Mary Ellen Sullivan; Never Stopped Giving

Posted: June 06, 1994

Mary Ellen "Ella" Sullivan, a waitress who kept waiting on people long after she put down her tray, died Saturday after a six-month battle with leukemia. She was 72 and lived in South Philadelphia.

Ella Sullivan had worked with VIP rooms at Veterans Stadium for the past 15 years. She was a woman of boundless energy who could have run the Energizer Bunny into the ground. A lot of that energy was directed at helping other people, said family members. She was a woman who would turn over a night's wages to a guard or another waitress who was having a tough time making ends meet. If a priest or nun came in, she'd pick up the tab herself and she'd drive a half hour out of her way to give fellow employees a ride into work, then take them home in the small hours of the morning. When she was in the hospital, she was trying to give money to the nurses.

"She was everyone's Santa Claus 365 days a year," said Helene Sullivan, a daughter-in-law, "it was embarrassing. Last weekend she sent over half of a pot roast. She was the most generous woman I've ever met."

Raised around 2nd and Shunk streets, the former Ella Evans dropped out of school and at 16 married a handsome Marine named John L. Sullivan. She went to work at the old Publicker's Distillery and they had three children by the time she was 20. By the late 1950s they divorced and Ella took the youngest, Dan, to California where she started waitressing and remarried.

Ten years ago, with Ella's second husband deceased, she and her first husband began dating and remarried. He had remained single. It was a flame that had never really gone out, said Dan Sullivan.

For about 10 years she worked as a clerk for Municipal Court in Philadelphia and at age 50 she got her GED.

Ella Sullivan was a tall, stunning blonde. In 1960 when presidential candidate John F. Kennedy was stumping California, he came over and shook her hand, recalled her son. She had a face and personality customers couldn't forget. She had a heart people couldn't help but follow.

She could come home and be trailed variously by a couple of dogs, children or people in material or spiritual need. She would give another person the hat off her head if they admired it and whatever else it took to make someone's life better.

"She'd walk into a room and light it up. But there was no vanity about it," said her son, who said people were drawn to her because "she genuinely had God in her heart and people sensed it."

She was diagnosed with leukemia about six months ago, but was still trying to figure a way to work just one more season at the Vet. A week ago she gathered enough strength to attend a granddaughter's wedding.

A lot of people liked Ella Sullivan. A lot of people called when she got sick and sent things. Not everybody gets a basket of fruit from their bank.

She was an active member of Our Lady of Mount Carmel Roman Catholic Church.

Survivors also include two other sons, John L. Jr. and Michael J., 10 grandchildren, 10 great-grandchildren; a sister, Jeanette Vokman and a brother, George Evans.

Mass of Christian Burial will be celebrated at 9:30 a.m. Wednesday at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church, 3rd and Wolf streets. Burial will be private.

Friends may call between 7 and 9 tomorrow night at the Murphy-Ruffenach Funeral Home, 3rd and Wolf streets.

Contributions may be made to the church.


Harriet L. Toole, a nurturing mother and grandmother, died Tuesday. She was 65 and lived in West Philadelphia.

The former Harriet Stevenson had attended public schools in Philadelphia and completed her education in Queens, N.Y.

"Her main goal was to nurture, love and care for her family," said a family member. "She was well-loved by all who knew her. She was always willing to lend a helping hand."

"Mom was my heart, pride and joy," said Sidney, one of her sons. A granddaughter, whom she raised, Deardra, said, "Grandmom was mom." Darnell, a daughter, said, "She was my confidante."

Her husband, Bennie Toole, died in 1983. She was a member of Sharon Baptist Church.

Survivors also include five other daughters, Ernestine, Valerie, Mary, Sheila and Karen; four other sons, Benjamin, Gregory, Wayne and Kevin, 20 grandchildren, five great-grandchildren; two brothers, Charles and Bernard, and a sister, Doris Morris.

Services will be at 11 a.m. tomorrow at Sharon Baptist Church, 59th and Catharine streets, where friends may call two hours before the services. Burial will be in Rolling Green Memorial Park, Route 202 and Route 3, West Chester.


Services were to be held this morning for James M. Bilotta, a retired employee of the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard who was active in his community. Bilotta, who died Friday, was 65 and lived in South Philadelphia.

Bilotta had worked at the shipyard for more than 20 years and retired in 1979 from Shop 56, where he was a pipe coverer.

He was active in the Lions Club and the Knights of Columbus and was instrumental in the revitalization of the tennis court area of Roosevelt Park in South Philadelphia. Bilotta was a tennis enthusiast in later years and gave a lot of his time to providing free lessons.

Bilotta was a self-effacing man who often had to be named a honorary chairman of an organization just to get him deserved recognition.

A graduate of South Philadelphia High School, Bilotta was an Army veteran of the Korean War. He belonged to St. Gabriel's Roman Catholic Church.

Survivors include a son, James Jr.; a daughter, Dorothy; a grandson, James III, two brothers and six sisters.

Mass of Christian Burial was to be celebrated at 9:30 a.m. today at St. Gabriel's Church, 29th and Dickinson streets. Burial will be in Mount Moriah Cemetery, 62nd Street and Kingsessing Avenue.

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