Updated October 26, 2020 - 4:16 pm
Peter Umoh was a man in pursuit of community.
At work, he oversaw the creation of spaces where Southern Nevadans find joy. Off the clock, he showed a commitment to not forgetting where he came from and to creating a welcoming environment for people who also came to Las Vegas from somewhere else.
“He didn’t just build things,” longtime friend Augusta Massey said. “He built people.”
Umoh died Aug. 10 after a weekslong battle with COVID-19. He was 60.
A commitment to community
Born in Nigeria’s Akwa Ibom state, Umoh saved up money so he could attend school in the United States in his 20s. He learned architecture in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
After graduation, Umoh found work in Vancouver, Washington, just north of Portland, Oregon. When the economy tanked during the recession, the construction company he owned went sideways, so his family moved to Las Vegas, where Umoh later found work with Clark County.
Most Southern Nevadans know a project Umoh had a hand in as a design and construction administrator for the county. He worked on the Hollywood Aquatic Center, the Metropolitan Police Department headquarters and Mountain’s Edge Regional Park, among others.
“And he was just always not only great at his job, but did it with a great spirit and just a lot of joy,” said Clark County Commissioner Justin Jones.
Umoh was a soft-spoken man who placed an emphasis on listening first.
“But when he did speak, everyone listened,” his 27-year-old daughter, Didi Umoh, said.
Umoh was a founding member and head of community outreach for the African Diaspora of Las Vegas, a social organization for Africans living in Las Vegas. He was the founder and president of the Las Vegas Akwa Ibom State Association and was the former president of the Nigerian Association of Las Vegas.
Denis Mamattah, treasurer of the diaspora organization and longtime friend of Umoh’s, said Umoh wanted his children to know about his culture. He wanted them to have a sense of who they are.
He had a calming presence and placed an emphasis on empowering younger generations, African Diaspora of Las Vegas Vice President Jennifer Gachui said.
Massey, legal counsel for the organization, said Umoh was a gentle giant with a huge smile.
Jimmy Katuta, former president of the organization, said Umoh had a powerful spirit.
“He was a man full of love,” Katuta said.
In June, Umoh went to urgent care with an infection above his eye, Didi said. After being referred to a hospital, he went to Sunrise Hospital and Medical Center to see an eye specialist.
While at Sunrise, he tested positive for COVID-19, his daughter said. It is unclear how he contracted the virus.
Umoh had taken the virus seriously and limited his trips away from home, his family said. He had high blood pressure, was overweight and had sleep apnea, but was otherwise healthy, the family said.
A couple of days after his positive test, the hospital discharged him, Didi said. He was still weak and could not eat solid food.
Didi and her 24-year-old sibling, Abasi Umoh, who both came to town from Washington, contracted the virus while caring for their father.
When his breathing worsened, his children called an ambulance and had him taken to University Medical Center.
The first few days at the hospital, he was in the intensive care unit but seemed to be getting better. Even while hospitalized, he finished an effort to send food back to his village in Nigeria.
Then Umoh had to be intubated. His kidneys weren’t working. He was getting blood clots.
“It just went full deterioration, honestly, from there,” Didi said.
An effort to grow
The last time the two siblings saw their dad face-to-face was when the ambulance took him away.
“And even then, he was, I mean, he was so sick, and so weak that it wasn’t like we could have had a conversation with him,” Abasi said.
Didi said her dad talked to her about all the big life decisions people face, making light of the things she took too seriously.
“He was my dad, but he was also my mentor,” Didi said.
She said she will miss his wisdom and ability to make dark situations easier.
Abasi, who is genderqueer, said they would miss their dad’s encouragement and the way he empowered them. Abasi was not close with their dad when they were younger, but the relationship between the two grew stronger over recent years.
Umoh made an effort to understand Abasi.
To show his support for an event Abasi was participating in to share their experiences with being queer, Umoh flew in just to listen to them speak.
As his children grew, he showed an ability to be proud of people for who they were, Didi said.
“I really cannot stress how much he walked what he talked, and for us, that was everything,” she said.