It’s hard to quantify the value of a human life.
George Bailey’s character in “It’s a Wonderful Life” illustrates the idea. The film shows the difference George (played by Jimmy Stewart) made in his community, by revealing how life would have played out for other people had he never been born.
Culpeper County native Vincent Depaul Vala, who was found dead in his home on April 21 after battling pneumonia, could be considered Culpeper’s George Bailey.
The legacy Vince Vala leaves is profound.
Reserved and independent, he lived alone and marched to the beat of his own drum. Vala spent most of his 57 years—all of them lived in Culpeper, save for a brief time at Virginia Tech—faithfully chronicling our community through his work as a writer and photographer at the Star-Exponent.
He was well known, a familiar face with a camera or a notepad, ever present at local events, public meetings and sports games, always chasing a story.
The countless images he took are a priceless record that will be sought, searched and treasured for generations.
Though he preferred wielding a camera to a pen, Vala was a talented writer, and his trove of articles over the decades is another contribution to posterity.
Think of it this way: Vala recorded the daily heritage of Culpeper and all who live here.
Journalists’ output, sometimes called “the first rough draft of history,” is often an initial reference for people studying anything from an area’s social customs, education, current events, family history or any number of other topics.
Paired with that accomplishment were Vala’s unique personality and musical talents, and the quiet ways he showed how much he cared about others.
With compassion, providing child care and coaching youth sports, he improved the lives of the young and disadvantaged. Thoughtfully and generously, he gave keepsake images to his photographic subjects. Throughout the course of his life, his efforts reveal a kind and tender heart.
Vala had his share of heartache. He suffered the loss of his parents, a sister and a brother.
He personally experienced the effects of the slow and painful decline of the U.S. newspaper industry, as the Culpeper Star-Exponent—like thousands of newspapers across the nation—has changed hands and struggled to survive.
Yet, in spite of it all, Vala loved the work. He put his heart into it.
The world will go on. But at his newspaper, and in our community, losing Vince Vala leaves a great hole. He will never be forgotten.