After a year-and-a-half battle with brain cancer, UMW Professor of Linguistics Christina Kakava, 49, passed away at her home in Fredericksburg on Feb. 20.
A fatal tumor was discovered in her brain in August of 2008, almost one year following her diagnosis of breast cancer, which she beat in the spring of 2008.
“She was such a force of nature…always so energetic. She was an incredibly vibrant person,” Teresa Kennedy, chair of the English, linguistics and communication department said.
“You couldn’t help but smile when you saw her- she had that great smile and a sparkling laugh,” wrote Kathy Stephens of Locust Grove, Va. in the Covenant Funeral Service online memorial guestbook dedicated to Kakava.
Born in Halkida, Greece, Kakava graduated from the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens majoring in Greek and English. She remained in Greece holding various teaching positions, including one at the Air Force Academy.
In 1987, Kakava came to the United States where she studied linguistics at Georgetown University, earning her masters in 1989 and her Ph.D. in 1993.
Her career at UMW began in 1994 when she joined the faculty as a linguistics professor, becoming a full professor in 2006.
“She was undoubtedly one of the most beautiful and inspirational people that I’ve ever known, and I will never forget her selflessness and warmth,” UMW alumna Meredith Nowlin of Alexandria, Va. wrote in the online guestbook.
During her time at UMW, Kakava taught sociolinguistics, cross-cultural communication, discourse analysis and language gender.
“It’s hard for students,” Kennedy said. “The younger students really didn’t get the chance to know her.”
After her initial diagnosis with breast cancer in 2007, Kakava took time off during the 2007-2008 academic year in order to concentrate on her treatment. She was, however, able to carry a partial load of independent students her husband, Paul Fallon, associate professor of linguistics, said.
Following the discovery of the tumor in her brain her condition forced her to take medical leave shortly after the start of the 2008 academic year, eventually leading her to take disability retirement in May 2009.
Kakava is survived by Fallon, her husband of 19 years, their son Yanni and two sisters.