Cariddi with supporters after being sworn in at the State House in 2011.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — State Rep. Gailanne M. Cariddi died early Saturday morning at Massachusetts General Hospital.
Cariddi, 63, had represented the 1st Berkshire District since 2010. Prior to that, she had served as a city councilor, including as City Council president, for more than 20 years.
According to Mayor Richard Alcombright, Cariddi died peacefully after a brief illness.
"I had the honor and pleasure of working with Gail over the past 18 years both on the North Adams City Council and most recently in her role as our representative," he said. "Gail certainly loved politics but her desire to serve people far outweighed any political ambitions. Gail was a true public servant in every sense."
Former Mayor John Barrett III, who'd been in office during Cariddi's entire term as councilor, said he was saddened at the news.
"She was one of the nicest people I'd ever met in political life," he said. "She was top shelf when she was on the City Council."
Cariddi easily won her election to the House in 2010, the first new state representative in 24 years and the first woman to occupy the seat. She succeeded longtime representative Daniel Bosley and had focused on natural resources, tourism and economic development for her largely rural district.
She was re-elected unopposed last November to her fourth term. At the time of her death, she was chairman of the Joint Committee on Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture.
Her good friend Marie Harpin was still trying to absorb that Cariddi was gone. She was out of town when she got the call that her longtime council colleague had died at about 4 a.m.
"I just can't believe it," she said when reached later Saturday night. "I'm crushed."
Cariddi had been private about her illness and was sure she was going to come out of it, Harpin said. "She was a fighter."
Along with losing a friend, Harpin, who also had worked in Cariddi's North Adams office, said, the region had lost its "best cheerleader today."
"She did what she could for all the people in the district ... no matter what it was, she was out there fighting for the area," Harpin said. "She cared about helping, she cared about her community and the people in it. That's who she was."
The North Adams native was also a longtime board member of Northern Berkshire Community Television and featured local news of interest regularly on her shows, the latest being "Something You Should Know."
She was instrumental in moving forward the bike and pedestrian paths in North County as an active member for many years with the Berkshire Bike Path Council. She also served on the North Adams Public Library building committee and had been involved in numerous other local initiatives and was a frequent attendee and participant at local events and volunteer efforts. She also was a longtime member of the North Adams Democratic City Committee.
She was presented the Martin Luther King Jr. Day Committee's Peacemaker Award in 2008. Cariddi last year hosted a roundtable on economic development at Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts with Housing and Economic Development Secretary Jay Ash said.
Speaker of the House Robert DeLeo called her a "champion for small business" and recalled his visits to her district "fondly."
"I'm deeply saddened by the passing of Representative Cariddi. She was one of the warmest and most gracious people I've had the pleasure of working with," he said in a statement. "Gail had a gift for bringing her colleagues together through her kindness and intellect. Whether advocating for heightened access to health care, the environment or higher education, Gail has left North Adams and the Commonwealth a better place. She will be greatly missed."
Barrett described Cariddi as a hard-working, detailed-oriented public servant, someone, he said, willing to take on projects that weren't "too sexy," like working her way through the city's often outdated ordinances.
When bike path concepts came up, Barrett said, she was the one he turned to.
"I knew I needed someone who would go through the details. I don't think the bike trail would have gotten as far as it did without her help," he said.
The longtime mayor thought Cariddi might succeed him in the corner office but, he said, "she was really a legislator at heart."
"I encouraged her to run when Dan Bosley vacated the seat ... I told her 'your time has now come,'" Barrett said. And she proved by serving her district and city, and earning a joint committee chairmanship after only three terms.
"When she faced her greatest medical challenge, she was very private, and she never complained, never said 'woe is me.' She was taking care of her constituents," he said. "She was a remarkable lady and left her mark in a very positive way."
Cariddi had been ill over the past year and apparently took a turn for the worse over the past week or so. She'd also suffered a serious fall nearly two years that laid her up for several months.
"We served together for 21 years," said former Councilor Alan Marden, who switched off with Cariddi over the years as council president. "Nobody worked harder than Gail. ...
"She kind of adopted the city statutes as her personal responsibility ... she took charge of bringing them up to date. She was great public servant."
Cariddi attended local schools and graduated from Bentley College with a degree in business management. She was financial manager of her family's business in wholesale toy distribution, Cariddi Sales Co., for more than 30 years and hosted the Northern Berkshire Santa Funds toy pickups.
Cariddi's death came as a shock to her local colleagues and friends.
State Rep. Paul Mark was a legislative classmate of Cariddi after they both won election in 2010. Together they went stopping by each other's campaign events to learning the ropes in a legislative academy to working on legislation and on committees together.
"She was very kind and very quiet in a distinguished way," Mark said on Saturday. "She was never looking for credit, never looking for the spotlight. She did it because it was the right thing to do."
Not only were the two classmates, but they worked closely together on a number of issues and on the agricultural committee. With redistributing in 2012, Cariddi ultimately took over representing some of Mark's former district and the two worked closely on that transition.
Cariddi with supporter after winning the House primary in 2010. On her right is longtime friend and former councilor Marie Harpin, who also worked in Cariddi's North Adams office.
"She was a wonderful woman. It is a loss for the whole region," Mark said.
State Rep. William "Smitty" Pignatelli said while some in the state house lost a colleague, he lost a friend of 34 years. The Cariddi family had been supporters of his father's campaigns and the two have had a friendship throughout. Back when he was county commissioner, the two would have dinner once a week.
"I am deeply saddened today," Pignatelli said. "Others lost a colleague, I lost a friend."
It was just two weeks ago when Pignatelli, Mark and Cariddi had lunch together and on Saturday Pignatelli was replaying the scene of them laughing and having a good time over and over again in his mind.
"She was a good soul. She was genuine, real, tough but also empathetic," he said.
Meanwhile, Cariddi was a mentor for state Rep. Tricia Farley-Bouvier. Cariddi was one year ahead of the Pittsfield Democrat and helped her adjust to the work of a legislator.
"When I think of Gail, I think of the hardest working legislator I know," Farley-Bouvier said.
Farley-Bouvier recalled how Cariddi had a collage of road signs of each town in her district. It was her way of saying that if you were in that office, you'd be talking about the first district. Farley-Bouvier said that was always her first question when it came to any piece of legislation, 'how will this help the people in the first district?'
On a personal level, Farley-Bouvier said Cariddi was nothing but kind to everybody.
"She was just always kind. I never heard her say anything but kindness," Farley-Bouvier said.
"Kind, honest and humble aren't words that are associated with public leaders often enough. Gail Cariddi was those words personified," wrote former state Sen. Benjamin B. Downing on his Facebook page. "I'm a better person because Gail Cariddi was my friend. Thinking of her family and countless friends on this sad, sad day."
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