Funeral services will be held Nov. 26 for former May Co. vice chairman Joseph Vales at Church of Saint Catharine in Holmdel, N.J.

Vales, 84, died Nov. 20 at Sewickley Valley Hospital in Pennsylvania due to complications from a stroke, according to his son, Joseph A. Vales.

Over the years Vales helped to steer such department and specialty stores as Robinsons, Sibley’s, Ivey’s, Denver Dry Goods, Powers and Stewart & Co. After turning around the Joseph Horne Co. in two or three years, Vales was tapped as vice chairman of May Co. He also served on the board of directors at Associated Dry Goods and May Co. before deciding to retire in his 50s.

During his career, Vales built a reputation for being a team builder and turnaround specialist who could often be found walking the sales floors speaking with employees. That ability to relate to people was one of the traits that distinguished his career, said former Emporium president Zac Solomon, who rose up the ranks at A&S with Vales. “Practically whatever Joe touched did extremely well.” Solomon said. “He was great in retailing but he was a great man. That’s the most important thing.”

The son of a fisherman father and a farmer mother, Vales grew up in Galicia, Spain before being the first member of his family to come to the U.S. at age 14. He made the journey despite not speaking a word of English and lived for a time in a Boston rooming house before learning the language and relocating to New York, where his parents later joined him. Vales excelled at Straubenmuller Textile High School, graduating as valedictorian before majoring in engineering at Columbia College. As an undergraduate, he befriended Michael Gould, who later would become chief executive officer of Bloomingdale’s, according to his son.

After earning his college degree, Vales joined the A&S executive training program. In the mid-Seventies, Vales became ceo of Ivey’s and a few years later enlisted with Associated Dry Goods as president and ceo of the Joseph Horne Co. Before joining Horne’s, Vales saw to it that Stanley Zweck-Bronner would succeed him as ceo at Ivey’s to ensure his strategy was continued to be implemented, his son said.

“He was a Horatio Alger-type. He wanted a better life for his family, for his kids. He believed in a strong work ethic and that governed his whole life’s outlook., Joseph Vales said. “He worked late, he worked hard — he was determined to get there, abiding by strong family values and placing great emphasis on the education of his children. These lessons became the foundation of his core personal values and principals that guided his life.”

Vale’s pastimes included collecting antiques and first-edition bound books, and creating beautiful rose gardens. As president of the Pittsburgh Opera’s board of directors, he brought the noted opera stage director Tito Capobianco to the company and started a lifelong friendship. Later, during Capobianco’s time at the New York City Opera when Luciano Pavarotti, Plácido Domingo and José Carrera were just starting out, they were frequent guests at the Vales’ home, Vales’ son said. “Alicia de Larrocha played the piano on Thanksgiving on our grand Steinway piano,” he remembered.

Capobianco said, “Mr. Vales is one of the few men I have met that had full integrity at all levels. He was an unbelievable friend, a companion, a supporter of the arts and he always was taking very special care of family.”

In addition to his son, Vales is survived by his daughter, Maria Dugan, a former executive at Saks Fifth Avenue and Bonwitt Teller, and another son, Anthony, who previously worked at Joseph Horne. Joseph Vales Jr.’s wife Dori also has ties to the fashion world, having once worked at Anne Klein for 20 years.

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