Lost to coronavirus: ‘We called him Crocodile Dundee,’ friend says of globetrotting Florida resident
Coronavirus: The ones we lost — The Palm Beach Post based in Palm Beach County is chronicling the lives of the people who died in the pandemic.
JUPITER — Handsome. Smart. Good with his hands. Adventurous.
Ulf Daniel was someone to admire, those close to him say.
The German globetrotter spent time in England, South Africa, Costa Rica and other locales before making his way to Jupiter. He died from coronavirus on April 3 at Jupiter Medical Center. Daniel, who had leukemia when he died, was 76.
His wife, Ruth Daniel-Orias, remembered him as a people person with a brilliant mind and a soft spot for her cooking — especially when she fixed up dishes from his native Germany.
“He was the most strong man that I met in my life,“ said Daniel-Orias, who is 57.
“He was a very straight shooter,” said Michele Ellen, a one-time girlfriend who became Daniel’s de-facto sister. “A very honorable man.”
Ulf was a physical specimen, Ellen said. And even lately, she added he seemed to be responding well to experimental cancer treatment he received in California. He split his time between Jupiter and southern California, where Ellen lives, she said.
“He was such a healthy guy. My son calls him MacGyver. We called him Crocodile Dundee. Always felt safe. I was never afraid to be anywhere with him,” Ellen said. “Other men write checks. Ulf did it himself, he did everything himself.“
Ellen met Daniel in the late 1980s. He had moved to California from South Africa, where he worked for Mercedes-Benz, after growing increasingly uncomfortable with the country’s apartheid-era government, she said.
He was initially enamored with the “Hollywood scene,” as Ellen put it.
Through Ellen’s connections with the local Friar’s Club, they hobnobbed with the likes of TV pioneer Milton Berle, actress Jane Fonda and media mogul Ted Turner, attending parties and other black-tie events from 1987 until around Berle’s death in 2002.
Ellen and Daniel eventually relocated to Costa Rica. Daniel thought about retiring there, Daniel-Orias said.
He and Ellen drifted romantically apart, but cemented a sibling-like relationship that lasted the rest of his life.
Daniel met his wife, a native of Costa Rica, in Central America before they moved stateside and settled in Jupiter. It wasn’t crowded and the seaside town popular among retirees seemed like a good spot to grow his lighting design business, Daniel-Orias said.
“He loved Jupiter,” Daniel-Orias said. “He loved boating.”
Being on the water was his lifelong passion, she said. He named his 33-foot boat Cookie 2 — she was the original Cookie. She called him “Ulfie.”
Daniel-Orias said she still isn’t sure how her husband picked up the virus. Employed in customer service, she came down sick and tested positive around the same time he did.
She and Ellen both took the tragedy of his death to issue a warning: People need to take the virus seriously, they said. Both felt cheated of a proper goodbye to the man they loved.
“They don’t use masks, they don’t use gloves,” Daniel-Orias said. “It’s like the virus is non-existent. They don’t even care. ... They don’t realize until they’ve lost somebody.”
And the two women agree they lost someone special.
“He wasn’t a destroyer. He would make a foundation,” Ellen said. “I call him a renaissance kind of man.”
His peculiar way of speaking reflected that diverse life experience, Ellen said. There were touches of British, German and South African accents in his voice.
It was while he was in South Africa that Daniel had one of his most gripping adventures.
Flying in a small Cherokee 140 airplane in July 1972, Daniel and three others got terribly lost over the eastern part of the country due to a faulty compass and strong winds, according to South African newspaper clippings provided by Daniel-Orias.
The plane landed with only 15 minutes of fuel left.
A photograph that ran in the Rand Daily Mail that month showed Daniel, the co-pilot and the plane’s owner, smiling behind dark sunglasses. Daniel was a couple of weeks shy of his 29th birthday.
The caption said, “Happiness is arriving safely after being hopelessly lost.”