Barbara B. Wallace, an adjunct professor of Italian in the department of modern literatures and cultures who learned to speak the language during her late 30s, died on Sunday after a bout with cancer.

Lorenza Marcin, director of the Italian language program, worked with Wallace from 2001-2009 and described her as a perfect counterpart. She said Wallace had been easy to work with, enthusiastic and flexible.

Marcin said their love of the Italian language connected them although they maintained different interests. But unlike Marcin, a native Italian speaker, Wallace had learned the language because of her interest in her Italian background. Wallace had been better able to relate to students learning the language because of her own experience, which Marcin said showed it was never too late to do anything you want.

Wallace taught Italian Language and Culture at the elementary and intermediate levels, and Marcin said students who took her advanced courses were well-prepared after taking Wallace's classes.

Wallace overcame breast cancer five years ago, Marcin said, but she developed bone cancer last year and had to stop teaching until Thanksgiving. When she returned to teach, she remained positive each day, despite receiving regular chemotherapy treatments that left her feeling ill.

Marcin said Wallace's passion for teaching and for the language had been contagious. Her students, who were aware of her struggles with cancer, would smile at the mention of her name. Teaching in a classroom was among the highlights of Wallace's life.

Wallace's other passions included breeding collies, and collecting, reading, buying and selling books. Marcin said Wallace had even kept a library apart from her house that contained 40,000 books spanning every topic a person could imagine. The books were so abundant that they occupied every free space in the shelves, but Wallace still knew the locations of all her books.

Even though their schedules had prevented them from becoming intimate friends, Mancin said she had visited Wallace throughout her time in the hospital and was amazed at the positive attitude Wallace displayed as she was confronted with adversity. She had been eager to return to work and to her students, who were taught by a substitute adjunct professor this semester in Wallace's absence. Marcin had faith that Wallace would teach again during the spring of 2010, she said.

But last Sunday, during a phone call to schedule a hospital visit, Wallace's husband told Marcin that she should come to the hospital quickly. Marcin arrived at the hospital a half-hour before Wallace died.

She said she had been grateful to have held Wallace's hand in her final moments.

The university flag will fly at half-staff from Dec. 5-7 to honor Wallace. The funeral service will be held at 3 p.m. on Dec. 6 at the Lacy Funeral Home in Mineral, Va., where Wallace lived, according to an e-mail sent to the campus community from the Office of the President.

Wallace received her Master of Arts from the University of Virginia, according to the department's Web site. She also twice accompanied students on a Summer Program to Perugia, Italy, and taught at Virginia Commonwealth University, Marcin said.

This story will be updated.

Contact staff writer Jimmy Young at jimmy.young@richmond.edu

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