Navalette Tabor Bailey, Venice Pioneer, Dies at 95

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By Jill Prestup

Navalette “Novie” Tabor, matriarch of one of Venice’s first families, passed away July 18. She was 95, two months short of her 96th birthday.

Born September 7, 1914, Novie was a lifelong Venice resident. Her family moved from Louisiana to Venice when she was 6 months old, and she lived for the last 52 years on the property that her father, Charles Tabor purchased the year of her birth.

For many years Novie was the person historians, journalists and community members called upon when they wanted to know about the Oakwood area of Venice. She had fond memories of her childhood, but also acknowledged the discrimination and limitations she encountered as a black child. Although she was the first black female student to graduate from Venice High School, it was a bittersweet celebration. She wasn’t allowed to enter a skating rink, the site of the graduation party.

As a young woman seeking employment, discrimination of the time continued. During the middle of the Depression, determined not to stay home, she was refused employment at a five and ten cent store. Instead, she found a job — doing housework, chauffeuring and taking care of children — that paid a dollar a day. The importance of self-esteem and her goal of being independent served her well through the decades.

In 1950, Novie was hired at Douglas Aircraft as an electrician installing junction boxes. Later, while taking care of her parents, she became interested in nursing, a reflection of her life of caring, and worked in a nursing home in Santa Monica.  She tried to retire at 62, but was a popular care giver and stayed part time until 67. She recalled that one of the best rewards of being a nurse was seeing a patient’s face light up when she walked into their room.

Retirement for Novie meant the opportunity to travel. When her father was ill, he mentioned his desire to return to Louisiana to see how things had changed. But he kept putting it off until, at last, he couldn’t travel. He advised his daughter not to wait and soon after he died, Novie began to explore the world.

She took her first airplane ride in 1964, at the age of fifty. It was a 29-day, around the world trip, offered by Douglas. And that was just the beginning. Novie island hopped six times in the Caribbean and took her grandson to the Far East. She enjoyed cruising the Mediterranean, South America, the Panama Canal and Alaska.

When Novie wasn’t traveling the globe, there were trips every two to three months to Laughlin, Las Vegas or Indian reservations to gamble. She spent whatever she could afford to lose.

While at home, Novie kept busy. She was a member of the Oakwood Recreation Senior Group since the late 70s. On Saturdays, family and friends were welcome to stop by for dinner. Novie was a gracious hostess and there was always more than enough delicious food. She generously allowed the Venice Historical Board of Directors to have its monthly board meetings at her home. Meetings aren’t always fun, but she made them appealing by offering fabulous munchies.

There are remembrances of Novie’s life in picture-packed albums. If you’ve seen photos of the filling-in of Abbot Kinney’s canals with trucks, they belonged to her father’s business. The feature article of the Argonaut’s Feb. 14, 1991 issue was “Blacks Who Helped Build Venice.” On the cover is a 1915 photo of Novie as an infant with her parents, sister and brother.

In her infinite wisdom, Novie reminded family and friends to enjoy life as it comes – do everything you can do, do what you want to do. There seems to be a lot of truth in positive thinking resulting in a longer life. That’s what Novie did – ignore the unpleasant and focus on what is good.

Novie is survived by son Alvin Christman, daughter-in-law Cynthia Christman and, the joys of her life, grandchildren Allen and Antonia Christman, plus a myriad of relatives and friends who will always cherish having Novie in their life.

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