Ellen Vales, a Caretaker in Many Forms, Dies at 73

She spent her life cooking and caring for others until she died of Covid-19.

By Danya Issawi

This obituary is part of a series about people who have died in the coronavirus pandemic. Read about others here.

Ellen Vales loved to cook. Her specialty, and a favorite among those who loved her, was her own Creole version of gravy. She made it for her friends. She made it for her family. She made it for the children at Lake Highland Preparatory School in Orlando, Fla., where she worked as a food service supervisor for nearly 20 years.

“She was the home base for us,” her brother, Ronald Vales, said in a phone interview. “My mom and dad died in the ’70s, and Ellen, to me, was the place I would bring my kids to for the weekend.”

Ms. Vales was beloved by her co-workers and a support for her best friend and cousin, Yvonne Burton, whom she spoke to every day.

“I was going through some medical issues, and I went to her house to recuperate,” Ms. Burton said. “She took care of me — cooking meals, shopping, taking me to doctor appointments.”

Ms. Vales died on April 8 at a hospital in DeLand, Fla., about 42 miles north of Orlando. She was 73 and lived in DeLand. The cause was Covid-19, her brother said.

Ms. Vales was a “do-it-yourself” type of person. She often tackled home improvement projects, including laminating her floors, and took classes at Home Depot to learn home maintenance.

“She was there to offer any help she could,” said Mr. Vales, who had spent time at his sister’s home recovering from knee surgery.

Ellen Marie Vales was born on June 22, 1947, in Galveston, Texas, to Tifford and Mary Mae Vales. Her father was a maintenance worker and her mother a nurse’s aide. The family relocated to Greenburgh, N.Y., in Westchester County, where Ms. Vales grew up with her three siblings, Ronald, Sylvia and Joyce. She graduated from Woodlands High School in Hartsdale, N.Y.

Her marriage to Leslie Peterson, in 1966, ended in divorce in 1988. A stay-at-home mother during her marriage, Ms. Vales moved to North Carolina after her divorce, then to Orlando in 1990. She settled in DeLand in 2001.

Along with her brother Ronald, she is survived by her children, Daryn and Dina Peterson; her sister, Joyce Clayton; four grandchildren; and a great-granddaughter.

“No matter what the relation was with her family and friends, she was dedicated,” Mr. Vales said of his sister. “If she was home, then the door was open and people knew they were welcome there. There was no question about that.”

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