She was known as the “Candy Lady,” greeting those in her Algiers neighborhood with, “What you want baby” as they approached her door to buy sweets.
But Alba Valladares was more than the woman who sold food. She was a mother, grandmother, great grandmother, sister, aunt and friend. She also was a devout Catholic who attended St. Theresa of Avila Church in New Orleans and kept her faith visible with religious statues inside and outside her home.
Valladares, 72, was brutally murdered Oct. 2 at the Pinewood Court townhouse she called home for more than 30 years. Friends and family say the culprit was likely someone she knew.
Neighbors and family remained in disbelief Oct. 11 at a vigil for Valladares held in conjunction with Night Out Against Crime. They remembered her humor, ease with people and how she decorated her home to delight children during the holidays.
She was generous – donating her snacks and candy to those who couldn’t afford them, and letting others pay later. She was a mother to neighbors’ children, drove people to the doctor, taught English to Spanish speakers – she had been a teacher in Honduras – and even paid expenses for neighbors’ relatives to come to the states from Honduras.
“She was so loved; she helped so many people,” relative Julia Pozo, 23, said.
“It’s so sad,” said her neighbor of three decades Latifa Perrilliat. “Why would anybody want to do that to such a good person?”
Large crowds packed Mothe Funeral Home Oct. 10 for Valladares’ wake and then the funeral Mass Oct. 11 celebrated by Father Teodoro Agudo, pastor of St. Theresa of Avila. Her four children and several of her 11 grandchildren traveled from Hawaii, Oklahoma and Virginia to attend.
“She was my best friend,” granddaughter Cecily Sanabria, 11, said. “It’s hard. I am going to miss her.”
Sought the American dream
Valladares came to the United States in 1959 from La Ceiba, Honduras, desiring the “American Dream.”
“She was the first in our family to come to the United States,” granddaugher Julia Pozo, 23, said. “She came for a better life.”
She first traveled to California where her father had lived, and then made her way to Louisiana to work at a clothing factory in New Orleans. She earned enough money to bring her family here. She also supported her family as a seamstress and with other jobs.
“I’ve learned so much in the past couple of days,” nephew Oscar Gale said. “If it wasn’t for her, I wouldn’t be here.”
He said his aunt, who had a strong Catholic faith, prayed to St. Jude and would dress in native Honduran garb for Our Lady of Guadalupe’s feast day. “She was very religious, and she stressed to the family to keep our Spanish heritage alive,” Gale said.
He said in recent months she was keeping her home open later than usual to pay off her townhome, much to the chagrin of relatives and friends concerned about her safety. She lived alone, and neighbors begged her not to be so trusting by letting anyone inside.
“She was too nice,” one neighbor said. “We told her that the neighborhood was not the same as when she bought that house 30 years ago.”
Another mentioned that Valladares had been robbed at gunpoint in her home not long ago but didn’t call the police, believing the person would turn his life around.
“This was her family. Her Pinewood family,” Gale said. “This was home to her. She didn’t want to be anywhere else. She had trust and faith in everyone.”
Second vigil held
The neighborhood, once vibrant with children who would walk for blocks to buy Valladares’ frozen cups, cold drinks, cookies and large bags of candy, is now mostly quiet although the first murder of 2011 in the 4th District was nearby, and a recent car burglary occurred, said NOPD Commander Heather Kouts who attended the Oct. 11 Night Out Against Crime. She said this case is actively being investigated.
“There’s just sadness now,” Diane Phillips said. “The neighborhood died when she died.”
Several neighbors sat outside and mingled in the street Oct. 11 in front of Valladares home, where a small shrine stood with religious candles, stuffed animals, flowers and posters with Bible verses and notes. Father David Nations of Immaculate Conception Catholic Church in Marrero consoled family members, several of whom attend his church. Neighbors contributed hot food, and her family sold candy she had remaining in her home in tribute.
The neighborhood also rallied Oct. 5 with a vigil attended by 200 people and a community car wash.
“People from all over have put my mom on Facebook and given money to help my mom,” daughter Xiamara “Little Alba” Sanabria said, wearing a “Forever Mama Alba” T-shirt. “It’s overwhelming. It shows how my mom loved and helped everybody.”
Valladares’ generosity will live on. Gale said a toy drive that he started two years ago to help underprivileged children will benefit the Pinewood Court children this year.
“I will miss her,” one neighbor said. “It will never be the same around here.”
An Alba Valladares “Candy Lady” account 5626455338 at Capital One has been opened to help pay for Valladares’ funeral expenses. Anyone with information on the murder can call NOPD homicide at 658-5300.
Christine Bordelon can be reached at cbordelon@clarion herald.org.