Ellen Wynne Roberts, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, passed away on Tuesday, September 3, 2019 in the residential hospice unit of Geisinger South, Wilkes-Barre, after an almost 50-year battle against the diabetes that took her.
Born March 13, 1953, Ellen was the daughter of the late Dr. Ellis and Mary Sullivan Roberts, Wilkes-Barre. She was a 1971 graduate of Coughlin High School and a 1975 graduate of King’s College, a member of the second class of women admitted to the school. The male-female odds prepared Ellen well for the rigors of a journalism career.
Ellen was known for her wit, intelligence, beauty, class, gorgeous smile, good humor, warmth, and talent as a writer. Only those closest to her knew the willful life force that drove her to continually fight the effects of the disease that ravaged her and took her on a journey through two kidney transplants, open heart surgery, a stroke, cancer treatment and the most recent amputation of a leg. She fought bravely for decades.
In the midst of her challenges, Ellen always wanted to know how her friends were doing. It could be embarrassing for friends who felt uncomfortable sharing about a small issue when Ellen had such serious health problems. Nonetheless, Ellen truly wanted to hear if a friend had gotten over their nasty cold, or how their mother was coming along after a fracture, or if a friend’s daughter had been accepted to college. She cared deeply about so many people, and always stayed interested in their lives.
Ellen was grateful for the adventures she enjoyed through the national parks, to Ireland, to Maine, to Canada, and, in 2017, to Tennessee with friends Doug and Eileen, to see the total solar eclipse, riding and resting in the back of their van. She messaged Gene along the way: “Good morning from sunny Tennessee! -- somewhere between Knoxville and Nashville. We are headed for Spring City, which will give us a view of the eclipse unlike any anyone has ever seen before. Eileen, the navigator my father always hoped my mother would become, estimates 15 more minutes. Doug has been a driver extraordinaire. Hope you and Rico have a terrific day! XXXXXOOO Love, El”
She might tell you the things she saw and the experiences she had over a great cake she made for you, but that she could never eat herself. She loved to cook and bake and tried lots of recipes in a load of cookbooks, The Barefoot Contessa being a particular favorite.
Ellen was a major sports fan and adored baseball. She also followed Penn State Football. Actually, followed does not quite cover it. Ellen was insanely passionate about Penn State football, watched all the games, and was in her glory when she actually attended in person, dragging along her husband Gene, who prefers David Lynch’s “Twin Peaks” to touchdowns. Nothing like Penn State games for Ellen, especially if she could cap it off with a visit to State College Creamery for ice cream. A half cup only.
Ellen would laugh telling great stories or making the wry observation that suddenly illuminated the truth of whatever matter was under discussion. She loved newspapers and being a journalist.
Ellen reported with kindness, wit and compassion, all the while maintaining the critical thinking that made her a good newspaperwoman. She was an incredibly talented writer and wrote stories first for the King’s College weekly newspaper The Crown, where she rose through the ranks to become co-editor, and then later at the Syracuse Post Standard, the Delaware County Daily Times, and StateNet PA, covering the Pennsylvania State Legislature. She also worked long successful stints in public relations at C-Tec Corp, Allied Services, and Keystone Research Center, all in Pennsylvania.
Ellen loved Masterpiece Theater; she loved the PBS News Hour. Judy Woodruff had a big fan in Ellen. She also got a big kick out of the Great British Baking Show.
Most of all, Ellen loved her fellow human beings. She collected and connected people. That is evident in the friendships she made and sustained from every part of her life. In her final days, her many friends – from grade school, from college, from her professional years and the newspapers she worked for, from her Harrisburg neighborhood – traveled to see her.
Ellen loved her family deeply and leaves behind her deeply devoted husband of 23 years, Eugene Bianco, Harrisburg, her treasured sister Gail Shemo, Dallas, her stepsons Chaim Bianco of Philadelphia, and Enrico Bianco of Scranton, her step-grandson Jacob Bianco and his mother Tiffany Bianco, Columbia, her nephews Steven Shemo, Swoyersville and Scott Shemo (who donated a kidney to Ellen in 2012), Exeter, her brother and sister-in-law Steven and Alexis Strongin, New York City, her nephew Jason Strongin, Chicago, and her many cousins and dear friends.
Ellen was a deeply good person, kind, honest, with tremendous integrity. She was not enamored of religiosity. Always practical and helpful, and fighting diabetes to the bitter end, she decided to leave her body to science. There won’t be a religious service but there will be a celebration of Ellen’s life and it is being planned now. Friends will pass the word. But those wishing to do something in her honor, and to help others, may donate to Doctors Without Borders in Ellen’s name.
Arrangements are entrusted to Adonizio Funeral Home, LLC, Pittston.