Obituary: Sandra Gaffett

Sat, 06/18/2011 - 3:53pm

Sandra Stokes Madison Gaffett, born May 8, 1936,  and a beloved island resident, died at her home on Block Island June 8. A funeral service, enveloped by serenity, the beauty of the Island and nearly 200 friends and family members, was held at St. Anne’s-by-the-Sea on June 12.

Sandy was born in Cleveland, Ohio, on May 8, 1936, to parents Virginia (Ginny) and Harold (Hal) Madison, Jr. Sandy was born into a household that included her grandparents, Florence Ball and Harold Madison, Sr., and her aunt, Hope Madison. Originally from Providence and Block Island, the family temporarily relocated to Cleveland, where Virginia worked as a kindergarten teacher and Harold Madison, Sr., was curator of the Cleveland Natural History Museum. Sandy, with her parents and grandmother, spent summers on Block Island where they owned and operated the Crown Hotel and Red Gate Farm in the New Harbor.

As a child, Sandy moved with her family several times, living in Providence, New York and finally Windsor, Connecticut. However, she was proud to remind all that she spent every summer (from age two months) of her life on Block Island. (Those of you “of a certain age” may remember her often at her grandmother’s side attending BI Historical Society events, or running Sandy’s Clam Shack in the New Harbor, or loitering around Payne’s Dock.)

On June 16, 1956, Sandy Madison and Lew Gaffett eloped, married, and embarked on life’s journey. Theirs was an enduring, loving partnership of 55 years of marriage.

Sandy, still in college, and Lew, a recent graduate of Roger Williams College, lived first in Madison, Connecticut. In 1958, by then with her first two children Kim and Nat, Sandy graduated from Southern Connecticut College with a degree in Library Science.

In 1958/59 Sandy and Lew (an islander by birth and heritage) decided to try one winter on Block Island to see if she would like it. From that time on, Sandy never lived anywhere else. After a transitory stay with Lew’s sister, Clare Conley, in Ebbets Hollow, the growing Gaffett family moved into a house on Ocean Avenue (currently next to the Island Hardware store) and signed a one-year lease to run the Country Store (adjacent to the house and now replaced by the Island Hardware store). Soon, 1960 brought the addition of a third child, Beth. Around 1962, Sandy and Lew bought Clare’s land in Ebbets Hollow off High Street; and in1967 Sandy and Lew’s last children, Heather and Kerri, were born. Although the houses had changed, Sandy spent the rest of her life on that property, becoming an integrated part of the Block Island community and raising her five children.

Sandy Gaffett contributed time to Block Island by serving on the School Board in the 1970s and on a Home Rule Charter Committee in the 1980s. In addition she was involved at various times on the BI Fire Department Ladies Auxiliary, the re-establishment of the Episcopal Church (St. Anne’s-by-the-Sea), the Ecumenical Choir, and other civic devotions.

However, it is at the Island Free Library where many of her friends and acquaintances became associated with Sandy. First at the “old” library on Chapel Street and then at the “new” library on Dodge Street, Sandy was a lover of books. She enjoyed all genres, but especially children’s literature, mysteries, historical novels and anything British.

As many can attest, Sandy enjoyed sharing with others her love of knitting, travel, and adventures walking and cruising over and around England. Most especially, however, she was fond of sharing — actually, bragging about — her grandchildren: Paige Gaffett, Caitlyn Tengwall, David, Sam and Sally Spier, and Ginny and Ian Gaffett-Jacques.

Sandy Gaffett held the edge of a widely cast net that captured a diverse assortment of friends and family. No one person can aggregate in a few written words the breadth of Sandy’s life. It will be up to each who knew Sandy to contribute their stories to the telling of her life. In addition to her grandchildren, Sandy is survived by her husband Lew Gaffett, her brother Tim Madison and wife Linda of Connors, Georgia, and by her children: Kim Gaffett, Nat Gaffett, Beth Gaffett Tengwall and her husband Pat, Heather Gaffett, and Kerri Spier and her husband John, all of whom are anxious to hear your stories of Sandy.

In lieu of flowers, the Block Island Historical Society, P.O. Box 79, Block Island, RI 02807, will gratefully receive donations in memory of Sandy Gaffett. Stories of Sandy will be gratefully received by her family either in person, or via Kim Gaffett at P.O. Box 640.