By Scott Stafford
and Kevin Moran
Berkshire Eagle Staff
NORTH ADAMS — Gailanne M. Cariddi, the 1st Berkshire District state representative from North Adams and the first woman to hold that seat, died Saturday morning at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston following a brief illness, according to North Adams Mayor Richard Alcombright. She was 63.
In a statement, House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo said Cariddi was "one of the warmest and most gracious people I've had the pleasure of working with."
"She loved her community and reveled in the region's history," DeLeo said. "She was a champion for small business and combined her enthusiasm with business acumen to improve the local economy. 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."
Cariddi was serving her fourth term in the House, representing Adams, Cheshire, Clarksburg, Florida, Hancock, Lanesborough, New Ashford, Williamstown and North Adams.
Alcombright said her death came as "a shock to all of us," and on behalf of North Adams he expressed "love, prayers, gratitude and deepest condolences" to the Cariddi family.
In a statement, the mayor said it was a "very sad day for the city of North Adams and the 1st Berkshire District."
"Gail certainly loved politics, but her desire to serve people far outweighed any political ambitions," Alcombright said. "Gail was a true public servant in every sense. Everyone knew Gail, and she knew everyone. Her work and her passion were to simply help people as evidenced by her many, many years in public life. Gail truly made a positive difference in the lives of all she came into contact with."
Cariddi was a Democrat who got her start in public service on the North Adams City Council where she served for 21 years. In the House, she chaired the Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture Committee.
With her first election to the House in 2010, Cariddi was the second woman from Berkshire County to hold a seat in the state Legislature.
State Rep. William "Smitty" Pignatelli (D-Lenox) said he and Cariddi shared a friendship that spanned 35 years.
"Gail was a dear, dear friend and that's how I'll remember her," he said. "I had lunch with her and (Rep.) Paul Mark two weeks ago. It was a good day. I am shocked and saddened."
Pignatelli said Cariddi has been quietly battling cancer for over a year.
"I knew she was sick, but I had no idea how bad it was," he noted. "She fought it 'til the end."
For Cariddi, friendship came first, Pignatelli noted.
"We had a bond that went beyond politics," he said. "I miss her dearly."
Former North Adams Mayor John Barrett III said news of Cariddi's death was shocking.
"She put up a good fight," he said. "But she was a private person and kept it quiet."
Barrett remembers Cariddi from their years on the City Council.
"Of all the city councilors that I dealt with, she was the best and the nicest," he said. "I always thought she'd replace me as mayor. Then when the opportunity came, she ran for the house in 2010, and I always thought she was a great legislator. It really was where she belonged."
Barrett recalls that Cariddi was the one to do the more tedious, unglamorous work needed to move a project or her community forward. She was an early advocate for extending a hike/bike trail into North Adams.
"She was so responsive, very concerned, a very compassionate person," Barrett said. "She served several terms as city council president and was my go-to person for a lot of things."
State Rep. Tricia Farley-Bouvier, D-Pittsfield, considered Cariddi a close personal friend and colleague.
"This is a loss for all of Berkshire County," Farley-Bouvier said. "She worked fiercely for the people of her district. She insisted on always asking how a proposal would affect her district – she was always saying those words."
Farley-Bouvier said Cariddi was instrumental in securing the $25 million state grant for the expansion of Building 6 at Mass MoCA, and was constantly battling to hold back the rising flood of spam phone calls.
"She has always been fighting the good fight," Farley-Bouvier said.
Cariddi's work touched all the communities in the 1st Berkshire District.
"She was a huge supporter of the Northern Berkshires," noted Hugh Daley, chairman of the Williamstown Select Board. "Her support for any state funding for local projects has been unflagging. Her absence leaves a hole that will be very hard to fill."
State Sen. Adam Hinds (D-Western Mass.) said Cariddi set a fine example.
"I so deeply cherish Gail's approach to service: Kindness, humility, don't seek the limelight, and focus on helping those around you," Hinds said. "Her impact and her way set such a high and important example for others to follow and to live by."
Pittsfield Mayor Linda Tyer remembers Cariddi as "quietly thoughtful."
"Gail was really hard-working," Tyer said. "Her decision-making was always very centered, and she was a really wonderful person. A very important part of the Berkshire delegation."
Cariddi was native of North Adams, the daughter of James Cariddi, who bought what used to be the Greylock Mill on State Road to house his wholesale toy business, the Cariddi Sales Company. She became interested in government at an early age. She graduated from Bentley University in Waltham.
A very close friend since they were members of the North Adams Democratic City Committee in the 1970s, Diane Parsons, said Cariddi studied Massachusetts government closely, and once gave a book on the topic.
"Gailanne was a hard worker and she was harder on herself than anybody else," Parsons said. "She loved being in the Legislature and she was bullish for her district. And she was admired and respected by everyone because she was always so respectful."
A number of friends and colleagues took to Facebook to express their grief.
"Incredibly sad to hear the news of Rep. Gail Cariddi passing this morning," wrote North Adams City Councilman Benjamin Lamb. "She's been a tremendous advocate and member of our community for decades and she will be sorely missed. It's a huge loss for our city, our region and to all who called her a friend. Please keep her family in your thoughts and prayers."
"Sad news,' added North Adams Councilman Keith Bona. "North Adams lost a great representative today. Proud to have served with her on council."
"Very sad at the sudden loss of my good friend, colleague, and classmate Gailanne Cariddi," wrote State Rep. Paul Mark, D-Dalton. "She was a hard worker who took her role serving the public very seriously and was never looking for the spotlight. I will miss her quiet dignity and gentle friendship very much."
Alcombright said that funeral arrangements will be announced at a later date.