Gladys Widdiss, respected Wampanoag leader, dead at 97


Gladys A. Widdiss, whose life spanned the transformation of the town of Gay Head from a poor, rural community to a wealthy, summer resort renamed Aquinnah, and who helped lead the Wampanoag Tribe’s fight for federal recognition, died Wednesday morning at Martha’s Vineyard Hospital. She was 97.

A diminutive woman with a powerful spirit, Ms. Widdiss played a large role in the political and cultural life of the town.

In a May 2011 interview for the Martha’s Vineyard Museum Oral History Center, Ms. Widdiss shared a favorite memory of her grandfather.

“One of the first things I remember, and I guess I was four or five, was when grandfather would get up around five o’clock in the morning and make a fire. While he was making the fire, he was singing and dancing. I would wake up in the morning to grandpa singing. That was something that came down from way back. Native Americans sing, get up and sing, from sunrise. Some of the tribes still do it out west. Get up and sing songs, and that’s what grandpa used to do.”

Ms. Widdiss was predeceased by her husband, Leonard D. Widdiss, and her son Marc Widdiss. She is survived by her sons Donald Widdiss and Carl Widdiss and her daughter, Dawn Widdiss; her grandsons, Heath and Jason Widdiss; and her greatgrandchildren, Josie Iadiccico and Cameron Widdiss.

The family will be receiving visitors at Gladys’s home located at 1 Howwassee Way in Aquinnah on Saturday, June 16 from 1 pm until Sunday, June 17 at 10 am. Her graveside service will be held in the Gay Head cemetery, Aquinnah on Sunday, June 17 at 11 am officiated by Rev. Roger Spinney.

Donations may be made in her memory to the Aquinnah Cultural Center, 10 Black Brook Road, Aquinnah, MA 02535.

A full obituary will appear in another edition of this paper. Arrangements are under the care of the Chapman, Cole and Gleason Funeral Home, Edgartown-Vineyard Haven Road, Oak Bluffs.

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