Sandra Gaines, Unflagging Banquet Server, Is Dead at 75

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This obituary is part of a series about people who have died in the coronavirus pandemic. Read about others here.

Very little could keep Sandra Gaines, a 75-year-old banquet server at the MGM Grand Detroit Casino, away from work. For many years she held two jobs, at the MGM Grand and at a restaurant in the Detroit Marriott as a hostess and waitress. She sometimes worked up to 60 hours a week.

“A lot of times she’d come home, just lay down for an hour or two and then go back to work,” her son Tyrone said. “Everybody said the same thing — that’s the first thing they’d ask — ‘Has she retired yet? Has she stopped working?’ And the answer’s no.”

Ms. Gaines gave up her job at the hotel several years ago, but she kept working at the MGM Grand. She took some time off after having a stent implanted to help clear a blocked artery in February. She had just seen her doctor for a follow-up visit when she collapsed at home on March 25.

Her son tried to revive her, then called an ambulance. Paramedics took her to a Detroit hospital, where doctors determined that she had had a stroke. Detroit was in the throes of the coronavirus outbreak, and Mr. Gaines and his siblings were not allowed to accompany her in the ambulance or visit her in the hospital.

Ms. Gaines died on March 31, before her family could say goodbye. Her son said that Covid-19 was among the conditions listed on her death certificate.

Sandra Lee Jones was born into a large family in Detroit on Feb. 26, 1945. She lived there her entire life and, soon after graduating from what was then Northwestern High School in the mid-1960s, married Jim Gaines, who worked for a brick company.

Ms. Gaines held jobs in local restaurants before she began her job at what is now the Detroit Marriot at the Renaissance Center in 1977. Her son said that she enjoyed the work because she was a “people person,” and over the years met celebrities like B.B. King, politicians and members of the Detroit Pistons, Red Wings and Lions on the job.

Celia Lilly, a banquet captain at the MGM Grand, said she and Ms. Gaines became so close during the almost 21 years they worked together that she called Ms. Gaines “Ma.” She described Ms. Gaines as a conscientious and caring colleague, someone who “was always willing to give a hand or help someone or give good advice or say a prayer for you that day,” regardless of the long hours she worked.

In addition to her son Tyrone, Ms. Gaines is survived by three other sons, Nathan, Darnell and Christopher; a daughter, Tanya Hubbard; four siblings; and many grandchildren. Her husband died in 2001.

Mr. Gaines said that his mother did not relax too much when she was off; in fact, he said, “She couldn’t sit still.” She was passionate about her Baptist church and about the elaborate flower garden in her yard, where, he said, she kept the grass “cut like a fine haircut.”


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