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Elia Eminet Villanueva Corretjer

In Remembrance
March 28, 1936 - October 21, 2023


Elia Eminet Villanueva Corretjer died at her home in Chapel Hill on Saturday, October 21, 2023. She was known to her friends by her nickname, Emy, and to her students and the faculty at Duke University as “V”.

Emy was the oldest child of the late Salvador Eugenio Villanueva Pintueles and Josefina Corretjer Quiñones. She was born and raised in Ciales, a small town in the mountains of Puerto Rico. Fiercely independent at the age of 17, she turned down a full scholarship to the University of Puerto Rico to pursue her dream of studying in the United States. Emy graduated from Mary Washington College in Fredericksburg, VA in 1958 with a B.S., double majoring in Biology and Health, Physical Education and Recreation. She enrolled in Duke University, earning a certificate in Physical Therapy the following year. After working at Puerto Rico’s Chapter of the National Society for Crippled Children and Adults, Emy returned to Duke’s Department of Physical Therapy where she spent the rest of her professional career.

Emy worked as a Senior Therapist throughout Duke Hospital and taught Physical Therapy students before resuming her graduate studies in Duke’s Department of Anatomy. She earned a Master of Arts degree in 1969 and completed the coursework and orals for her PhD in Anatomy.

Emy joined Duke’s Graduate School Faculty as an Assistant Professor in the Physical Therapy Program, earning tenure as Associate Professor in 1974. A devoted and talented teacher, she was recognized and honored by her students numerous times during her 40-year career. Despite the increased emphasis on research, she remained steadfast in prioritizing her teaching responsibilities. Emy loved teaching and was passionate about her students learning and growing in their profession. She approached her teaching with creativity, compassion and humor and expected the best from everyone. Emy’s impact on her students and the profession she loved is immeasurable.

During her tenure at Duke, Emy helped move the Physical Therapy Program from a 15-month certificate program to a Master’s degree, and subsequently to the current Doctor of Physical Therapy degree.

Concurrent with her teaching and mentoring responsibilities, she served as consultant and faculty member for the American Dance Festival’s School of Dance. She directed its medical clinic for 10 years, evaluating and treating injured student dancers and members of visiting dance troupes. Emy was a featured speaker at Physical Therapy and dance medicine workshops, addressing topics of dance medicine, applied anatomy, and biomechanics of human motion.

Over the years, Emy served as a consultant to North Carolina health agencies and was an active member of state and national physical therapy associations. She also contributed to a wide range of committees at Duke University Medical Center.

Emy retired as a Professor Emeritus in June 2001.

Emy was an avid Duke fan who religiously attended football and basketball games until her declining health interfered. In addition to her love of sports, she had a soft spot in her heart for animals and owned dozens of cats and many dogs over the years. She also had a keen interest in and knowledge of birds and was a member of the Audubon Society. For many years she never missed a chance to head to Jordan Lake on New Year’s Day to enjoy nature and participate in their annual bird counting expedition.

Emy’s interests were eclectic. She listened to opera and other types of music, with a particular fondness for music from the Baroque period. She attended musical concerts and dance performances at every opportunity. Emy was thrilled when the American Dance Festival chose Duke University as the site for its summer dance festival in the late 1970s. She loved traveling and camping but was happiest when she was cooking and entertaining friends at her home in Chapel Hill.

Emy is survived by one brother, Alexis Salvador Villanueva (Magda) of Tampa, Florida and three sisters, Addy Josefina Villanueva Corretjer, Norah Villanueva Corretjer and Edna Renee Villanueva Corretjer, all of whom reside in Puerto Rico. Additionally, she is predeceased by two nephews and one niece and survived by eight nieces and nephews, 13 great nieces and nephews and one great great niece. Emy has also left behind many friends, including her best friend and neighbor of 38 years, Pat, and her beloved cat, DaVinci.

Emy’s family is eternally grateful for her kind, loving and loyal caregivers over the last six years: Rhina Machuca de Ortiz, Brendi Villatoro, Ana Cruz de Araujo, Cesar Villatoro, and Sindely Castaneda. Emy was blessed to have their help and companionship during her extended illness. The Villanueva family is also indebted to the Duke Hospice nurses, Bobbie Easter and Jeannine Crawford, who came to check on Emy weekly for the past three plus years, and to the Nurse Practitioners, Leigh Howard and Lindsey Jackson. Gratitude is extended to Tom Hehenberger, a Duke chaplain, and to Mike Hrdlicka, a physical therapist, who helped Emy recover after several hospital stays. Mike was special to Emy and brightened her day during his visits.

Emy’s funeral Mass will be held at 10:30 am on Tuesday, October 31, 2023 at St. Thomas More Catholic Church in Chapel Hill, NC with a reception to follow in the Friends and Family Hall at the church.

Emy will be buried in her beloved Puerto Rico at a later time.

Emy’s funeral Mass will be livestreamed on Youtube. The link to the livestream is also posted in the October 26, 2023 Journal Entry on Emy’s CaringBridge site ( It will go live about 10 minutes before the Mass starts.

In lieu of flowers, you can make contributions in Emy’s memory to Duke University’s Gift Fund ( and indicate her name in the Comments. You can also make a check out to DPT Fund, with a designation in Emy’s name, and mail to Duke University, Alumni Development and Records, P.O. Box 90581, Durham, NC 27708-0581.

Alternatively, you can donate online or by check to Orange County Animal Services, 1601 Eubanks Rd., Chapel Hill, NC 27516. Refer to Donate in memory of a loved one at the bottom of the Donations page ( for details.

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