Palo Alto Online - Lasting Memories - Barbara Christiani's memorial

Barbara Christiani
Feb. 3, 1926-Oct. 5, 2017
Mountain View, California

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Barbara Christiani passed away peacefully on Oct. 5, 2017, surrounded by her children and grandchildren. She was 91 years old and had been living independently in Mountain View until the last three months of her life.

A Palo Alto native and the daughter of two teachers, Barbara attended Walter Hays Elementary, Jordan Junior High and Palo Alto High. She studied biology at U.C. Berkeley and graduated from San Francisco State University in theater arts.

Barbara’s work as an educator and software designer reflected her lifelong interest in nature, science and the arts as well as her passion for social justice. She taught at Nairobi Day and High School in East Palo Alto with Gertrude Wilkes; at Walden, an alternative school in San Mateo and at Peninsula, an independent school in Menlo Park. While there, Barbara became interested in the use of technology for teaching. This led to a midlife career change when she joined Addison Wesley as a science editor in their electronic textbook division. Barbara’s usage of hyperlinks in her textbooks to connect related information and laser disks to provide access to video imagery were innovative uses of information technology that predated the public availability of the internet.

After she left Addison Wesley in 1992, she founded Soleil, an educational software company, with Ragni Pasturel. Barbara’s work included Zurk's Learning Safari, Rainforest Lab and Alaskan Trek as well as WorldWalker: Destination Australia. The software won awards for its beautiful graphics, realistic animation, and extensive use of ethnic music and languages.

Performing arts were another lifetime interest. Barbara volunteered with West Bay Opera and Theater Works and regularly attended concerts, plays and operas. While teaching at Walden, she helped found the Walden Marionettes, a traveling puppet show which performed for schools, churches and parties. She also played her accordion in the Los Trancos Woods Marching Band.

In her later years, Barbara volunteered at Obama headquarters during both his elections. She also volunteered at Gamble Garden and tutored at Eastside School in East Palo Alto. She regularly walked with the Walkie Talkies and participated in a writing group.

Above all, Barbara was a naturalist with an abiding love of the Sierras where she had camped, hiked and skied from childhood until well into her 80s. In a piece she wrote for her group entitled Mysemite, she described the source of that love: “Yosemite is probably the basis for my love and awe of nature. This mountain valley is a very spiritual place to me. If I worship any God it is Nature. My heart fills with power, fear, respect, peace, happiness and exhilaration. Yosemite is my church.” At her death, a spiritual advisor read a passage from John Muir.

Barbara is survived by her brother, Ralph Britton, and five children from her marriage to the late Robert Duane Christiani. They are Larry Christiani, Richard Christiani, Stella Heartsong (formerly Diane Trolin), Deborah Christiani and Carol Hansen. She also leaves seven grandchildren and five great-grandchildren. She will be remembered for her intelligence, sense of humor and strong commitments to human rights, racial justice, friends and family. Her 91 years were well-lived!

Tags: arts/media, teacher/educator

2 entries Submit a remembrance
From Henry P. Organ
Nov. 18, 2017
I had the pleasure and honor of knowing Barbara through our affiliation with Nairobi Day School, and her consistent support of Mothers for Equal Education in East Palo Alto. Her life reflects the kind of multi-racial, multi-faith interrelationshi...
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Memorial service
A memorial celebration of her life will be held in the spring. For information about the memorial, please contact Ralph Britton at or Carol Hansen at

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