along with his quality of getting to know people, according to his wife.
“He talks all the time, even in his sleep,” she said. “He has been good to the community and likes to be involved in a lot of things. He has definitely left his mark here, for the better.”
In his 30 years of service on the Board of Supervisors, Cuevas helped bring nearly six new schools to the county, along with renovations when needed and creating a long-term plan for school improvements.
He helped to form the Massanutten Technical Center Foundation to raise awareness about the importance of career and technical education for youth and adults, serving as president of the foundation since 1985.
He was a vital component of keeping the county fiscally responsible and never lost sight of where the taxpayers’ dollars were going.
He pushed for manageable projects to improve the county courthouse, Rockingham County Administration Center and Rockingham/Harrisonburg Regional Jail to improve the county and services being provided without unduly burdening taxpayers.
He helped negotiate water agreements with Harrisonburg to allow for growth on the north side of U.S. 11 and continuously advocated for the residents in Bergton to make sure they were being taken care of.
In Cuevas’ eyes, Rockingham County arrived at a sense to say it was OK to allow Cuevas do the things he did, saying, “You do some things for them, to change people’s life.”
And while some people may say Cuevas made Rockingham County a better place, Cuevas leans on the joint effort it took to accomplish the work made during his 30 years of service.
“It means more to me to think that those people thought [I was] open enough to work with their supervisor to be open-minded enough,” he said. “That is the reward you get.”