Obituary - Brigitte J. Vaccarella
People who met her will remember her always, people of opposing views respected her and people who valued the same qualities of kindness, integrity, fairness, and dedication loved her.
Brigitte J. Vaccarella, 70, beloved mother & sister and esteemed friend passed away on the 30th of January 2022 at her home in Torrance, CA after a hard-fought though brief battle with cancer. Brigitte leaves behind a son, Cawley, sister Irmgard Babcock and brother Herbert Rucker. Brigitte has extended family including many aunts, uncles and cousins in New York and Austria.
She was born as Brigitte Josefine Rucker on the 11th of February 1951, in Graz, Austria, the daughter of Josef Rucker and Emma (Schleimer) Rucker. She grew up on the family farm and immigrated with her parents and sister to the United States in 1957. One of her earliest childhood memories of coming to the US was sailing across the Atlantic in the midwinter weather of February in rough seas and in cramped conditions aboard the USS General Langfitt from Bremerhaven, Germany.
Brigitte grew up speaking fluent German. She studied French in High School and lived in a multi-ethnic neighborhood in Brooklyn, New York that was Italian, German, Jewish and Irish. Through exposure to friends and neighbors she had developed an understanding of Yiddish, Italian and Spanish in addition to English. She aspired to study language at Columbia University and become a translator at the United Nations. However, life had other plans and following graduation in 1969 from Grover Cleveland High School in Queens, New York, she moved with her parents from Brooklyn to Lawndale, California.
In 1970 Brigitte married her high school sweetheart, Daniel Vaccarella, and in the same year began her career with AT&T as an information operator. Over her 30-year career she participated in a variety of roles from information operator, order writer, account manager, budgets & accounting, sales support, and course instructor. Brigitte especially enjoyed the challenge of teaching throughout her career. One of her most cherished experiences was teaching communication and helping other employees to improve their public speaking and presentation skills.
Mid-career Brigitte was identified as one of the Top 100 employees in Pacific Bell, winning the prestigious Presidents Club Award in 1986, among other achievements. Brigitte concluded her career with Pacific Bell as a second level supervisor in charge of Entertainment Accounts; she was one of the principals who oversaw communications for Disney and the various entertainment studios as well as projects for many events including the Emmy's, Oscars, Super Bowls.
Alongside a very dynamic career Brigitte maintained strong family ties and remained in close contact with relatives both in New York and Austria, often taking vacation trips to visit family in both places. She was very giving and loyal to her friends and family and a loving caregiver to her parents. Brigitte spent every other weekend with her mother Emma, providing her with attention, love and company after Brigitte's father Josef passed away in 2002.
Brigitte was known by friends and family for her personal strength. Her friends will remember her as confidant, reassuring, strong willed, dedicated, and extremely thoughtful. She was always willing to pitch in and help others and make the extra effort to do things the right way. She carried the ethos of service from her professional to her personal life, making charitable donations to causes that served those in need from disadvantaged children to veterans; for the last 20 of the 32 years where she lived, she was president of the Park Prairie Homeowners Association in Torrance, CA, attending legal seminars, managing the budget, negotiating service contracts, and planning for the care and administration of the Association property.
Her son, Cawley, was also a very big part of Brigitte's life and her experiences while working at AT&T and later Pacific Bell had made a huge impression on both mother and son. Her son's earliest recollections of listening to Brigitte on the phone were during many long phone calls she had made to a coworker or friend about work. Many of Brigitte's colleagues already knew her son through the many stories that she had shared of his accomplishments and scholastic achievement so that meeting a phone company friend or colleague of his mother's was more often like encountering a long lost relative for Cawley.
Through his mother, Cawley was exposed to the ever-changing world of technology. During his childhood in the early 1980s Cawley remembers his mother working on a budgeting problem at home after hours on a portable computer; the computer was weighed approximately 35 pounds, was the size of a medium suitcase with dual floppy drives and a 5 inch screen-a dinosaur by contemporary standards-it was a wonder for Cawley to see and a universe away from the manual typewriter that was sitting in the spare room closet. Brigitte also took Cawley to various technology fares put on by the company where he was exposed to technologies like video phone and fiber optic cable for data transmission-technologies that would not be fully implemented or well established for another decade and a half! These experiences inspired her son, so much so, that later on he decided to pursue an education in science and mathematics at the university.
Brigitte worked hard each day and persevered in a difficult and competitive work environment. On occasion while Brigitte worked after hours as a second level manager, her son visited her at the old Torrance office to check up on her. Dedicated as always, she said hello, showed him around the office and then set him up at work terminal, loaded up WordPerfect and left him to write up his term papers while she finished her work for the evening. There was no time to waste but even when the demands of a professional life meant working longer hours, Brigitte included her son in all aspects of her life.
Above all, Brigitte was a loving and caring mother to her only child. Even though she had a busy professional life, she made sure that her son was always included. Throughout his life, Cawley felt like he had an extended family with his mother's coworkers. Even after she retired, Brigitte maintained a close bond with many of her former colleagues and friends, exchanging holiday cards, participating in luncheons, and reminiscing about old times
Following retirement in 2000, Brigitte began her second career working for the Federal Aviation Administration as a Telecommunications Analyst in 2001. Initially she was responsible for maintaining telecommunications inside the FAA Regional Office building in Lawndale, California. Eventually she was involved with providing oversight to communications services and billing for the FAA nationwide. She provided support to the FAA through October of 2021.
Outside of work, Brigitte enjoyed international travel. In September of 2010, she and her son took their first sea cruise up the coast of Alaska. In 2012, she and her son took a Baltic Sea cruise. Brigitte had a particular fascination with Russia. Both she and Cawley enjoyed visiting the Hermitage and the Summer Palace of Peter the Great and attending a presentation of Swan Lake. Mother and son took an equally memorable tour of the Danube through Hungary, Austria, and Germany in 2014. This trip had great sentimental value for Brigitte as she was able to see more of Austria, the country of her birth, than she ever had before.
Always loyal and giving, Brigitte never hesitated to pitch in and help. She carried the ethos of service from her professional to her personal life, making charitable donations to causes that served those in need, from disadvantaged children to veterans.
Along with being a dynamic career woman, she was also deeply devoted to family and friends. Brigitte had a tremendous capacity for love, kindness and providing support and care to others and she was blessed to have an extended family and circle of friends from many phases in her life.
Throughout her life, Brigitte was always a private person. When she learned of her condition in June of 2021, she told only those closest to her because she didn't want to cause too much distress. When Christmas cards didn't arrive from her that year, her friends knew that something was very wrong and by New Year's, they began calling to check on Brigitte.
Brigitte almost never said "goodbye", but rather "see you again" or "talk to you soon". She had an ineffable quality that drew people to her, who always felt a lasting connection with her.
There is a phrase in German that sums up best who Brigitte was and what she would want for all of us and it is, "Halt die Ohren steif"! It means literally, "to hold your ears stiff" and conveys that the idea that we should face adversity attentively, to be brave and carry on. We are not meant to be discouraged by the hard things in life nor grieve forever. Through the process of remembrance, we should reconcile our feelings-both happy and sad-with the memory and love of those whom we have lost. So, we should honor Brigitte by celebrating her life, keeping her in our memory, be brave and carry on, and know that it will be ok.
A service is planned for 1 PM on May 21, 2022, at Coastal Funeral Center, located at 25001 Narbonne Ave, Lomita, CA 90717. Those who wish to remember Brigitte are invited to contact her son, Cawley, at 310-753-4465 in case they wish to say a few prepared words in her memory.