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Deborah A. Christhilf, a woman who devoted herself to others, dies at 72

Deborah A. Christhilf, a woman who devoted herself to others, dies at 72
Deborah A. Christhilf "had a blanket ready for cold feet before the patient realized they had cold feet. She had a bowl of fruit ready before they were hungry. She read poetry to divert them from thinking about their pains,” according to her sister, Lucinda. (HANDOUT)

Deborah Ann Christhilf, a caregiver recalled for her devotion to her family and friends, died Saturday of heart failure at Anne Arundel Medical Center in Annapolis. She was 72 years old and lived in Annapolis.

Born in Annapolis, she was the daughter of Dr. Stuart M. Christhilf, an obstetrician and gynecologist, and his wife, Marion Fromen, a volunteer and past president of the Christ Child Society. She attended St. Mary’s School and was a 1965 graduate of the Stone Ridge School of the Sacred Heart in Bethesda. She later attended what is now Stevenson University and the University of Maryland, College Park.

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Family members said she grew up at Melvin Point on the South River and early on was fascinated by nature and animals. She also made her way within a large family.

“She had to hold her own with her seven brothers,” said Cris Keener, a family friend. "She was a strong woman. She was poised and had an unassuming sophistication. She was also a natural physical beauty who was curious and humorous. She loved a good joke. She was also an altruistic person who was a tremendous lover of nature and animals."

As a young woman, she visited the Ford modeling agency in New York City with her father, who felt she could pursue a career in fashion.

“He recognized her beauty — and the agency was interested — but she was not for the glitz and glamour of city life. It never happened," said her sister, Lucinda Wakefield of Queenstown.

Ms. Christhilf worked several years as an administrative assistant in Washington, D.C., before she decided to return to her family’s home and care for her mother, who had been diagnosed with cancer and was not expected to live long. Her mother survived an additional decade, and family members credit her daughter’s care for her extra time.

Her brother, Stuart M. Christhilf, said: “She was someone who just cared about and for people. It was her essential being.”

“Debbie could anticipate the needs of a sick person,” said her sister, Lucinda. “She had a blanket ready for cold feet before the patient realized they had cold feet. She had a bowl of fruit ready before they were hungry. She read poetry to divert them from thinking about their pains.”

Ms. Christhilf, who was an avid reader interested in literature, wrote poetry and spent years writing a book on Amazon warriors.

Ms. Christhilf moved to Round Bay in Severna Park in the 1980s and once again assumed the role of caregiver. A neighbor, Pat Winn, a former French teacher, was in declining health. She nursed her until Ms. Winn died in 2010.

“She was a selfless person and was not materialistic,” said her sister, Lucinda. “She was not vain or egotistical in any way. Her beauty was striking but she never understood it.”

While in Round Bay in Severna Park, she established a routine of feeding animals outside her door. She fed squirrels and birds, and made a mixture of suet and peanut butter to spread on tree bark. She also fed cats, raccoons and foxes.

“She encouraged an entourage of wild creatures,” said her sister. “They did not fight when they were around her. She always had a bag of nuts ready to feed them.”

As her siblings had families, Ms. Christhilf assumed the role of the aunt.

“She was like a Peter Pan. She was magical with children who naturally went to her and she to them,” said her sister. “She had a treasure box of shiny objects — a bottle with a message inside, a rosary, a bow and arrow. She would hide these pirates’ treasures in the woods for the kids to seek out. Then she’d light fireworks and firecrackers.”

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A Mass of Christian Burial will be held at 10:30 a.m. Friday at St. Mary’s Roman Catholic Church, Duke of Gloucester Street in Annapolis.

In addition to her sister and brother, survivors include five other brothers, P. Raab Christhilf of Baltimore, Anthony F. Christhilf and Nicholas D. Christhilf, both of Annapolis, Mark M. Christhilf of Nutley, N.J., and Malcolm P. Christhild of Erie Pa.; a half-brother, George Christhilf of Baltimore; and nieces and nephews. Another brother, Geoffrey M. Christhilf, died in 1972.

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