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Vanessa Holzer

Vanessa Holzer

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BLOOMINGTON - Vanessa Pitangui Lucena Holzer passed away at home surrounded by her loving family on Saturday (April 1, 2006). Vanessa was born to Dr. Jason and Nilda Lucena, both of whom pre-deceased her, into a large, traditional, accomplished, boisterous Brazilian family sprawling from Rio de Janeiro to Belo Horizonte, where she spent her youth. She leaves behind John, her husband of 38 years; son, Jason (Erika) Holzer, Austin, Texas; son, Erich Holzer, Houston, Texas; sister, Sandra (Humberto) Marini, Rio de Janeiro; and brother, Celso Renato, and sister-in-law, Sonia Lucena, Belo Horizonte.

In Brazil, Vanessa attended the Sacre Coeur and American schools and began a lifelong mastery of languages foreign to her native Portuguese. She became the first American Field Service exchange student in Bloomington-Normal, where she was hosted by Margie, Cleo and Ken Schroeder, graduated from University High School and met her future husband, John Holzer, who was on Christmas break from university.

The following summer Vanessa toured the United States with other AFS students, who were hosted at the White House by Attorney General Robert Kennedy, before she returned to Brazil. There she entered the Universidade Federal, where in just two years she was awarded both a BA in languages and the English certification from the University of Michigan, taught English at the Brazilian-American Institute, and served as secretary to the manager of the Bank of London and South America.

Three years of correspondence between Vanessa and her future husband kindled a long-distance romance, and in 1966 between terms in graduate school, John mounted a Pan Am Clipper for Brazil. The pair became engaged after two weeks of the customary observation and chaperonage by aunts from the extended family. A year later, the couple wed in Framingham, Mass.

John's Exxon career took the couple to many ports of call, and Vanessa's remarkable language expertise was in high demand everywhere. She was a translator for M.I.T. in Cambridge, Mass., on a project with the Brazilian Central Bank, wrote Portuguese copy at Vision magazine in Manhattan, and taught English at La Universidad Javeriana in Bogot¡, Colombia, the Intercol refinery in Cartagena, Colombia and Lago Oil and Transport Co in Aruba, Netherlands Antilles, and Spanish at Riviera Day School in Miami. Her only sabbatical was a three-year interlude in Rio de Janeiro, where she luxuriated in the company of parents, 30 uncles and aunts, and 40 first cousins, all within a day's car trip.

Vanessa arrived in Houston in 1986 and gave Portuguese lessons at Exxon Coal and Minerals. She began an 11-year career at St. Francis Episcopal Day School in 1989, starting as a Spanish teacher, soon heading the department, later also serving as eighth grade dean, and always bonding with hundreds of children and parents. In 1997, she won a coveted scholarship from the government of Spain and dedicated that summer to Spanish language and culture studies at La Universidad de Salamanca.

In the classroom and socially, Vanessa sparkled with an easy smile, quick wit, expansive intellect, unerring style and unceasing charm. Providentially, last year close friends from South America, the Caribbean, Europe and the United States joined her at son Jason's wedding in Angra dos Reis, Brazil. Ever the warm Latin mother, Vanessa constantly showered her family with empathy, encouragement and love.

Vanessa volunteered at the Women's Home and attended Mass at St Michael's Catholic Church.

Friends are cordially invited to a visitation with the family from 6 to 8 p.m. today in the Jasek Chapel of Geo. H. Lewis & Sons, 1010 Bering Drive, in Houston, where her funeral will be conducted at 2 p.m. Wednesday. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to MD Anderson Cancer Center.

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