Local | Obituaries

Patty Vallance, extraordinary community volunteer, dies at 62

Patty Vallance (Courtesy Mike McKendrick)

The Southern Arizona Jewish community lost one of its most energetic and beloved volunteers when Patty Vallance, 62, died June 3, 2020.

“We lost a one-of-a-kind force for good,” Stuart Mellan, former president and CEO of the Jewish Federation of Southern Arizona, wrote on Facebook.

Patty Vallance, center, with firefighters during a 2016 trip to Israel. Vallance was a driving force behind the Greater Tucson Fire Foundation’s Firefighters Beyond Borders program, which sent Southern Arizona firefighters to Israel and brought Israeli firefighters here to learn from one another. (Courtesy Stuart Mellan)

“She wore her Jewish identity proudly,” Mellan said, referencing the Star of David she wears in the photo at right, posing with Israeli and Tucson-area firefighters in 2016 as part of the Firefighters Beyond Borders program she helped create. “Patty Vallance was ‘all-in’ when it came to devoting herself to our community — and she did so with great creativity and will.  When she would call me with ‘I have an idea …” I knew it was time to sit down and listen — because her ideas were never small!

“In our community she was the moving force behind:

  • the Jewish Federation’s Make a Difference Day that for many years mobilized our Jewish community and partners such as the Tucson Police Department to take on projects annually. We won national recognition — received a grant from the Paul Newman Foundation and were on the cover of USA Today as a result of her leadership;
  • the Jewish community response to Hurricane Katrina, where we took a lead in the Tucson community response;
  • the 1st Rate 2nd Hand Thrift Store;
  • her beloved Tucson Fire Foundation and its Endowment Fund, when she seeded (provided the initial funding) through our Federation — and established it at our Jewish Community Foundation. Numerous programs came out of this effort.

“Our Jewish Community Relations Council recognized her with the Margie Fenton Award and the Federation gave her numerous awards,” Mellan said, “but truthfully she neither sought recognition, nor would any recognition, no matter how great, capture her greatness.

“They say that none of us are irreplaceable … mostly I believe that to be true.  But there will never be another Patty — and our world is so blessed for her presence on this planet.”

A petite dynamo, known for her high heels and ready smile, Vallance wrote a children’s book in 2012, “Born to Wear Blue,” with proceeds benefiting the Greater Tucson Fire Foundation to help provide firefighters with cancer screenings and confidential crisis and counseling services. More recently, she was the driving force behind Safe Shift Estate Sale/Resale, which also benefited the fire foundation.

“Patty Vallance of blessed memory had adopted ALL firefighters and their families with an amazing skill set,” said Mike McKendrick, chairman and founding trustee of the Greater Tucson Fire Foundation and a retired assistant chief with Tucson Fire Department.

Vallance was born in Marinette, Wisconsin, to George and Hazel Schmitt, and raised in Peshtigo, Wisconsin, graduating from Peshtigo High School. She earned a bachelor’s degree from Carthage College in Kenosha, Wisconsin.

“She held a variety of jobs,” says her son, Zev, “but her last major involvement before becoming a professional volunteer and ball of energy she’ll be remembered for, was with theater.” She taught high school drama and was active in the theater scene in Placerville, California, where Zev and his sister, Noa, were born.

Wanting her children to connect with their Jewish heritage, Vallance drove 196 miles daily to take them to a Jewish day school in Sacramento, she told the AJP in 2014. The family moved to Tucson in 2000.

While serving as president of the board of the B’nai B’rith Strauss Manor on Pantano, an apartment complex for low-income seniors, Vallance shared her philosophy with the AJP. “Some days I just make soup and that’s enough,” she said. “Everybody has the ability to give. It’s not always about writing a check or volunteering for an organization … it’s that quiet philanthropy that everybody does that keeps you right in the world. You look around and see what one thing you can do because you heard another person. It all goes back to ‘If not now, when? If not me, who?’”

Amid the shock of her sudden passing from post-surgical complications, accolades from Tucson friends on Facebook include descriptions  of Vallance as “a spitfire,” “a gift,” and “a treasure.”

“From the smallest simple need or request to the largest community cause, Patty Vallance took it on. She did not let obstacles stand in the way to move forward to help those in need. May her memory inspire us all,” said Beverly Sandock.

“A light has gone out. The world lost a Lamed Vavnick,” said Lori Riegel, using the Hebrew phrase for one of the 36 righteous souls who exist in every generation, according to Jewish mysticism.

“A huge loss to all those who knew her and benefited from her creativity, empathy, compassion, love, and desire to repair the world — Tikkun Olam. Her energy was infectious. She will be missed but will leave behind the concept that ‘if you build it they will come,’” Karen Faitelson said.

Due to COVID-19, funeral services on June 5 were for the family only, with Rabbi Billy Lewkowicz officiating. Vallance was honored with a ride on the Last Alarm Foundation fire truck — an honor she had arranged for a friend and fellow fire foundation supporter in January — and community members were invited to drive past before the funeral.

Memorial contributions may be made to the Greater Tucson Fire Foundation Endowment Fund held at the Jewish Community Foundation, https://jcftucson.org/donate-1 or 3718 E. River Road, #118,Tucson, AZ 85718; Memo: GTFF Endowment.