It had been a few days earlier that she stopped eating. She was ready for another adventure. Several times, during our chats, after the heart attack that had changed her quality of life, she was discouraged. “Of what use am I?” she would lament, “I am no good for anything anymore.” That inactivity weighed on her more than anything else. To understand just how much the idleness cost her, one must review the important stages of her life. First an Italian university degree in the post-war period, then a degree in French language and literature from the Sorbonne, and later a doctorate from Georgetown University. She had been coordinator of foreign languages in the Fairfax County Virginia schools, director of the school of continuing education of the USDA, Trustee and Secretary of the board of the Foundation of the American University of Rome (and interim President of the board for three months), director (for a good 26 years) of the Italian Language Program of the Italian Cultural Society of Washington DC. She had been responsible for the creation of the “Ente Gestore” of the Italian Cultural Society and that of Casa Italiana together with other notable persons of the Washington DC Italian community.
She was co-author of a textbook for middle schools ”Teaching Foreign Languages”, included in her “Guide for Teachers”. Through her last creation, CoPILAS, she had put together a formidable team of “technicians” of American education that had been in a position to get Italian included as a foreign language in the Maryland State Department of Education, opening the way for other foreign languages that copied the structure established by her for Italian. Thanks to the volunteer work and farsightedness of Maria Wilmeth , a special document entitled “White Papers” was accepted by the Maryland State Department of Education. This document permitted those who proved that they were in possession of an Italian college degree to use this degree to teach Italian in American secondary schools. The Italo-American community was very dear to her heart with the various non-profit organizations she supported through her membership and through volunteer activity when the occasion presented itself.
In the summer of 2008 the Maryland State Department of Education, recognizing her merits, nominated her member emerita, with special functions, a title that never had been bestowed before then on an Italian or person of Italian origin.
Maria Wilmeth had the gift of knowing how to plan and attack a “task”. To those around her concerned about not having enough funds for a particular project she would reply, fearless, that funds “were not a problem….they could be found” and when they could not be found, she supplied her own money!, not because Maria had a well to draw from without a problem, but because “the cause” was just and, one way or another, the obstacles could be overcome. She was generous even to excess. She offered her help to all without asking for anything in return. She was always ready to help and…..to forgive. Because even Maria was not immune from undeserved jealousies. She was great, but not proud. For her the success of a project was more important than any personal gratification. She always said that things had been done not by her alone, even if in truth Maria, our Maria, had contributed 90% of the work effort . She was happy to share credit for success with others, without ever making claims. It is not possible to remember Maria Wilmeth without eneumerating the schools in which Italian is now taught. It is not possible to honor her memory without recognizing the contribution of success left by her: Italian curriculum courses in the three counties in the metropolitan area, in 17 high schools and many middle schools.
Maria Wilmeth was born on June 16, 1924. As a child she moved to Caserta with her father, a high school professor. She enrolled in medicine, but when World War II brought the Allies to Italy Maria met her future husband and left medicine to move first to the United States, and then to the places where her husband’s career would take her — first, to New York, then Texas, then to Missouri, where her oldest son, Eric, was born, and then first to California, and later to Japan, where Deborah and Michelle were born, and finally to Virginia, where she remained until last December 18.
With the passing of Maria Guarrera Wilmeth there closes a page in the history of the Italian community of Washington, DC. The Wilmeth family has lost its compass. We Italians of Washington have lost an irreplaceable champion of our cultural heritage.
with great respect,