March 24, 2006
By RACHEL GOTTLIEB, Courant Staff Writer
Edythe J. Gaines, the first African
American and first woman to head the Hartford school system, died
She was 83.
Gaines, a significant force in the city, lived in Hartford for more
than 30 years, coming from New York City in 1975 to take the job
of superintendent. Her tenure was stormy, and she left the job in
1978 after her contract was not renewed in a close vote, to the
chagrin of many supporters.
Former Mayor Carrie Saxon Perry, president
of the Hartford chapter of the NAACP, reflected Thursday on Gaines
with tremendous admiration.
"She was an amazing woman,"
Perry had so much respect for Gaines
that she met with her regularly when she was mayor and even solicited
her thoughts on candidates for city manager.
"She was such a force," Perry
said. "She was so task-oriented. When she had a project, she
was relentless. She had such style and such class and such drive.
She was comfortable moving among everyone. I had great admiration
and respect for her. She was a hero in our community."
Gaines was a strong advocate for African
Americans and the community. In 1978, she made headlines when she
asserted in a speech to the Greater Hartford NAACP that blacks must
break the bondage of political, economic, educational and psychological
subjugation that she said was enslaving them in Hartford.
Gaines urged her supporters to stand
proud and assert their presence in the city by voting.
Long after she left her schools post,
Gaines remained active in work and civic organizations until four
or five years ago, when she retired, said her son, Richard Gaines.
In 1991, she received an award from the National Association of
Negro Business and Professional Women's Clubs for her work establishing
affordable housing for senior citizens.
And through her role as chairwoman
of a nonprofit corporation affiliated with St. Monica's Episcopal
Church, she also worked to create child and adult day care, offer
job training and other health and human services.
Reflecting on his mother a few hours
after she died, Richard Gaines said that she was widely known for
all of her public accomplishments, but that some of her greatest
attributes were less visible, like her great sense of humor and
her love for children
"She believed in kids even when
they didn't believe in themselves. Her belief in them would give
them belief in themselves."
Although she was active in the community,
he said, she was actually a homebody who loved the solitude of cooking.
"These things don't show up on
a resume," Richard Gaines said.
Friends are invited to attend a memorial
service for Gaines at St. Monica's at 31 Mather St. on Tuesday evening
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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