Vidal Guzman, 60, a prominent Twin Cities public radio executive who championed diversity in media, died Monday evening in Puerto Rico while trying to save his 19-year-old son from nearly drowning, according to family members.
Guzman, 60, of Minneapolis, who worked as a senior manager at Public Radio International in Minneapolis, was visiting his wife's family on the island for Christmas and New Year's, his daughter, Marieli Guzman, said Wednesday.
Family members said they were on a beach near Manatí, about 50 minutes west of San Juan. Vidal Guzman III, the son, was trying to join his father in the water.
The younger Guzman swam out to his father as the waves "kept pounding us so hard," he said. As the men tried to get to shore, the younger man began to struggle, then "saw he was trying to come to me."
The son continued to make his way toward shore, which he was able to do. "It wasn't until I turned that he wasn't behind me," he said of his father.
Meanwhile, on the beach, his daughter saw several men running toward the water. They brought the elder Guzman to shore. Marieli Guzman, 28, a licensed practical nurse at Park Nicollet and a member of the Minnesota National Guard, rushed to try to revive her father, but he was unresponsive.
"I just tried to do CPR for as long as I could," she said.
Colleagues said Guzman was a champion in diversifying public radio and often spoke with station managers across the country and at industry conferences of the "importance and urgency of it," said Cathy Twiss, senior director of radio distribution at PRI and Guzman's immediate supervisor.
"He took every opportunity he could to ... serve the underserved," Twiss said. "[He believed] that public media should be representative of everyone in America."
A public radio champion
As a young man, Guzman, a native of San Antonio, Texas, made the 20-hour bus trip to the University of Wisconsin-Madison to study Spanish — his pockets full of his mother's homemade treats. A friend there recruited him to a local radio station, and that's when his career took off, his daughter said.
He worked in the radio industry for more than 30 years, first at Wisconsin Public Radio, where he was a producer, recording engineer and technical director. He then spent some time in the public relations industry before joining PRI, based in Minneapolis.
At PRI, he was responsible for sales, marketing, maintenance, audience research, fundraising and performance related to PRI programs such as "The World" and "The Takeaway."
"Vidal dedicated 22 years to PRI and is well-known throughout public radio as a key member of our client relations team," PRI President and CEO Alisa Miller wrote in a statement. "He was a kind, funny, enthusiastic proponent of all that public radio is and could be ... and so treasured by the whole public radio system."
Guzman had a hand in launching several prominent news programs, including "The World," a daily newsmagazine with global scope that is based out of Boston, and "Latino USA," an award-winning radio newsmagazine focusing on the Latino community.
"The Latino community is a heterogeneous group," Guzman told a University of Texas student newspaper article from 1993. "Each has its own history and background. We want to bridge the gaps, informing Puerto Ricans in New York about Chicanos in L.A. and Cubans in Miami."
Guzman often talked about those beliefs with Maxie C. Jackson III, station manager for 90.3 WCPN Ideastream in Cleveland.
"He was always a good resource to understand the history of the field," Jackson said. "He gave me a compass as to the way I should be looking at issues that were specific to Latino and Hispanic communities."
Allison Herrera, social media editor for PRI, said Guzman was part of her hiring committee and that after she got the job in September, he would check in and "made sure I felt welcomed at PRI."
Colleagues described him as warm and caring, generous with his time and in giving back to his community. He ran marathons and often spent his afternoons working out at the Lifetime gym in downtown Minneapolis.
He collected first editions of books by Latino authors, including Pablo Neruda and Gabriel García Márquez, Twiss said.
Karol Smith, a friend of Guzman through their Boy Scout leadership roles, said he was a "true servant leader."
"You want people like him in your life," Smith said. "I'm not shocked at the manner [in which] he died, because he always put others first."
Friends started a GoFundMe campaign for the family and a memorial service will be held Saturday at the Golden Valley Country Club starting at 1 p.m.