By Laurel Howat
The Opera League mourns one of its beloved members and most passionate volunteers, Valerie Estes, who passed away in July 2020.
Valerie was already a long-time member of the Opera League when she stepped in to replace a co-chair of the Westside Gathering group in 2017. Chuck Bragg, her most recent co-chair, says, “She brought a high level of energy and imagination to every gathering, vetting speakers, finding venues and finding a way to put on one special themed gathering every year concurrent with LA Opera productions. For Carmen, she found two lovely ladies to give an amazing demonstration of how castanets should be played.”
During the Bernstein Centenary and LA Opera’s production of Candide, Valerie invited singers from her circle of friends at the USC Thornton School of Music, of which she was a graduate, to perform at the Bernstein celebration gathering. Using her musical talents, she accompanied the singer’s performance of “Glitter and Be Gay,” nailing that quite notoriously tricky piano piece.
In 2019, when Opera League membership experienced a decline, Valerie created an outreach program that increased the League's Westside membership by about fifteen percent. She designed an appeal letter and followed up with phone calls. Valerie’s amazing energy, enthusiasm and sparkle will be missed greatly by fellow Westside gathering regulars as well as by many other League friends.
Valerie Varvantakis Estes had a truly Classic history. Growing up, Valerie and her beloved sisters, Karen and Antonia (Toni), were influenced deeply by the culture and customs of their parents and grandparents and by the traditions of the Greek Orthodox Church. Their ancestors came from the area of Chania in Crete to work in the mines of Wyoming and then found their way to California where they settled in Modesto. This tight-knit Greek community included many families who could trace their roots to Crete.
Valerie was proud of her Cretan heritage and told many stories about visits to the island — her encounters with local residents and her admiration of its ancient heritage. Her pride in her Greek heritage led her to volunteer for many organizations. She was passionate about her association with the Hellenic University Club of Southern California, in which she held the position of Secretary and served as an active member of the Board of Directors. Her vision for programming and marketing helped the organization thrive.
It was in California, growing up in a musical family, that Valerie began her true journey. To those who knew her well, Valerie possessed a goodness that was exceptional. She believed in the best of people and never had an unkind word to say about anyone. She was sophisticated and yet, at the same time, innocent, cherished by those who love music and those who love Hellenism. Her selflessness, steadfast loyalty and open heart earned her many friends. Even to the end, she had no idea of the impact she had made on people. Her final weeks, borne with grace, were an inspiration to those who knew and loved her. May her memory be eternal.
Valerie Estes has requested that in lieu of flowers or other gifts, donations be made in her memory to the Opera League of Los Angeles.
If you would like to send a card or condolence to her family, please send them to the Opera League mailing address so we can forward them for you: P.O. Box 49-1057, Los Angeles, CA 90049-9057.
Click here to make a donation in memory of Valerie Estes.
Click here for the Valerie Estes memorial booklet.