The NYU community lost a vital member over fall break. John “Johnnie” Votta, better known to NYU students as the Timekeeper, passed away in his apartment of natural causes and was found on Monday night. According to longtime friend Roland Velez, Votta’s health had been deteriorating for some time. He was reportedly 70 years old.
“He was always looking to help people out,” said Gilbert del Tozo, the friend and beneficiary of Votta. Del Tozo and Velez both manage the entrance of residential building 49 W. 12th Street where Votta would stop by on a daily basis. “He was a real neighborhood guy,” said Del Tozo. The men were close with Votta, and it was Velez who discovered his death.
“I hadn’t heard from him in a while and I knew his health had been deteriorating since the Beth Israel incident,” said Velez. “It’s been getting colder, and I assumed John holed himself up in his apartment. When he didn’t answer his phone — which I convinced him to get for safety reasons — I started getting worried.”
Velez talked to Votta’s neighbors, who said that his apartment was unlocked but that they hadn’t heard from him. “It was then that I called 911,” he explained, and this lead to the realization that the man had passed.
Votta has visited 49 W. 12th Street daily for almost fifteen years. Velez explained that Votta would spend his mornings telling students the time on Washington Place before walking to Chinatown to visit his favorite bakery for lunch. He’d head back to his home in the West Village, and stop to chat with Velez and del Tozo.
“He’d come by our building and shoot the breeze. He’d offer us coffee, we’d talk. We became very close. He was one of the nicest people I’ve met,” said Velez. According to Velez’s wife, Danielle, Votta would even get holiday gifts for the Velez children.
“My attitude towards life is to do what makes people happy,” said Votta during a biographical documentary filmed by NYU students. This accurately describes Timekeeper’s effect on the NYU community.
There is currently no funeral or memorial service planned, but Velez commented that he would like to get students and NYU involved with a memorial project. “I would love to see a plaque displaying his name [on Washington Place]” said Velez. “Anything would be appreciated.” NYU Local would like to see that, as well. The idea of a “memorial clock” has been even been thrown around.
Del Tozo told Local that the police precinct and the bank are giving him “the runaround,” despite being the beneficiary of Votta. Since del Tozo has no documentation or papers that prove his relation to the deceased, he cannot access Votta’s apartment, which is “all taped off.” This is problematic because inside the apartment is a set of keys to a box wherein Votta told del Tozo he was keeping his will.
Local dug up a tidbit of NYU history that demonstrates that Votta is part of a lineage of Timekeeper-like characters. According to Bobst’s website, “During the early 19th century, the University janitor used a gong and mallet to summon students to Chapel and to other events. Additionally, it was customary in the early years of the University for the janitor to lead the commencement procession in recognition of the important role he played in the University’s affairs.” There may have been others, but we will never get another Votta.
Many universities have giant, regal-looking towers to display the time. NYU isn’t most schools. We were fortunate enough to have the most unique clock imaginable. John Votta was a sparkling piece of NYU’s culture and energy, and he will be greatly missed.