West Nile virus confirmed in death of Gloria Amaral, Nevada County philanthropist and volunteer leader | TheUnion.com

West Nile virus confirmed in death of Gloria Amaral, Nevada County philanthropist and volunteer leader

Gloria Amaral, a Nevada County philanthropist and volunteer leader who gave untold hours of support to friends, family and the community, has died at the age of 79.

“Her love, her affection, humor and caring — she was everything you wanted in a friend,” said Lance Amaral of Nevada City, her husband of 40 years. “She had endless energy.”

Lance Amaral said his wife died July 11 from West Nile virus infection after spending 12 days in the intensive care unit.

According to a news release this week from Nevada County health officials, Amaral was the first person thought to have died from West Nile virus in Nevada County, and the first fatality from the virus in California this year.

“We have no idea how she contracted it,” Lance Amaral said.

He speculated that it might have happened during a vacation the couple took this spring to La Quinta in Southern California, a town not too far from Indio.

Indio was reported in the Desert Sun newspaper as having a high concentration of West Nile virus-infected mosquitoes this year.

Meanwhile, former colleagues and friends mourned the loss of Amaral, a key driver and volunteer organizer of the Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital Foundation’s successful fundraisers “Starry Night” and the former “Sierra Silver Ball.”’

“She was an important part of all our events — and as a donor — but the biggest part of my heart was that she was my friend,” said Pamela Comstock, founding executive director of the Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital Foundation from 1989 to 2006. “I can’t imagine the world without her.”

Amaral was “kind, funny and smart,” she added.

“She was just always there, always willing to help, you could always count on her, as a friend or volunteer,” Comstock said. “It’s an enormous loss for the community.”

Kimberly Parker, current SNMHF executive director, said Amaral “will be missed by so many.”

“She was loving, fun, creative and cared deeply about our community,” Parker said. “We are deeply saddened and heartbroken, as Gloria was such a key part of the hospital foundation’s history, as well as so many other community organizations.”

Dennis Fournier, who was director of the Hospice of the Foothills in the early 2000s when Amaral served as president of the Hospice board, called Amaral “a great leader of the organization.”

“She was well-loved, revered by staff and volunteers,” he said. “I was really shocked when I heard about it.”

Fournier said Amaral’s gift was her sense of humor and ability to work with people.

“I just loved the woman myself,” he said. “She was always laughing and smiling.”

Jennifer Litton Singer, executive director of The Friendship Club organization for girls, said she has known Amaral her whole life and that Gloria stepped in to help her establish Friendship Club 20 years ago.

“She helped us decorate for a ton of events and held parties at her house,” Singer said. “She’s just always been around, behind the scenes, making things beautiful and special.”

Singer said she would miss Gloria’s help with Friendship Club, but most of all, she’ll miss her presence.

“I’ll just miss her,” she said.

Lance Amaral said the family held a private memorial gathering Sunday at their home in Nevada City. About 100 people attended, he said.

“That was her wish,” he said of the private ceremony.

The couple, who have three children — Brad Amaral and Stephanie Clark, both of El Dorado Hills, and William Spence of Nevada City — are best known to the general public for their joyful Christmas festivities, including appearances by Eddie the Elf.

“She was the best mom and grandmom ever,” Lance Amaral said. “She was surrounded by love every day of her life.”

Eddie the Elf was a fixture at the Amarals’ “Elf House” on Pasquale Road.

“All those things we did came from Gloria,” Lance Amaral added. “I just followed along.”

To contact Staff Writer Keri Brenner, email kbrenner@theunion.com or call 530-477-4239.

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