Everlasting love inspired Frank DeFazio to create a scholarship for talented new English teachers.
One day in 2007, Frank DeFazio shot awake at 2 a.m. He suddenly knew what he must do to honor his wife, Julie, who had died a year previously of heart failure. At the time, Frank was living in San Diego, getting up at 5 a.m. every day to volunteer in the kitchen of a homeless shelter, finding that it was only in helping others that he could ward off the deep depression that had rammed into his life since the death of his beloved Julie.
Seized with the rightness of his revelation—Julie had loved her English classes at the UA, he would honor her there!—Frank jumped into his car, drove to Tucson, and walked into the English department. He said he half expected to be laughed at; he knew his initial $5,000 offering paled in comparison to the major gifts they surely must see every day. He was pleasantly surprised, however. The people he met in the department—Anne-Marie Hall and Meg Lota Brown—were thrilled by the gift and quickly moved to set up a scholarship that would honor Julie.
Julie Christakis DeFazio, who grew up in Massachusetts and the Bronx, loved her Greek heritage. She was fluent in Greek and remembered fondly her father, John Christakis, teaching her to sing and dance to Greek music.
Julie met Frank when she and her friends walked into the club house of a Phoenix race track looking for Barney, the chef. Instead they found Frank, who was the new club manager.
“I knew at that moment Julie would be the love of my life,” Frank said. “And she was. I was so fortunate to find her.
“I wasn’t paying attention to people as I should have,” Frank added. “I was trying to make money, but there is a lot more to life than that. And I found out. She educated me a lot about that.” The couple married in 1966.
Julie had a strong sense of justice and a commitment to helping others less fortunate than herself.
Throughout her life, Julie was the one who gave money to the homeless vet with the sign and wrote notes to the managers of the hotel maid or the store clerk, praising the employee’s exceptional service. She always wanted to help, to use her way with words to elevate others.
Frank recalled the lengths Julie went to to help a busboy who worked for him at the racetrack. The teenager, who had a disfiguring birthmark over half his face, was beset by teasing. Julie promptly informed Frank that they had to help the young man. She called doctors all over the county and eventually found one in San Diego exploring the emerging technique of laser surgery. Julie and Frank took the boy to the doctor, raised money for his treatment, and found accommodations for him in San Diego for the months of laser treatment required.
When Frank and Julie moved to Tucson in the 1970s for Frank’s work, Julie began taking classes at Pima Community College and then attended the UA, majoring in public administration.
Julie loved the UA, especially her English classes, always sitting in the front row and asking questions. Julie loved to write and in addition to writing letters in praise of ordinary people, she kept a journal and wrote essays and poems.
After graduation, Julie considered social work but found her brief exposure to the work heartbreaking and dispiriting. She went on to enjoy a successful career as a real estate broker.
Always open to new adventures, Julie encouraged Frank to apply for a government job managing officer clubs in Europe. So in 1988, they moved to Germany and lived there for around five years. She volunteered to teach English to some of the officers’ wives. Her class of four students eventually became a class of 80.
After further stints in Crete and Idaho, the pair retired in California. After treatment for breast cancer, Julie developed arrhythmia and passed away in 2007 from complications from the prescribed blood thinner.
“Julie was so fit and so beautiful. There was not a wrinkle on her face,” Frank said. “I truly miss her. It was a great romance for all those wonderful years.”
Frank, who returned to Tucson a few years ago and is the director of the Rillito Park Foundation, is pleased with his decision to honor Julie with this scholarship, which honors not only Julie’s passion for writing but also her appreciation of teachers who encourage their students.
Due to increased donations from Frank every year, the Julie Christakis DeFazio scholarship is now awarded every year to four graduate students in the Department of English who have an established record of exemplary teaching in the Writing Program.
“It’s been the best thing in my life to see these young students get those awards. You should see the wonderful letters that they write me,” Frank said. “I’m so thrilled to receive those letters.”