Janet Lenore Vaughan (Malling) Ely, 1941-2019
A version of this obituary appeared in the Mercury News, San Jose, California, Jan. 7, 2019.
The world lost a true giver when Jan Ely passed away due to complications from Alzheimer’s in Los Gatos, CA, December 26, 2019. She was 78.
Jan had a warm heart, a gentle, playful spirit, and a radiant smile that made everyone around her feel appreciated and loved. Her frequent laughter was contagious. It pulled you in.
A second grade teacher in the Cambrian School District (Farnham and Sartorette schools) for 32 years, many will remember Jan as a favorite teacher. “She had that passion that good teachers have,” said Richard Wendell, who was principal at Sartorette before becoming an assistant superintendent. Wendell and other coworkers described Jan as the perfect combination of organized, knowledgable, bright, and caring. Soft spoken, she rarely raised her voice, and yet her students remained focused.
Janet Lenore Vaughan was born September 14, 1941, at San Jose Hospital. Raised in Palo Alto, she graduated from Cubberley High in 1959. She attended Biola University and San Jose University, graduating in January 1965 with a bachelor of arts degree in education.
Jan married Richard Malling, a school counselor, and they divorced amicably a few years later.
When she was in her late thirties, Jan met and married Hal Ely, who was the principal of Farnham (she subsequently moved to Sartorette), and began the long honeymoon that was their life together. Hal treasured Jan as the vibrant, vivacious love of his life.
Martha Honda, Jan’s step-daughter, remembers Jan welcoming her and her three brothers with open arms, not once forgetting a birthday or a special occasion from then on. “She was never a mother, always a sister, a best friend,” said Martha.
Jan was a great corresponder and letter writer. She kept in touch with friends near and far, old and new, remembering birthdays or anniversaries. “Every time they went on a vacation, we got a postcard,” Martha said.
From the time they met until Jan’s death, Jan and Hal exchanged cards and love notes celebrating small occasions, including the anniversary of their meeting.
Jan grew up in the church and maintained her Christian faith her whole life. She attended Bridges Community Church (previously First Baptist Church) of Los Altos from an early age. Though she wasn’t outwardly religious, Jan had a servant’s heart.
She loved volunteering and gave generously with her time. Jan also loved dancing, swimming, tennis, bowling, and thrift store shopping. One of her favorite things was to hunt for designer clothing at thrift stores. If you took Jan to a thrift store, you were going to be there for awhile.
Another passion was children’s literature. Jan collected children’s books and leaves behind a book-case full of first editions signed by authors.
Jan and Hal, along with family or friends or travel groups, traveled all over the world: Hawaii, Alaska, China, Japan, Germany, Austria, The Panama Canal, Australia, to name a few trips. With her warmth and infectious smile, she won over many. Maybe it started as a conversation on an airplane and turned into a correspondence. Soon the new friends would be staying at the house, and then Jan and Hal were going to Holland to stay with them.
Despite the jet-setting, the Elys were frugal, saving their pennies so they could take more trips.“They lived this seemingly glorious lifestyle,” said Martha. “But if they went on a trip, they packed a lunch.”
Jan loved champagne, white wine, and Haagen-Dazs dipped chocolate ice cream bars and, thus, her pedometer to keep her body trim. She had to do 10,000 steps a day, and there were times where she was constantly in motion.
On weekends, Jan liked to stay in bed and read the newspaper. Then she’d pull out her magazines and clip recipes, putting them in a book as inspiration for her entertaining. It’s one of her many legacies that her granddaughter does this now too.
When they retired, Jan and Hal volunteered for community events in the Campbell area. Jan led teas for the historical society.
In the years after Jan was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, Martha helped her to continue her volunteer work. They made Christmas trees out of old Reader’s Digests spray-painted with glitter and took them to the VA. They made baloney sandwiches for the homeless. The Mercury News published a story about greeting card kits the two made and sent to people in the military. They involved 30 other people with Alzheimer’s in the project, and it had a far-ranging impact on those who made the kits and those who received them, a tribute to Jan’s fondness for pre-email correspondence.
“This disease never touched her tremendous strength, grace, or deep love that she has for her Christian faith, her family, friends, and community,” said Martha.
Survivors include Harold “Hal” Vialetus Ely, Jan’s husband of 40 years; four stepchildren, Craig (Christine) Ely, Marc (Susan) Ely, Bret (Judy) Ely, and Martha (Ron) Honda; nine grandchildren; and nine great grandchildren. Jan was preceded in death by her brother, Robert Leslie Vaughan; her father, Herbert Leslie Vaughan; and her mother, Inez Jeanette Vaughan.
The family wishes to extend a special thank you to Jan’s caregiver, Chantal Gibbs; the staff at the Alzheimer’s Activity Center; the staff at Cedar Creek of Los Gatos for their exceptional care and compassion, as well as Suncrest Hospice; and all of the clinical professionals who guided them through Jan’s illness.
In lieu of flowers, please spread love and kindness to someone, and raise a glass of wine or an ice cream bar in remembrance of Jan.
The family will hold a celebration of Jan’s life in the spring or summer of 2020.