Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Epilogue | Elena Oliva

A long life, backed by a sweet disposition

TAMPA — In 97 years, Elena Oliva was never ill. She never went to the hospital, except once, to have a baby. Her family said she had no tricks to longevity, no one-a-day food habits, no superstitions.

She simply lived a sweet, generous existence.

"My mom always had people at our table," said her daughter, Aileen Martino.

Mrs. Oliva died peacefully Wednesday at home. It was old age, her daughter said. She had been in a wheelchair for five years, but she still joked that she snuck out dancing while the family was away.

She was born in Ybor City in 1911, the oldest of three children. Her parents were Spanish immigrants who lived modestly. Her father operated small cigar-rolling business from the back of the family home on 12th Street.

Young Elena was studious, intelligent and very shy. She graduated as salutatorian from Hillsborough High School, but college wasn't financially possible. After high school, she rode the trolley car to her daily job at an insurance company and handed her pay to her parents, who saved it so her brother and sister could go to college and have what she couldn't.

She stayed single into her 30s, working and traveling. Then one day, family friend and famed cigar maker Angel Oliva brought his brother, Marcelino Oliva, to the house. Marcelino was a Cuban immigrant, recently widowed with three children. Tall, black hair, widow's peak. He looked like Rudolph Valentino.

"He walked through the house and she said, 'Oh my gosh, who is that?' " said her daughter. "It was sort of love at first sight."

After marrying, they had Martino. Mrs. Oliva loved caring for her daughter and stepchildren. She ironed their shirts each day and sewed doll dresses to match their clothes. The family routinely welcomed Cuban refugees into their home, and Mrs. Oliva tutored them in English.

Every Christmas Eve, they hosted a traditional Noche Buena feast for everyone they knew. Mrs. Oliva made beans, rice, yucca and a sour orange and garlic compote for her husband, who slathered it on seven whole pigs. They played Cuban music and danced through the night.

"My father was the dancer of the family," said Martino. "She was always more shy and didn't like to be the center of attention, but she was a very good sport, and he drew her out."

After he died in 1972, she never remarried. She spent her time babysitting her grandchildren and doing needlepoint. And each year, though it was never quite the same, she celebrated Noche Buena and watched the people dance.

Stephanie Hayes can be reached at or (727) 893-8857.


Elena Oliva

Born: April 20, 1911

Died: Dec. 10, 2008

Survivors: daughter, Aileen Martino and her husband, Sam; stepchildren, Martha Velarde, Marcelino Oliva and his wife, LoraLee; grandchildren, Robert and Adela Oliva, John and Janice Oliva, David and Emily Martino Pfau, Erin Martino and her fiance, Peter Politis, Andrea and John Accardi, Lori Ann Oliva, Teresa and Michael Gilbert, Marcie and Todd Newton, Aida and Jesus Quevara, Maria and Mike Giampaola; 19 great-grandchildren; daughter-in-law, Mary Lazo; sister-in-law, Alicia Oliva; 3 nieces.

A long life, backed by a sweet disposition 12/15/08 [Last modified: Monday, December 15, 2008 7:53pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Review: Mumford and Sons shower Amalie Arena with love in euphoric Tampa debut


    There are releases, and then there are releases. And minutes into their concert Wednesday at Amalie Arena, Mumford and Sons gave Tampa the latter.

    Mumford and Sons performed at Tampa's Amalie Arena on Sept. 20, 2017.
  2. FEMA to open disaster recovery center in Riverview


    The Federal Emergency Management Agency said it will open a disaster recovery center Thursday in Riverview for Hillsborough County residents impacted by Hurricane Irma.

  3. Life sentence for man convicted in killing of brother of Bucs' Kwon Alexander


    An Alabama man who shot and killed the 17-year-old brother of Bucs linebacker Kwon Alexander in 2015 was sentenced to life in prison Wednesday, the Anniston (Ala.) Star reported.

  4. Remember him? Numbers prove Ben Zobrist is one of greatest Rays of all time

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — The first foray back to the Trop by the best manager the Rays have had obscured the second return visit by arguably the second-best player in franchise history.


    Chicago Cubs second baseman Ben Zobrist (18) grounds into a double play to end the top of the third inning of the game between the Chicago Cubs and the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla. on Wednesday, Sept. 20, 2017.
  5. GOP's new repeal bill would likely leave millions more uninsured, analyses suggest


    WASHINGTON — The latest Republican bid to roll back the Affordable Care Act would likely leave millions of currently insured Americans without health coverage in the coming decades, and strip benefits and protections from millions more, a growing number of independent studies suggest.

    Vice President Mike Pence listens as President Donald Trump talks to reporters about the Graham-Cassidy health care bill during a meeting with Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi at the Palace Hotel during the United Nations General Assembly, Wednesday, Sept. 20, 2017, in New York. [Evan Vucci | Associated Press]