Wilma Alina Pappalardo
Jul 29th, 2022
Long version for funeral home South Yarmouth, Mass. Wilma Alina (Fitzgerald) Pappalardo, 84, passed away peacefully on Thursday, July 28, 2022, in South Yarmouth, Mass, in the presence of her Lord and family. Wilma was born on November 29, 1937, in Malden, Mass., the fifth daughter of seven children born to the late William Bonning Fitzgerald and Cecelia Abigail (Gerry) Fitzgerald.
A self-described “tom boy” in her youth, Wilma loved playing hockey with the boys, figure skating, and tending to her victory garden, pastimes that would remain with her for a lifetime. She was a proud Girl Scout and later a Girl Scout Leader. Her family lived for a time at Great Lakes Naval Training Base where her father was stationed. She later graduated from Malden’s Immaculate Conception School and Girls Catholic High School at the top of the Class of 1955, participating in school government and cheerleading, and with friendships she held dear. As a devout Catholic and lover of learning, she treasured her faith and Catholic school education.
In a large family during WWII, Wilma learned about self-sacrifice, an attribute that would remain with her throughout her life. She so loved her parents, sisters and brother, growing up with happy memories, songs and stories they all shared. During their many years in Malden, her mother took in over 40 foster babies, with Wilma providing nurturing and loving care to the neediest, a precursor to becoming a devoted mother and grandmother to her grateful family.
After high school, Wilma pursued her career as an executive secretary starting with graduation from the Secretarial Program at Chandler School for Women in Boston, penning the lyrics to the school song and excelling in all subjects. From there she worked in private industry, insurance and law firms on Beacon Hill and Greater Boston. Her favorite position was with the Mitre Corporation (Bedford, MA) in its infancy, along America’s first Technology Highway, working in the defense industry. There she rose to the position of head of the secretarial pool at a young age and maintained a high security clearance – with defense secrets she kept throughout her life.
Her most meaningful takeaway from Mitre was a blind date set up by one of her secretaries and soon-to-be relative. Meeting Joseph, her true love, in April 1961 changed the trajectory of her life, to fulfill her long-time wish to be a wife and mother. It all started with a double date - a movie and dinner at Kowloon in Saugus, where she playfully “forked” Joseph in the hand with her utensil, the beginning of both a beautiful love story and a long-running family pun.
Wilma and Joe married on February 24, 1962, in the middle of a snow storm, at the Immaculate Conception Church in Malden, followed by their reception in Methuen. Wilma was embraced by his Italian family (“even though she was Irish”) and became a much-loved second daughter to her (late) in-laws Mary and Angelo. She relished in Mary’s cooking and Angelo’s bakery treats.
From their beginnings in Joe’s native Lawrence, his career in education took them to Rochester (NH), Woburn and eventually to Westfield, Mass, where they lived for 30 years. Wilma took care of their children and home while supporting Joseph in pursuit of his Doctorate and building his career at Westfield State, a wife and mother ever-selfless.
Wilma embraced her community of Westfield, becoming an active member of Blessed Sacrament Parish, joining the Women’s Sodality, teaching CCD, and establishing the church family-style potluck dinners, known for her homemade pizza. She was a volunteer with Westfield Public Schools, serving as PTA officer along with Joe at Fort Meadow School and chaperoning field trips for her children’s classes. With her friend Joan Gravel, Wilma co-founded the first-ever recycling program in the City of Westfield in the 1970’s, founding WHIPS (Westfield Helps in Pollution Solution), by writing a grant to provide a location for paper and glass recycling. Wilma and Joan (tiny petite women!) crushed glass with sledgehammers, smashing bottles in 55-gallon drums, with children in tow separating the colored glass, readying it for pick up.
In 1971, Wilma and Joe pursued a long-time dream of his to own beach property. A fateful trip with dear friends Angela and Larry Latour took them to the coast of Maine, where Wilma’s nimble sense of direction told Joe to “take the next right” where they fell upon the gorgeous Goose Rocks Beach community in Kennebunkport. Three years later, Joe made good on his promise to have a home built on their property, giving her the keys to 16 Prescott Drive on her birthday in November 1974. From that time on, the family worked to finish the beach cottage, a labor of their love and a sanctuary for immediate and extended family, with epic family gatherings each summer for decades, with guests from all over, until selling in 2018.
Wilma worked for many years as a secretary for the Westfield Public Schools. It enabled her to take part in her children’s school events and have school vacations with them, along with Joe’s academic schedule. She starred as Mae Peterson in the school department’s performances of Bye, Bye Birdie and Bring Back Birdie, bringing down the house with her hilarious on-stage antics. Along with Joe, they performed with the Dan Kane Singers in Western Mass. Her love of singing, comic timing and spot-on puns demonstrated her love of laughter and fun – traits shared with her family. Wilma was a voracious reader, family genealogist and researcher, as well as a ferocious game-player. She kept company with the ever-present jigsaw puzzle set up at the beach cottage. Together with Joe, friends and family, they travelled to Canada, Mexico, England, Ireland, Italy, Spain, and Japan, where their son was stationed and living with his wife. They also travelled domestically to many states and with her sisters, traveled to Germany.
Mid-life, she had her own calling to pursue education beyond Chandler. Attending college courses part-time while raising a family, finally at age 50 Wilma left the Westfield Public Schools after many years to pursue a Bachelor’s Degree in History full-time, her passion. She interned part-time at the Springfield Museums and presented her research at the University of New Hampshire, winning an award for her paper. In 1990, Wilma proudly graduated from Westfield State, Magna Cum Laude. She went on to employment with the Springfield Museums, doing archival work and research for a film on Dr. Seuss and other publications prior to her retirement.
Upon retiring, Wilma and Joe left their beloved Westfield home to settle in South Yarmouth, near their youngest child, her spouse and their children. There she joined St. Pius X Parish, volunteering her time with the Craft Guild, where she made many treasured friends and volunteered her time for breakfasts and other church fundraisers. In 2011, the Women’s Society awarded her for her dedication to the church. Wilma and Joe thoroughly enjoyed their Cape friends, attending church together and occupying their Dunkin Donuts table after church. Earlier this year, they left their Cape home of over twenty years, to settle in at Thirwood Place, enjoying the beautiful wooded view and wildlife outside their apartment.
Wilma leaves behind her devoted husband, best friend and loving partner Joseph (her “Joe-fish”), who she loved beyond measure. Left to cherish her memory are her beloved children, daughter Elizabeth Oken of Auburn, ME; son Timothy Pappalardo and wife Elaine of Westford, MA; and daughter Julia French and husband John of South Yarmouth, MA.
Grandchildren who remember their precious Ga/Giggles/Mimi with love are Cecelia (French) Stewart and husband Joshua of Gorham, ME, joyously expecting Wilma’s first great-grandchild in February; Matthew French and partner Adam Abboud of New York City; David Oken of Auburn, ME; and Domenic and Anthony Pappalardo of Westford, MA. Wilma’s sister Cecelia (“Tee Dee”) Drever of Bennington, VT, brother William Fitzgerald of Jupiter, FL, and brother-in-law Anthony DeFeo of Newburgh, ME, remember their “Wally” with affection. Wilma is also remembered with love by sister- and brother-in-law Ralph and Grace (Pappalardo) Smith of Kennett Square, PA. Wilma leaves behind many beloved cousins, nieces, nephews and their families, who remember her fondly. Family pets who will miss her loving caresses are pooches Jelly, Frank, Milo, Otis and Margo.
Wilma was predeceased by her parents, in-laws Mary and Angelo Pappalardo, and sisters, Gertrude Fitzgerald, Ruth DeFeo, Jan Koch, and Anne Freeman, brothers-in-law Richard Koch and Frank Drever, nephews Steven Koch and Brian Smith and great niece Christine Drever. She will be reunited with them all.
The family wishes to thank those who made Wilma’s life richer at the end of her journey:
Pastoral staff and Eucharistic Ministers from St. Pius X Parish – For the spiritual gift of Holy Communion at home
Hospice staff of VNA of Cape Cod – For end-of-life comfort, care and support of Wilma and her family
Staff of Thirwood Place – For lovingly adopting Wilma, Joseph and all the Papps into the Thirwood family, with love and compassion
And to our father Joseph, sister Julia and brother-in-law John – Everlasting thanks and appreciation for your devoted care of our dear Wilma.
Family and friends are invited to pay their respects to our dear Wilma on Sunday, July 31 from 6-8 pm at Hallett Funeral Home, 273 Station Avenue, South Yarmouth, MA.
Her funeral Mass will be held on Monday, August 1 at 11:00 am at St. Pius X Church, 5 Barbara Street, South Yarmouth, MA.
Memorial gifts may be given to the St. Vincent DePaul Society, St. Pius X Church, 5 Barbara Street, South Yarmouth, MA.
Thank you, Wilma, for your example of a lifetime of love, faith, and selflessness. Your unfailing gift of humor sustained your family to the end. You demonstrated to us your grace in passing from this life to the next. Your new journey with God is just beginning. We love you forever and will hold you in our hearts for all eternity. Godspeed our sweet Irish lass.