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Stella Finnegan Villareal died peacefully on Sunday, January 20, 2013, following her husband of 62 years, Lonnie. One of seven siblings, Stella was born in Liverpool, England on March 25, 1926, into a working class family of deep Irish roots. Her mother, Mary Ann, was a labor union organizer, and her father, Albert Finnegan, worked on the Liverpool docks. Mary Ann, or "MA" as she was known, was awarded the British Empire Medal by King George VI at Buckingham Palace in 1944 for her services to trade unionism in a Royal Ordinance Factory during the war years. World War II was a life-changing experience that shaped both Stella and Lonnie, and those memories would stay with both of them for the rest of their lives. As a young woman, Stella endured the German blitzkrieg of Liverpool during the war. Her family was once awakened during the night by news that an unexploded bomb had landed in their backyard. Stella endured evacuation to the English countryside with her brothers and sisters. She later worked in a factory assembling machine guns for the British military. Her experiences during the war, of growing up in England during the often bloody strife with Ireland, and of her mother's labor union work, were strong drivers that influenced Stella's life - the drive to have a better life, the drive for women to have equal rights, the drive to protect the rights of those who could not protect themselves, and the opposition to war and violence. During the war, Stella met Lonnie Villareal, a young 17-year-old man who had never previously been outside of San Antonio, Texas, and who was stationed outside of Liverpool as a member of the U.S. Army Air Corps. After the war, along with over 60,000 European war brides, Stella crossed the Atlantic to follow him and be married. Their marriage would last for the next 62 years, until Lonnie's death in 2009. Because of the post-war job market in Texas, Stella and Lonnie started their lives together by moving to California to join Stella's younger sister, Patricia, who had also married a World War II soldier and was living in Jamestown, California, near the entrance to Yosemite Park. Lonnie had a job as a logger in the California mountains, often riding the logs down the river at night to the mill. Their first child, Patricia, was born in Sonora, California. After a short time in Los Angeles with Stella's sister looking for work, they moved back to San Antonio where Lonnie returned to a job at Kelly Air Force Base, where he would work for the next 30 years. Stella also went to work, first at a furniture factory, then at Joske's department store, and finally at American Home Life Insurance Company, where she would work until she retired following the birth of her second child, Gavin. Stella worked to fund her trips to visit her England home and family every few years, but also because she was a strong and fiercely independent woman, rare at the time for a mother and more so in the Mexican-American community which she took on as her own. On her many trips to England, Stella often sought to bring back some of her family to join her in what still have seemed a foreign country at the time. Her younger sister, Patricia, had died at 21 in San Antonio from complications from appendicitis. Stella's sisters, Theresa, Ann, and Josephine, eventually followed her to Texas. Theresa married a young lawyer, Bob Vale, while Ann married a young fireman, Lloyd Bielefeld. Josephine ultimately returned to England. When Bob became a member of the family, Stella's and Lonnie's life took a turn foreshadowed by Stella's mother's work in the trade union movement and her father's life on the docks, and Lonnie's early experiences on the migrant farmer path. In the late 1960's, San Antonio was a hotbed of growing Mexican-American politics, but the Democratic majority was still controlled by the conservative Anglo leaders. When Bob decided to run for a state representative seat, Stella and Lonnie were tireless workers on his behalf. Thereafter, they took on the call for Mexican-American equality and representation, and the red-haired, blue-eyed Stella was a card-carrying member of Mexican-American Democrats. Stella and Lonnie were proud Democrats who worked tirelessly over 50 years to elect candidates in city, state and national Democratic politics. Along with Lonnie, Stella served as Precinct Committeeman for over 30 years for "Big Bertha," the Loma Park (and now Holy Family) precinct that for many years had the largest number of Democratic voters and Democratic delegates in the San Antonio area. She and Lonnie blockwalked Loma Park in every election to bring out that precinct's votes for many Democratic candidates, including Commissioner Albert Pena, Congressman Henry B. Gonzalez and his son Congressman Charlie Gonzalez, Congressman Robert Krueger, Land Commissioner Garry Mauro, State Senator Joe Bernal, Representatives John Alaniz and Matt Garcia, Justice Rudy Esquivel, City Councilman Peter Torres, San Antonio Independent School District Chair Dr. William Elizondo, and many presidential campaigns. In particular, Stella and Lonnie worked hard as a team to elect their brother-in-law Robert Vale first to the Texas House of Representatives and then to the Texas Senate. After Gavin started school, Stella returned to work as a teacher's aide at Arnold Elementary, working with children with learning disabilities. She eventually stopped working to enjoy her first grandchildren, Sean and Colin, but she and Lonnie never stopped caring about and working for Mexican-American causes. Stella passed this activism on to her children, leading Patricia to work in many national Democratic campaigns, for the Commission on Civil Rights, and for the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Civil and Constitutional Rights, where she help draft the Subcommittee report on the extension of the Voting Rights Act to Texas. Her son, Gavin, worked for Garry Mauro at the Texas General Land Office before attending law school, and was likewise often involved in Democratic politics. Although neither Stella nor Lonnie had graduated from high school, they both appreciated and instilled in their children the vital importance of education. Stella's daughter and son both hold Harvard degrees. Her two oldest grandchildren graduated from Yale University, and one has received a Ph.D. from Oxford University. Stella also was fiercely dedicated to the rights of women and imparted that as well to her daughter, who now heads the Dallas Office of Jones Day, the largest law firm in the United States. Her son, Gavin, graduated from Harvard College and attended law school at the University of Texas, where he was a member of the Texas Law Review, and he now practices with Baker Botts in Austin, Texas. Stella is survived by her sisters, Theresa Vale, who watched over her most lovingly for the past ten years, visiting her every day and making Stella's last years full of love and hope; Josephine Breen; her brothers, Anthony Finnegan and Terence Finnegan, all of whom live in England; her daughter, Patricia and her husband, Thomas Leatherbury; her son, Gavin and his wife, Cynthia Alaniz; her grandchildren, Sean, Colin, Daniel, Henry and Julia and too many nephews and nieces to list. She was lovingly cared for in the last years of her life by Lupe Elizondo, who made Stella's care the center of her life; and by other caretakers including Helen Alaniz, Karina Sanchez, Tonia Estrada, Sherry DeLeon and many others.
SERVICE OF REMEMBERANCE AND ROSARY
JANUARY 31, 2013
PORTER LORING CHAPEL
FEBRUARY 1, 2013
SAN FERNANDO CATHEDRAL
115 MAIN PLAZA
Interment in Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery at 12:30 p.m. A reception and lunch will be held following the funeral mass at Biga on the Banks, 203 South St. Mary's and free valet parking will be available at Biga's starting at 9:30 a.m. on Friday, February 1. In lieu of flowers, the family has requested that donations be made to Holy Family Church, 152 Florencia Avenue, San Antonio, or the
, 4144 North Central Expressway, Suite 750, Dallas, Texas.
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Published in Express-News on Jan. 29, 2013