Helen Gonzalez was always family-oriented. The youngest of nine, she continually looked after her siblings, even after they were grown. It was this nurturing nature that Orlando Gonzalez picked up on when he met her, sitting with her nephew on Orchard Beach in the Bronx. "I liked her right away because she was a family person," he said. The two would go on to have a 42-year marriage.
Helen Gonzalez, a court clerk for more than two decades, died Dec. 5 in John J. Foley Skilled Nursing Facility in Yaphank of complications from Alzheimer's disease. She was 68.
Gonzalez was born in Manhattan and raised in the Bronx. After graduating from high school, she took college courses to become a paralegal. She was 25 years old when Orlando approached her on the beach and started talking to her. "She wouldn't give me her home number, only her work number," he said with a chuckle.
The two began a romance and Orlando said he soon knew he wanted to marry her. She knew he had a meager salary as a butcher, he said, and when he would take her out to dinner, she would always order something inexpensive off the menu. "I knew she had that compassion," he said. "I realized this was no ordinary girl."
The pair married and in 1975 moved to Holbrook. Helen focused on raising their two children and did part-time legal work.
Gonzalez's daughter, Kim Latkovich, 39, of Manorville, said her mom emphasized the importance of education. She wanted her children to go to college and succeed, Latkovich said, and she wouldn't hesitate to demand to see report cards or to check in with teachers.
"She was a tough lady," Latkovich said with a laugh. "If I didn't do what I was supposed to do, I was pretty much dead meat."
But Gonzalez looked out for more than just her immediate family, her daughter said. She took care of siblings, nieces, nephews and cousins. "Even though she was the youngest, she pretty much took care or helped out everyone if they needed something," Latkovich said.
When the children were older, Gonzalez took additional legal courses to get a job in the court system. She eventually became a court clerk, then senior court clerk. She stayed with the courts for 24 years, working first in State Supreme Court in Manhattan, then in Queens and finally in district court in Ronkonkoma. "She really loved it," her husband said. "And the judges all loved her."
But by the time she was 61, she began exhibiting uncharacteristic irritability at her job, and her family knew something was wrong. She was eventually diagnosed with Alzheimer's and retired. She and Orlando moved to Manorville four years ago, and 18 months ago she began living in John J. Foley.
"I was lucky to have her in my life," Orlando said. "If there's a heaven, she's there."
In addition to her husband and daughter, Gonzalez is survived by a son, David of Patchogue; a sister, Margaret Cantafio of Winter Park, Fla.; and two grandchildren. She was buried at Calverton National Cemetery.