Wilma Bradford, a well-known volunteer and leader of Bangor-area civic groups for nearly 70 years, has died. She was 97.
Bradford died at Eastern Maine Medical Center on Tuesday of congestive heart failure, according to her son, Ray Bradford.
Friends and family praised her as a leader who served dozens of organizations as a volunteer in an age when women weren’t always welcomed, said her grandson, Portland musician Will Bradford.
“You could say she was a modern woman ahead of her times,” Bradford said Wednesday. “Now it seems a little more commonplace, but it [women volunteerism] was not that way back in the 1950s. You could say she was something of a trailblazing feminist.”
Nicknamed Willie, Bradford’s straightforward, hands-on manner and devotion to people helped make Bangor a better place to live, friends and family said.
She helped raise money, sat on advisory boards and did whatever else was needed for many organizations, including the Maine Association of Nonprofits, the University of Maine, Bangor Symphony Orchestra, Bangor Public Library, Maine Audubon Society, University of New England, Westbrook College and Husson University.
She served as the first chairwoman of the local United Way board of directors and the Eastern Maine Healthcare-Acadia Hospital advisory board. Her work for the Maine Center for the Arts’ was vital to the creation of the Collins Center of the Arts at the University of Maine in Orono.
It so impressed that organization that it created the Wilma Bradford Award for the Advancement of the Arts, called “the Wilma.”
A stalwart Republican, she was also close friends with Barbara McKernan, mother of former Maine Gov. John McKernan. Barbara McKernan and Bradford served as civil court mediators across the state. Bradford was close with the Collins family and knew well U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, Ray Bradford said.
Collins said that Bradford’s philanthropy “left an indelible mark” on the city and state.
“Her passing is a loss to the countless individuals whose lives she touched through her tireless service to the community and through her boundless optimism,” Collins said in a statement.
Wilma Bradford came to Bangor in 1945 with her husband, attorney Merrill “Pappy” Bradford, an early partner in the Bangor law firm Eaton Peabody. They raised their four children on Cedar Street.
“She had all kinds of energy. Even though she was into her 90s she was so happy doing things,” City Council Chairman Joe Baldacci said. “She was always saying, how can we make this better? She was always a positive personality. She had a great rapport with everybody.”
Funeral arrangements are still being made, said Brookings-Smith funeral home owner Gary Smith.