Dr. Christina Vella

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    - Lorraine Palmer
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Dr. Christina Vella died in the early hours of March 22, her daughters at her side. She was a writer, historian, reader, thinker, and dancer. She excelled at kindness. She studied five foreign languages, not because she wanted to visit the countries or use the languages in a practical way, but because she loved shaping the new words in her mouth and gradually acquiring all the little linguistic quirks. She re-used tea bags and carefully washed out disposable cups, but gave money to every wanderer who crossed her path. Her favorite drink was gin (the cheapest!) mixed with Winn-Dixie diet cherry soda, though half a drink was enough to start her giggling. She laughed the hardest at everyone's jokes, including her own. The daughter of a self-educated traveling salesman and a homemaker, neither of whom finished high school, Christina received a B.A. from LSU in English and history. On that beautiful Baton Rouge campus, the world opened up for her. She put herself through college in two and a half years by working around the clock. She began teaching 7th and 8th graders in St. Bernard Parish public schools at the age of 20, while earning a master's degree in history at night school at UNO. That enabled her to teach at Nunez Community College, where she loved her students and took joy in explaining everything from the Federal Reserve to T.S. Eliot's poetry. She then completed a Ph.D. in modern European history at Tulane University, where she was a Visiting Professor and beloved teacher for many years. She homeschooled her two daughters through high school; both now have their own Ph.Ds. She authored five books of nonfiction: Intimate Enemies, a biography of the Baroness de Pontalba; The Hitler Kiss, a memoir of a Czech resistance fighter; Indecent Secrets, an account of a 1901 murder trial in Italy; and George Washington Carver: A Life, a biography of the famous scientist. Her final book, still in publication, is a biography of Kemal Ataturk. Intimate Enemies was her favorite; it was listed as one of the ""Best Books of 1997"" by the New York Times, Publisher's Weekly, and the Times-Picayune, nominated for the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award, and was made into an opera. She was especially proud to be selected as the 2016 recipient of the Louisiana Writer Award, bestowed by the State Library of Louisiana in recognition of her ""outstanding contributions to Louisiana's literary and intellectual life."" She chose her life's errands with meticulous care and enjoyed just about every endeavor she embarked on. At the time of her death, she was taking an online course in watercolor painting and working on her first novel, which (she complained) kept trying to turn into some dreadful combination of biography and fiction. She will be missed by so many in New Orleans, where she lived her whole adult life. Those who love her most include her daughters, Christie Riehl and Robin Vella Riehl; her son-in-law and son-in-love, Andres Blanco and Max Rayneard; her honorary sisters, Margaret Shields and Marcia Cooke; and our dear ones, the Klauder-Vaz family. A memorial service will be held at 10 a.m. Sunday, March 26, on the grounds of Milton Latter Memorial Library, 5120 St. Charles Avenue, with a potluck reception to follow. In lieu of flowers, donations are being accepted for a tree to be planted at the library in her honor. Donations should be addressed to the attention of Missy Abbott and mention Christina Vella Tree Fund. Any excess donations will go to the library. Arrangements Entrusted to The Baloney Funeral Home.LLC 1905 W Airline Highway Laplace, Louisiana 70068. (985)224-8460. Condolences can be expressed at www.baloneyfuneralhome.com.
Funeral Home
The Baloney Funeral Home LLC
1905 West Airline Hwy.
La Place, LA 70068
(985) 224-8460
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Published in TheNewOrleansAdvocate.com from Mar. 23 to Mar. 26, 2017