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Edythe J. Gaines | 1922-2006

A Life Of Inspiration In City Ends

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 Thursday morning.

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 said.

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 at 6.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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