State Rep. Cariddi recalled as hardworking, fun colleague

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BOSTON — Four days after the death of Rep. Gailanne Cariddi, her House colleagues remembered the North Adams Democrat as a hard worker, quietly effective legislator and passionate advocate for her constituents.

"But she was also awesome," Rep. Paul Mark of Peru said. "She was fun. She was fun to hang out with."

Scheduled to debate changes to the state's marijuana law Wednesday afternoon, the House of Representatives began its session with a series of speeches reflecting on memories of Cariddi, who died of cancer at the age of 63 on Saturday at Massachusetts General Hospital.

Lawmakers said Cariddi was a private person who never complained, so few knew how serious her illness was.

Mark recalled a time when Cariddi was cleaning out a former mill her family was selling and fell two stories through a hole in the floor, breaking multiple bones. Not long after, Mark encountered her at a pipeline hearing, where he was expecting to testify on behalf of the Berkshires delegation. Cariddi, wearing a neck brace, spoke too, and never said a word about the pain, he remembered.

Mark said the first time he ever heard Cariddi complain was weeks ago, when she mentioned a pain in her shoulder after having lunch with him and Rep. William "Smitty" Pignatelli of Lenox.

The trio had been scheduled to meet another government official, but decided it would have been "a waste of time" and "blew it off," Pignatelli said. He said they instead went out for lunch, where they laughed, joked, talked about politics and nothing at all, and took a picture together. That day, May 23, was the last time Pignatelli saw Cariddi, his friend of more than three decades.

"This kid from Lenox met this girl from North Adams 35 years ago, long before politics," Pignatelli said, speaking from the seat where he said he would often look across the chamber to share a wave or nod with Cariddi.

Bound by a shared Italian heritage, blue-collar backgrounds and ties to small businesses, the two connected instantly, Pignatelli said.

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Cariddi had not been present for the House's last two formal sessions, prompting Pignatelli to call and inquire about her health. He found out then she was in hospice care.

"I can't get my thoughts around the idea of having a beautiful lunch with friends to hospice care about two weeks later," he said.

Speaker Robert DeLeo said he visited Cariddi in the hospital on Friday, about 14 hours before her death. He said her eyes were closed as she lay in a hospital bed, and he wasn't sure at first she could hear him.

"At one point she seems to become focused, and she had seen me and she had smiled and at that point I grabbed her hand and told her how much all of us loved her and how much we're all going to miss her," DeLeo said. At that, Cariddi smiled, held his hand a little tighter and shared her love for the House and its members, DeLeo said.

Cariddi was the manager of the small, family-owned Cariddi Sales Company and Real Estate, and had served 20 years on the North Adams City Council when she ran for the seat left vacant by longtime Rep. Daniel Bosley in 2010, becoming the first woman elected from her district.

"Gail was all about her district," Pittsfield Rep. Tricia Farley-Bouvier said. "You couldn't have one single conversation with her about any bit of legislation, any bit of budgetary matters, any bit of even a Berkshire County initiative without her saying, 'How will this help the people of my district?' Ever. Not one conversation."

Rep. Sarah Peake remembered a series of experiences with Cariddi, including sneaking beers in the back of a jitney van in Bangkok and snacking on chestnuts in Istanbul. Their last encounter before a hospital visit last week had been a run-in in the State House garage. Peake noticed Cariddi was driving a different car, and Cariddi enthused about the used car her brother had helped her pick, calling it "the greatest car in the world."

Peake said Cariddi's passing reminded her to appreciate her colleagues with a renewed intensity, and to cherish the "little normal things" like garage conversations and stopping by Rep. Elizabeth Poirier's desk to share in her stash of Twizzlers.

"Nobody has any guarantee about tomorrow," Peake said.

A Liturgy of Christian Burial for Cariddi will be celebrated Thursday at 11 a.m. at St. Elizabeth of Hungary Church, 70 Marshall St., North Adams. Burial will be at a later date in Bellevue cemetery in Adams.


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