Taking your driver’s test is a rite of passage. But if you’re like most people, you might not remember much about it except maybe the parallel parking. And you probably don’t even remember the person sitting in the seat next to you with their foot hovering over the emergency brake pedal.
That is, unless you grew up in Juneau in the last 20 years, where many teenagers took their driving test with Reynaldo Caparas, known to most as Uncle Rey.
Caparas’ daughter, Marina Banks, says that of all the things her dad was to her and to the community, he would really love to be remembered as “the DMV guy.”
Caparas was born in 1955 in Manila, Philippines. When he was a young man in his 20s he got a job on a cruise ship, first as a line cook and then as an entertainer.
“Oh my gosh,” Banks said. “My dad had a very strong voice. I would say my dad was an alto kind of singer. And he just loved the spotlight for sure.”
After a few years of visiting Juneau on the ship, he decided to immigrate. Banks says that was partly because there were so many Filipinos in the community already, but mostly because he met his wife Melba and decided to stay and start a family.
In the 1980s and 1990s, he worked at hotels around town and at the ticket counter for Delta Airlines. He had a gift for customer service. He got energy from helping people.
He eventually landed a job with the state at the DMV, where he worked for 20 years making people laugh in one of the most unlikely places.
Banks said the family got their dad a fart machine one year.
“And he brought it into the DMV,” she said. “And he would place it in random spots in the office when there was like a long line. And my dad had the little remote and he would like play it, and it sounded like someone farted in the corner. And my dad thought that was so, so funny.”
He retired from the DMV at the end of April and spent his time at the other place a lot of people knew him from: the gym. He was a regular at the Alaska Club in the valley. Even in his 60s he would play basketball with high school kids, telling them he would live to be 100.
That’s where he was when he collapsed in mid-May. According to one family member, he told the paramedics that he hadn’t had a chance to enjoy his retirement yet. But he died later at the hospital of a pulmonary embolism. And that’s been hard for the family to swallow because he was so healthy.
About 10 years ago, his daughter says, he started eating really healthy. He stopped eating pork and white rice — staples of Filipino food. He switched to brown rice and fish, and he exercised a lot.
Caparas had COVID-19 earlier this year, and Banks, who is a nurse, thinks maybe that contributed to the blood clot that killed him.
“From all the things I’ve read, COVID has shown to kind of mess with the clotting factor in the blood,” she said. “And it’s just crazy, because my dad was so healthy. And I think that’s why most of us are just so, so devastated. And just so in disbelief because my dad was the healthiest person we know.”
But there’s some comfort in blaming COVID for his death, she says. It’s just something to kind of explain the suddenness of it, which is so hard to process.
In the Filipino Catholic tradition, mourners pray with the body for nine days. The Caparas family didn’t do that, exactly. Instead they hosted two days of long viewings, where dozens of people came to pay their respects.
But after the viewings, Marina says the strangest thing happened. The family came home and the room filled with the scent of flowers and her dad’s cologne. She says he always wore way too much, but it made the smell unmistakable.
“And so my mom would just sit in there and talk to my dad, you know, let him know that we’re here,” she said.
By morning the smell would be gone, but it returned the next night when they got back from the viewing. Banks says that since they are not ready to let him go, they will hold on to him this way until even the scent of him has moved on.
Reynaldo Caparas died on May 16, 2022. He was 66 years old. He leaves behind his wife, six children and eight grandchildren.
This story is part of KTOO’s participation in the America Amplified initiative to use community engagement to inform and strengthen our journalism. America Amplified is a public media initiative funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.
Your memories of Reynaldo Caparas
I am the eldest of his kids. Me and my dad were like brothers. We had the same style, clothes and shoe size. We had the same speaking voice as when I speak with someone on the phone I sounded like him. – Lots of people will mistakenly greet me as my dad. When I still work at the Vital Records Office some of our clients will just stop talking and will ask me if I am related to this “Rey” from the DMV because I sounded and looked like him. When I said “He is my dad”, they will be astounded but so happy to know because my dad just sent them over to get a birth certificate, then a guy who just looks like him will greet them over at my office. – There were times I’ve been jokingly bumped, tapped from my back then the person will say “oops sorry, I thought you’re my friend Rey”. Then I would just say It is ok, he is my dad. Then they will laugh by surprise as according to them I look like him. -My dad is the best. I call him “PAPA,” as we Filipinos call our fathers. Even though we have a lot in common, still I cannot duplicate what he had done in his beloved Juneau. But I will try to follow his footsteps and I promised him that I will continue his good legacy.Herbie Caparas
I’ve known Rey for a long time. Aside from the DMV we always hung out in the gym sauna and shared funny stories. I will miss Rey. Our town lost a very good man.Andy Khemelev
He is wonderful neighbor for the last 14 years! Always stop to say 👋 hello and chit chat! Helped me wonderfully at the DMV! He will be missed in the neighborhood!Christy Montero
My 61 yr old brother Tom came to Juneau from Kake to perform the DMV road test. My son Jason drove Tom over to DMV, showed the registration/insurance paperwork. Tom climbed behind the wheel and Rey got in the passenger seat. Tom took off, stopped behind the Stop sign entering Glacier Highway then jumped out and started driving on the side of the road on the bike lane. A big trucker hauling a container blasted his horn, Tom kept driving down that bike lane and poor Rey couldn’t figure out how to open the door of the Nitro (to jump out and save his life). Tom said he thought he was doing pretty good driving and couldn’t figure out “why?” Rey was searching the door panel so desperately. When they arrived safely back at the DMV parking lot he told Tom “you passed, you don’t need to come back,” probably to avoid a repeat performance.Joleen Wheeland
I used to live next door to the DMV and when the DMV would close my son would go across the street and kick the ball around. Rey always would kick it around with him a few times. He was a sweet man. He will be missedKelli Patterson
Rey’s the only reason I ever passed my drivers license test! I think he may have looked the other way on one or two forgotten blinkers. He’ll be missed by everyone who walked in that DMV building.Ryan Hoover
I took my driver’s test with Rey when I was 19. He was the best! Always smiling and so friendly. There was a part of my test I’ll never forget. We were at the stop light by Safeway. He had a neighbor in the car right next to us and they were yelling back and forth in conversation. Laughing with eachother. He was such a great spirit and after that point he always greeted me by first name and a smile. My condolences.Mekayla Lytle
I got to work with Rey at the DMV for the last 10 years. He always had the biggest smile, the biggest heart and the biggest amount of food at potlucks. Rey always brought us spring rolls, pancit, adobo and many other dishes and it was always enough to feed a army. He made the DMV a pleasant place to work and he is very missed. My heart goes out to his family. I still can’t believe he is gone. ❤️Celeste Walker
My son went for his driver’s test as soon as he turned 16, he was so excited. Something went wrong with my car and it had to be fixed before we could take the test. I felt so horrible that my son would need to reschedule. Rey stepped in and offered to stay on shift if we could make it back that day. That kindness was above and beyond and we were so appreciative and my son got to walk away with his driver’s license. I’ll always remember his kindness.Laura Lundborg
I am from Hoonah. I was traveling to Juneau and had to update my license. I had to catch the ferry back and had little time to go to the DMV. I showed up at 4:55 and was told by another employee that I would have to come back tomorrow, Rey stepped in and I told him my situation and he helped me renew my license then and there. He always asked about Hoonah and said he worked there years before. He was such a personable person. Prayers and comfort to his family. I will miss seeing him whenever I go to the DMV ❤️Gina Norris
I remember Rey from the DMV – I don’t remember ever engaging with him outside the DMV. When the line was super long and I had an unusually difficult transaction (like when my mom passed away in PA and I brought her car back and tried to register it here) I would sit there with my lucky rabbit’s foot and four leaf clover and hope Rey called my number. Rest In Peace Rey. You were a good man.Mari Meiners
My daughter was a careful driver but excited about getting her license soon after turning 16. The first time she tested she was failed not on driving but because there was a small crack in her windshield. That set her back for a bit because the tester was not kind about it. Next time she got up courage to try to test again, luckily Rey was available to take her out. She did, well maybe, roll through a stop sign without coming to a total dead stop, but Rey could tell she knew how to handle the car and pay attention to traffic and signals. Nearly 10 years later she is still a good and careful driver, respects the speed limit and always wears her seatbelt. Going through a teen rite of passage like this with a kind generous spirit can really set the tone for how important kindness is at every level of life and human interaction. Rey was not a push-over, but he recognized competency and quality of attention and he made room for small human errors that are correctable. I’m probably over-stating this situation because I really only knew Rey in the context of these several interactions at the DMV, but clearly I’m not alone in deeply appreciating the WAY he did his job, and his life. I’m so sorry for the Caparas family and I hope you can take some small comfort in appreciating how much Rey was admired and respected.Emily Kane
Seeing Rey always took the anxiety out of going to the DMV for me. Even with my mask on Rey would recognize me and call me by name. It was like seeing family. He had such a great smile and really lit up the room. I will remember how he made people feel special, and helped lift people’s spirits in the midst of all their paperwork. Condolences to his family.Richard Lyon
Rey was the best! There was not any complicated DMV situation that he could not solve. And do it in such a warm hearted and thoroughly competent way. He inspired our admiration and great respect. A rare human being for sure! God bless his family, what a loss to our community but most especially to them.Gail O’Dell
Rey was the kindest man at the DMV with a broad smile and warm sense of humor. I remember him talking to our son about the importance of taking your driving privileges seriously. Rey even went so far as to kindly remind our son that ‘mom or dad’ can just as easily take away the privilege if he didn’t drive responsibly and that he should respect our rules. Rey was firm, but kind hearted and took extra care when serving folks at DMV. We’ll sure miss Rey’s energy and welcoming smile. Sending heartfelt condolences to his family.Mary Johns
Rey gave both my kids their driver’s tests and was so kind to them. He was also wonderful to me when there were glitches in getting my international flight ID. I never saw him without a smile.Caroline Malseed
I first had the pleasure of meeting Rey and his wife, Melba, when both of our youngest daughters became friends. They were both extremely shy, and just starting Kindergarten. Over the years, they became like family to us, sharing in celebrations, birthdays and all sorts of events. My youngest daughter, Courtney, eventually spent a whole month in the Philippines with them when she was 16. Their family is, and always will be, very dear to us. Thank you for all the memories and sharing your family with us, Rey. You will be forever missed.Rowena Brockway (Reeves)
I am so sad to hear this. We loved Rey. He was a smiling, funny warm person. He was the bright spot of the DMV. He made a difference in our community. My heart does out his family. Rey was one awesome guy.Michele Stuart Morgan
I am so grateful I went to the DMV in April and Rey helped me. We reminisced about the Mendenhaven neighborhood they lived in and all the families that are still here. Rey was my driving instructor at 16 and also happened to own the parked car I slid into one of my first winters driving… Even though the side of his suburban was dented up, he laughed and gave me a big hug as I sobbed and apologized. Rey made sure to send his condolences when my mother passed away. He truly brought light and love to Juneau. Thank you Uncle Rey for the memories, laughs, and most of all – love. You are greatly missed…Lacey Derr
We met Rey through Melba they were a wonderful couple they even asked us to come to there home in the Philippines and stay it looked like a mansion we pray that the family will feel the love all around them Rey was a wonderful man and God seen that and needed his help in heaven ,Melba their is know words on how I feel for you Amen❤🙏❤🙏❤Shirley & Frank Jessup
I met Rey at DMV through my work as I was title processor for true North Federal credit Union. He was always pleasant and kind to everyone. He always made me feel really good because he told me a dressed very snappy and certainly didn’t look my age which does wonders for an older lady. He will be greatly missed. My condolences to his family who I know he truly loved him as he was always bragging about his children and his wife.Bonnie Tourtillotte
I like many Juneauites took my first driving test with Rey. He was very kind and encouraging when I did the parallel parking in a long pickup truck as it was the only car at the time that fit the requirements for a road test that my family had. I had the pleasure of taking another “road” test with him in July of 2021 when I decided to finally take my road test to get my motorcycle license. It had rained quite a bit the night before as I drove my motorcycle there while my husband monitored my driving and sponsored my trip. The morning of my test I arrived ready to test. The parking lot was wet that morning and Rey was hesitant to let me test citing safety concerns. We talked it over and discussed how it often rains in Juneau and riders/drivers should be prepared for inclement weather and a variety of conditions. This discussion also allowed me to catch up with Rey and hear about his grandkids. I went to school at JDHS with Marina and we were in many pre-nursing classes together at UAS. So I got to hear updates on her life and what a joy it was for him to have grandchildren (which was heartwarming for me as I had just recently found out I was pregnant with my first baby). He expressed excitement about retirement and all that he would do when not at the DMV. Ultimately he let me take my road test for the motorcycle, and it was the start of a fun summer commuting to work at Bartlett. I also interacted with him as I got my real ID, shortly before he retired. I always loved that his desk even as a “public” facing desk had so much personality and things that reflected Rey. He often had the radio playing and was either humming or outright singing at low volume as he did various transactions and interactions with DMV patrons. He was a Juneau icon and I know he is very missed. Melba, Marina, Maureen and the rest of the Caparas family, I am so sorry for your loss and wish you all comfort and happy memories to share with one another as you remember him.Morgan Ramseth
Like many people, I knew Rey from the DMV, and would always try to get in his line and also would try to get a call in to him if I had a minor question. Always helpful and efficient. But I first met Rey on the tennis court where he was a great player and competitor. He was always fun to play with or against and became a friend. We always talked about the hope that someday after his retirement I would visit him in the Islands. What a great loss to his family, friends, and the community.Aric Ludwig
Rey always greeted me at the DMV by my name and asked me how I was doing. He remembered my siblings, and was very kind, it was so important for me to be seen by a member of the community, this meant a lot to me. He helped me with my driving test, and registering so many vehicles, we used to joke about that. He was an amazing person. Know that he is missed by myself and this community. Thank you for his service, kindness and connection.Monika Kunat
Rey just helped me renew my driver’s license in April. I’m so very sorry for your loss. Thank you, KTOO for sharing this lovely tribute.Katy Jordan
Uncle Rey used to be our kababayan in near town where we lived in the Philippines. When his family and mine get to know each other we became closed family friends. He used to be my dad and uncle of my kids in Juneau. Whenever we had a chance to have some swrious conversations, he always gives advices eapecially to my kids. He’s been so kind, loving and respectable person i’ve ever knew, that’s why maybe lots of people love him so much. Day before we left for vacation going to Philippines, me and one of my son (Janus) went to their house and i’d never knew that, that will be our last conversation and the last time will be seeing each other. He even told my son to pick him up coz he’ll be the one to go with him on his road test. Sadly coz it won’t happen annymore 😭. But we know uncle that you’ll be there to guide us. Thank You for Everything. You will always be remembered. We Love You Uncle.Maryliz Del Rosario
Rey was head clerk at the Baranof when I met him. He could always find a room for me. It was always a pleasure to see him, wherever he was. I will remember him well, and I am happy he stayed around so you could know he is okay.Tom Abel
Bit of a funny story. I was trying to get my drivers license failed the test 3 times and then 4th try he asks what route I wanted to drive 😂 such a great sense of humor. He was such a great guy! Rip Reynaldo 🙏🏻♥️ Samson and I just seen him 4/25/22. So very sad 😢 Your smiling face will be missed next time I visit the DMV 😞Angelia McMurren
I remember Rey as a compassionate, sharp witted and strong person, too bad they take the good ones first. Rest in Heaven Rey.Nick Paguio
He was a great guy! He gave me my driver’s test and I was so nervous. But he was so calm, chill, easy going that it helped me relax. When we got back to the DMV, I remember him saying “So I hate to tell you, but…” he suddenly smiled and held out his hand to shake mine “…you passed.” I laughed, shook his hand, and it such a good moment. I liked that he diffused my nerves with humor and he knew his job so well. Lots of respect for him.Laura Hales
Rey was a part of the DMV family that I was with for 9 years. It didn’t matter what part of the state you worked at, we all knew Rey and his humor. He will be missed.Jason Davies
He was so kind in taking care of me. I was worried and upset. My husband just had been rushed to the hospital with heart issues and I was told to put handicap plates on our autos right away.
I will always remember his calming manner.Susanne Williams
We met Rey through mutual friends and knew him socially and from gatherings and events. He always remembered your name, always made sure everyone felt at home. He would offer you lunch and share a kind word. Our oldest son played tennis with him. Two of our kids did their driver’s test with him. He was a first class person and had a wide sphere of friends, from kitchen helpers to college professors. You either knew Rey or knew someone who knew Rey. He will be missed. Perhaps they can put something up in the DMV office to commemorate his time and service there. He was a master of the small acts of kindness that help us all make it through our days.Karina Reyes & Mike Boyer
Rey was such a wonderful person rey gave me my test when I was getting my CDL he gave my daughter her test when she was getting her license he will be missed dearly.i did have a chance to talk to him the night before he passed we were down at marine park getting some food at Bernadette’s he always greeted me with a smile RIP ReyTimothy Howard
He was the most Genuine Man anyone could ever have met. I don’t recall the year we met, since he treated you as a lifelong friend, he would ask about my Mother and brother.George Carteeti
“Kuya” (means older brother in the Philippines) Rey, his wife Melba, another friend and I would play Mahjong (a Filipino-Chinese game) all evening long while eating delicious Filipino food made by the husband and wife duo. Whenever I’m at the DMV office, I always felt so good to see Kuya Rey sitting on that first chair at the front desk ready to help, My youngest daughter, Ela, was one of his last students the day he retired. I was in shocked when I heard about his passing that day. He will be missed so much. Our deepest condolences to the whole Caparas Family. We love you Kuya Rey!Pia Mateo
I remember Rey from the JRC. We would always talk if he was on his way to play tennis or after he finished a match. He would always kid me since I was a 49er fan, and they were not winning. He was a great guy and always had a smile on his face. I will miss seeing his smiling face and talking about sports. RIP my friend.Joe Ver
My first CDL test what made t&h class that put students on the road. They were recognized by dept. Of education truckers of america state of alaska to be known as legal class. I will always remember him giving me my chance to drive truck will be missed.Frederick Johnson
I met Rey when we all lived in sitka, when my Daughter was 4-5 I would let her sit on my lap in the car drive around Mt Edgecumbe school grounds in the summer, we would see him driving sometimes, he would point @ me 🙈😁 then when she was old enough 2 get a license, we went into the DMV in Jnu, he saw us said what’s up guy’s? We told him, he told the lady there I want 2 do this road test Plz I have known this girl since she was what mom ? I said 4 maybe 5yrs old, he said yes they live in sitka so I know them 🙂💕 When they got back from the road test looking @ my Daughter 2 see her reaction, she was looking sad them 2 looking @ me then both started laughing 😄 I said aye, he said No mom she passed Mom did perfect wonder y Mom😁 he was smiling, he started telling ppl in the dmv I remember her when she was on mom’s lap driving so she did good, he always said so good 2 see u all, or same thing want 2 get us in his line, it is so sad when I saw that he past 😪 he will be missed especially when we have 2 go 2 the DMV, looking 4 him his smile RIP Rey u will be missed 💕 Love & Hugs 2 his Family 🙏Carolyn Jack
Rey was my Co-worker, and my friend. I worked side by side with him the last 3 1/2 years. (seemed like much longer) He was a great Man, and an awesome co-worker. He was my Mentor. My primary trainer for road testing. For standard driver licenses and CDL licenses. He had so much knowledge and great input and feedback. Always happy to help and able to guide, and be a back up if need be. Even though he retired, last day was May 6th of this year. He stopped by a couple times. The last time, was the Friday before his passing. He brought us pancit. Rey, you’re missed, but you will never be forgotten.Jordan Gray
He was excellent providing customer service. He always had a smile. I am grateful that he was kind & patient. This is sad news. Condolences to his loved ones and especially his family!Marvin Sharon
Rey was so nice. I was always anxious about the lines, people, etc. But whenever I saw Rey, I’d smile & relax. He was a trip. I knew him in many ways & he was always nice, helpful & funny. R.I.P U lovely person. U are 4ever missed. 🕊🌈Shannon G
What a great guy! He made our trips to the DMV enjoyable. We will miss you Rey and your good humor! Our condolences to your family.Jeff Brown & Maureen Conerton
I didn’t know Rey on a personal level but my one and only encounter with him was a memorable one! Rey and my Dad were friends. I was flying up from Kake to do my drivers test & my Dad told me about his buddy Rey that worked at DMV before I went. I got to the DMV – nervous about my driving test. Rey was nice and even more friendly when I told him that my Dad told me to tell him hello! We went out and did the driving test and honestly parallel parking is not my strong suit haha but we got it done & he told me that I passed & when I was leaving DMV the last thing he said to me (in a serious manner) was “Tell your Dad to send fish!” I laughed and said “Ok, will do!” … Later, I called my Dad to tell him that I passed my test and after I told my Dad about Rey’s request for fish, I jokingly asked my Dad if he and Rey talked before my test & made a deal for him to pass me! My Dad’s only response was “Oh yeah, I need to send him fish!” 😂 Always heard nice things about him! My sister also worked with his daughter. My deepest condolences & my heart goes out to his family & friends! ♥️Rissa Jackson
The man was a saint, he always asked me about my mother, and when she passed he gave me his sincere condolences. I could tell he was serious because he got choked up. My mom was pretty good at picking out true honest people, and He was nothing different. That’s why him and my mother were good friends even after they hadn’t worked together for years. He gave me my motorcycle test, we weren’t able to do it the first attempt because of weather, and I remember giving him a hard time about there not being that much rain on the ground, and he looked at me and said, ”Leo if the ground is wet, we can’t proceed!” He was very serious because he wanted me to be safe and to pass, he knew a couple of the maneuvers would be difficult on wet asphalt. I came in the following week and passed with flying colors. He was so proud of me and tried to set up a time where we could both go out riding together as he had a motorcycle as well. Unfortunately I guess we will never get to, although I will have him in my thoughts when I ride from now on. Rest in peace sir, I will see you when it is my time to go. Until then you will be in my heart.Leonard Sims JR
Nov 11,2011 when I get my driver’s license in Juneau, Kuya Rey is the one gave me the test,He is so sweet and very kind ,I remember he asked me how long do I stay here I said this is my first year,He talked about the life in Juneau and how the people are so nice…and when I passed he said this is your lucky year 11/11/11….and I won’t forget that Rest in peace Kuya Rey at least now you know the SECRET ….Elvira Morgan
Met Rey at the DMV and as soon as I mentioned my P.O.B he smiled and we started joking. He was indeed a peoples person Very nice gentlemen Condolences to the Family and the Juneau community.Umesh
Oh my goodness! This truly breaks my heart!! It was always so nice seeing him at DMV. May God be with his family and friends. <3Kathy Thomas
Rey always was extremely helpful to me over the last 20 some years at DMV. Always with a smile and good advice, as recently as the first 3 months of 2022 I was in DMV three times and Rey was there, remembered who I was and gave me shortcuts and advice that smoothed along transactions. DMV and Juneau will be hard put to replace Rey. R.I.P.Wayne Fleek
I’ve known Rey for a long time. Aside from the DMV we always would run into each other either at the gym or around town. I will miss Rey, he always had a smile on his face.Miguel (Mike) Lopez