Christine Austria

Christine Austria

Christine Austria

SPARROW BUSH, N.Y. — Christine Austria is someone who never became a  cynic.
She always thought the best of people.

“Think about the typical kindergarten teacher,” said her son Ruben Austria,  which is what she was, “and I don’t mean like she treated [people] like children.” 

She treated each person “like: I see the wonder in you as a human being and unlimited potential and I believe in you … That’s how she was,” Mr. Austria said. His mother was “just extremely giving, extremely selfless, extremely caring …. genuinely other-centered,” he said. 

People “were always just kind of struck” with how she was “unconditionally caring and accepting and loving and kind.”

And how she was always writing thank-you notes.

But “not just thank-you notes, I mean, they were like long letters,” he said. 

Mr. Austria recalled his son’s birthday, an occasion where he and his wife should have been the ones penning the thank-yous to guests.  

“And then like, three days later, we’d get a card in the mail, and it would be ... the whole front cover, the whole back cover, and sometimes even an insert of paper. And it was, ‘Thank you, for inviting me to Jaaz’s birthday party,’” he recalled with a laugh. 

Mrs. Austria died on Saturday, Aug. 7, 2021, at her home in Sparrow Bush, New York, with her family by her side. She was 71.

She was born to William E. Rowley and Constance Lee Rowley on Oct. 21, 1949, in Albany, and grew up in Altamont, in her family’s home on Maple Avenue.

Her father was a reporter at The Knickerbocker News who founded the journalism program at the University at Albany.

Her mother was also a teacher; she started her own school. Mr. Austria said his grandmother tutored one of her grandchildren who had a learning disability. Other local parents would eventually send their children to the one-room school, the “barn school” at 141 Maple Ave. in Altamont, he said. 

“We also used to tease her,” Mr. Austria said, when his mother would describe in idyllic terms her role as the leader of the Maple Avenue “gang,” a group of village girls, including Ruth Marion, Pam Crounse, and Betty Geiger.

The “gang,” more akin to the Little Rascals, would run around and play pranks like knocking on people’s doors and asking if their refrigerator was running.

Mr. Austria said his outspoken mother and a group of friends who “were becoming politically conscious and active” got involved with the anti-war and civil rights movement in high school.

Mrs. Austria graduated from Guilderland High School in 1966, where she played both piano and cello. After a year at Boston College, she moved to New York City to study at the Manhattan School of Music.

Mr. Austria said his mother described the decision to move to New York as a “real turning point” in her life. 

She had been miserable after her first year at Boston College.

“And I remember her telling us that, when she moved to New York, she just decided, ‘I’m just going to go there and pretend to be happy until I’m happy.’ And then it kind of worked out for her,” Mr. Austria said. “So, she really thrived in New York. That’s where she met my father; he was also a student at Manhattan School of Music.”

It was a tale of opposites attracting: Christine, described by her son as shy, and Jaime, an extrovert made for the New York City of the mid- to late-60s.

The couple married in 1971. 

“They raised three children together and were married for 49 years until his passing on May 21, 2010,” Mrs. Austria’s family wrote in a tribute. 

His mother studied cello and piano in college, Mr. Austria said, while his father studied the double bass. Mrs. Austria remembered seeing the man who would become her husband play for the first time, her son said.  “She was marveling at his hands, and how strong they looked,” Mr. Austria said. 

In a very ’60s and hippie sort of way, Mr. Austria said his parents decided they were going to be together permanently — just without the piece of paper that said so officially. 

But when his mother went to tell her parents — two people who were no slouches in the liberal and open-minded department — of the arrangement, Mr. Austria said, his grandparents, “Were like, ‘Well, that’s great. But you know, what, like, what do we tell our friends?’” 

The couple married in the Bronx County Courthouse.

Their honeymoon was a Yankees game that followed the ceremony, their son quipped.

Mr. and Mrs. Austria moved into a basement apartment on 106th Street and West End Avenue, a neighborhood of artists, musicians, and writers. Mr. Austria remembers his parents in the ’80s being upset that the neighborhood had been overrun by yuppies — young, urban professionals — now known as gentrification.

Mr. Austria recalled when he was younger his mother worked at a coffee shop and gave private music lessons, which turned into group classes. “She’d write these whole musicals for kids,” he said.

“In 1988, she began working as a substitute music teacher at the local elementary school, P.S. 145,” her family wrote. “Her talent with children was noticed and she was invited to take on a full-time role teaching kindergarten while she studied to complete her master of education degree. She continued to teach at P.S. 145 for nearly 25 years until her retirement in 2012.” 

After his father died in 2010, Mr. Austria said, his mother didn’t really want to go back to teaching; she felt constrained by the new education metrics students had to meet, but she didn’t “have anybody to care for.”

That was until her granddaughter, Naima, was born in 2012.

“She just kind of gave her notice immediately, and kind of used the rest of her time off,” he said. “And that was it.”

“That’s just kind of how she was,” he said, “she kind of needed to always be taking care of people, especially kids.”

“After retiring, she continued spreading her love of music at UpBeat NYC, a nonprofit organization started by her daughter and son-in-law, that provides free music education for children in the South Bronx,” her family wrote. “She stayed physically active as a member of the Long River Tai Chi Circle, and was a frequent attendee at Metro Hope Church in East Harlem.”

Mr. Austria said his mother was always exercising; “it’s like she would never stop exercising.”

“In 2018, she was diagnosed with Progressive Supranuclear Palsy (PSP), a rare and debilitating neurological disease. Always a caretaker of others, she spent [the] last years of her life being taken care of by her children and grandchildren at the family’s home in Sparrow Bush.”

The more a person moves and exercises, the more it helps to slow down the progression of the disease, Mr. Austria said.

And towards the end, as she was suffering with Progressive Supranuclear Palsy, a disease for which there is no cure, she continued to think of others. 

“She had this terrible condition,” Mr. Austria said, and for the last year-and-a-half of her life, she was exhausted and she couldn’t move on her own, and she declined many visitors. “And a lot of it was because — it was almost like she felt guilty that she couldn’t entertain them,” he said.

She worried that she would offend her visitors when she closed her eyes to rest, he said, “and we would tell her, ‘Mom ... it’s OK,’” you needn’t play host.’”

His mother didn’t want visitors, he said; she was just so exhausted. “But, you know, she said, ‘I don’t need to see them because I hope they already know how much I love them,’” Mr. Austria said.
 

****

Christine Austria is survived by her children, Ruben Austria and his wife, Ivelyse Andino, of the Bronx, New York; Liza Austria Miller and her husband, Richard, of the Bronx, New York; and John Austria of New York, New York.

She is also survived by her siblings, Richard Rowley and his wife, Helen, of Schenectady, and Susan Shook and her husband, Terrance, of Mount Vernon, New York, and by her grandchildren, Naima Miller, Aza Miller, and Jaaziah Austria.

Her sister, Anne Langford, died before her. 

At Mrs. Austria’s request, there will be no funeral services. 

A memorial service will be announced at the convenience of the family.

Memorial contributions may be made to Cure PSP (www.psp.org), UpBeat NYC  (www.upbeatnyc.org), Community Connections for Youth (www.cc-fy.org), or Dance for PD (www.danceforparkinsons.org).

— Sean Mulkerrin

More Obituaries

  • BERNE — Charlene M. Lee, who was passionate about her family, died on Friday, Oct. 8, 2021 at St. Peter’s Hospital in Albany. She was 85.

    She was born on June 3, 1936 in Schoharie to the late Willard and Mabel Berner Hotaling.

  • ALTAMONT — A local resident since 1994, Doris “Dori” Ellen (née Knowles) Bode died at her Palm Beach Gardens home in Florida on Wednesday, Aug. 4, 2021. She was 86.

    Her favorite saying was, “The time to be happy is now.”

  • WESTERLO — Ruth Peck Savino was a committed caretaker, devout Disney fan, and culinary maestro. After a long battle with stage 4 breast cancer, she died on Saturday, Oct. 16, 2021. She was 63.

The Altamont Enterprise is focused on hyper-local, high-quality journalism. We produce free election guides, curate readers' opinion pieces, and engage with important local issues. Subscriptions open full access to our work and make it possible.