Ellen Michele Burke Van Slyke was born on June 7, 1953 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. She was the second child and oldest daughter of ten, born to William James and Joan Sammon Burke.
Ellen, the “girl with winged feet,” lived in eleven states before she graduated from Wellesley College in 1975 with a double degree in art history and sculpture. At Wellesley, Ellen studied literature, philosophy, art history, sculpture, painting and languages—all lifelong pursuits she excelled at and treasured.
Her lifelong wanderlust carried her to every U.S. state and all over the world. To all that knew her, Ellen was a creative genius, maverick, mentor, and comedienne who brought adventure and intrigue to every situation. She invited us all to appreciate James Joyce, The Little Prince, Proust, Alice in Wonderland, Bob Dylan, Pavarotti, Judy Garland, Joni Mitchell, Veuve Cliquot champagne, Häagen-Dazs, and so much more. She inspired courage and curiosity in the many that she touched, but also buoyed us with her irreverent sense of humor and master-storytelling abilities.
In 1981, Ellen met the love of her life, Peter Van Slyke: actor, playwright, gentleman, and soul mate who was her moral, intellectual and creative equal. They enjoyed a remarkable romance and friendship for thirty-five years-- most exquisitely manifested in their daughter, Tarreyn, of whom she was inordinately proud. Although the couple met in Seattle and traveled in their early marriage, they eventually settled in Tucson, where Tarreyn would be raised.
Ellen’s true vocation was painting, bringing to life a prolific collection of vivid and rapturous art over the last 40 years. As a testament to both her talent and resilience, during the last year of her life as her dexterity was affected by treatment, instead of slowing down she adopted a new method of holding her paintbrush to keep creating.
Amongst her wide spread talents, she boasted an incredibly prestigious career in fine dining-- designing and operating five star restaurants and hotels. Colleagues, critics and friends continue to be impressed with her prodigious energy, brilliance, and most of all, her wit and charm.
When not hosting the most fabulous party, Ellen could be found with a paint brush in one hand and a glass of bubbly in the other - working on one of her oil on canvas masterpieces, or simply making the quality of the day ever more colorful.
After a valiant fight with cancer, and in the loving presence of her husband and daughter, Ellen passed away at home on August 4th. Always having dared to dream, she is now where clouds are far behind her - somewhere over the rainbow.
Her family asks that, in lieu of flowers, donations be made to the Community Food Bank of Southern Arizona [http://bit.ly/2vqU7DX], a charity that Ellen supported.
Per Ellen’s request, there will be no funeral services. For solace, we encourage you to spend time on this website, where friends and family are welcome to reflect on her fabulous adventures and share any comments or stories with the wide community that has been touched by this blithe spirit.