By Jon Melegrito
Maryland Delegate Kris Valderrama remembers her mom as a devoted wife, mother and grandmother, whose passions as a young woman included dancing, playing tennis and volleyball, performing dramatic roles in theatrical productions, joining high school and college beauty contests and winning them all.
“My mom was always the muse,” Kris recalls. “And she loves to dance.”
Nellie Perez Valderrama died peacefully on October 4, at South River Rehabilitation in Edgewater, Maryland, where she was confined for a few months after struggling with illness for five years. She was 83.
Born in Manila, Philippines on March 13, 1934, Nellie attained a bachelor’s degree in Education from Philippine Normal College and a business administration degree from Far Eastern University. She was the eldest daughter of Enrique Perez, a postal office employee, and Aniceta Moscoso, a seamstress and housekeeper. She was also the niece of a prominent Filipino politician, former Speaker of Congress Eugenio Perez.
In 1968, she immigrated to the U.S. and worked as an accountant at Geico Insurance Company and at the International Monetary Fund. She also taught at Thomas Addison School for Boys in Washington, DC.
A Politician’s Wife
“She was my high school sweetheart,” David Valderrama, former Maryland Delegate, remembers fondly. “I wrote about her lavishly in our school paper as ‘the Lady in Pink,’ escorting her proudly when she was Reyna Elena. Years later, she was the one who got me into politics.”
David, who came to the US in 1961, resumed her courtship of Nellie when she arrived in the states in 1968. They got married two years later, one April day in the nation’s capital when public debates about the war in Vietnam were raging and Simon & Garfunkel’s “Bridge Over Troubled Water” was a popular hit.
David was working at the Library of Congress at the time, while Nellie was teaching at a boy’s school. “We decided to get married during our lunch break, at a civil court in Upper Marlboro,” David recalls. “I would have loved to take her on a honeymoon, but we couldn’t take off from work. Still, we found ways to enjoy our marriage.”
They settled in Fort Washington, MD. where their first daughter, Kris, was born.
When David considered running for public office in the 1980s, it was Nellie who made it happen, although she hated politics due in large measure to her experience in the Philippines. “Political leaders in Prince George’s County approached me several times about throwing my hat into the ring, so I told them that if they can convince my wife, then I’m in,” David says. “I wouldn’t have gone into electoral politics had Nellie disapprove.”
Prince George’s County politicians who frequented the Valderrama household, got introduced to lumpia and pancit, thanks to Nellie who wasn’t content just serving coffee and doughnuts. She added a Filipino touch to the campaign.
With Nellie’s blessing, David won his first run as Judge of the Orphan Court, and later as the first Asian American in the U.S. mainland to be elected as state legislator. “After my victory, everyone was teasing Nellie as ‘The First Lady.’ She took it all in stride, cheering me on quietly behind the scenes,” David admits. “She was a bedrock of support for both me and my daughter Kris, who later succeeded me in Annapolis after I stepped down.”
Family, friends and members of the Filipino American community gathered at the St. Columba Catholic Church in Oxon Hill, MD. on October 10 to celebrate Nellie’s life. She was buried at the Resurrection Cemetery in Clinton, MD.
Nellie is survived by her husband, David (they were married for 47 years); brother Vicente Perez, sisters Evelyn Suva and Josefina Lufrano; her three daughters, Kriselda Valderrama Lobo, Vida Valderrama Jackson and Madelyn Silverio; and four grandchildren, Jordan Kristina Valderrama Lobo, 15; Evan Vida Valderrama Lobo, 13; Kayman David Valderrama Jackson, 9; and Kruz Anthony Valderrama Jackson, 7.
In a statement issued by the Philippine American Foundation for Charities (PAFC), interim Board Chair Elvi G. Bangit stated: “We are deeply saddened by the passing of Nellie Valderrama, beloved wife of David Valderrama and mother of Kris and Vida. We remember Nellie fondly for the lives she touched, for her generous spirit, her community service, and her devotion to her family.”