Full of Grace – A correspondent with the great and famous

Full of Grace – A correspondent with the great and famous

theresa-webLech Walesa, the former president of Poland always wrote back, each time sending a handwritten note.

How Walesa read the letters Theresa Cristalli sent him — congratulating him on professional and personal milestones, like the birth of each of his children — isn’t clear. But Cristalli couldn’t read Polish, so one of her co-workers would take each note she received from Walesa to a priest who could translate.

Cristalli corresponded with the great and the famous: actors Elizabeth Taylor and Gina Lollobrigida, Britain’s royal family and many others. She wrote so frequently to soap opera actors that she was regularly invited to the Daytime Emmy Awards ceremony in New York City. One year a limousine was sent to pick her up.

She wrote her letters in her free time, when she wasn’t at her desk at the Catholic Star Herald where she worked for 40 years as a bookkeeper and office manager. It seems to be the only job she ever had, except for a time at St. Vincent Pallotti Parish in Haddon Township after she retired.

She attended a parish-sponsored business school straight out of grammar school, and then immediately began working at the newspaper. That was in 1951, before the first issue was printed. Never married, she came to the office early (after Mass), almost always left late and sometimes came to the office on weekends.

Cristalli began the morning by carrying two cups of coffee, one in each hand, to her desk, because she didn’t want to get up for a refill. In the days before voicemail she would not leave her spot unless someone — often a coworker who happened to be passing by — would sit by the phone so she could go to the ladies room.

And when a reporter, who sat a mere 15 feet from her desk, had to speak to her briefly about a story on the newspaper’s 40th anniversary, she said she couldn’t spare the time during office hours. He had to go to her apartment in the evening. (Cristalli could bake well, so the writer was treated to dessert during the interview.)

In addition to clerical duties, Cristalli proofread the entire paper before it went to press — and yes, she had a correction regarding her own interview. She also read the whole paper again after it was printed, pointing out any mistakes and typos to whoever made them.

Cristalli did some writing herself, notably a first person account of the Camden riots in the 1960s. “I hope and pray that peace and calm return to other parts of the city … as in our little area of South Camden,” she wrote in the 1,600 word piece. “There is much to be done, but when there is dialog and communication, a great deal can be accomplished.”

She died Dec. 15, 2005.

Researched by James A. McBride and Carl Peters

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