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Jacqueline Fortes-Pina

“I’m a back-burner person. I like to do, but I don’t like to talk about it,” are words that Valentina Almeida (1913-2009) repeated often throughout her long life of advocacy and giving. She was employed for over 30 years by the city of New Bedford, first as the head clerk in the Auditor’s Office, then as the fiscal officer for the Redevelopment Authority, an agency in charge of urban renewal, but her advocacy was what made her exceptional.

Valentina is best known for her work with immigrants within the local Cape Verdean community. She assisted immigrants by facilitating all aspects of their transition to a new country. Valentina supported new arrivals as they navigated through financial, legal, cultural, social and citizenship issues. She lobbied for them with public officials and served as a board member of the Immigrants’ Assistance Center. In 1998, the Cape Verdean government acknowledged her lifetime service by naming Valentina Almeida an auxiliary vice consulate, a volunteer position as a liaison between Cape Verdean immigrants and the governments of the United States and Cape Verde.

Valentina was active in many cultural, charitable, advocacy and religious organizations well into her nineties. She was a member of the Cape Verdean Women’s Social Club, the New Bedford Friends of the Ernestina, the Cape Verdean American Veterans Ladies Auxiliary, the Cape Verdean Beneficent Association, the Our Lady of the Assumption Club, and the St. Martin de Porres Guild. She served on the board of directors of ONBOARD, a community action group that offered programs for New Bedford’s low-income residents. She even sang in the Our Lady of the Assumption Church Choir. This all continued after her first retirement from her municipal positions, while working as an accountant for Cruz Construction Company until the age of 91.

Uncomfortable in the spotlight, Valentina quietly and graciously accepted numerous awards from government and cultural organizations for her selfless commitment to Cape Verdeans and others. In 1967, more than 400 people attended a testimonial banquet in her honor at the Cape Verdean American Veterans Association Memorial Hall. Attendees included local officials and citizens as well as Portuguese government officials, as Cape Verde was a Portuguese colony at the time. Eight years later, in 1975, Valentina was again recognized in a second testimonial. In 1998, the New Bedford City Council issued an official proclamation for her appointment as auxiliary vice consulate by the Cape Verdean government. These honors and numerous other awards filled her home with acknowledgements of countless hours of service to her community.

Her parents, Francisco Cruz Nereu and Margarida Reis Oliveira, left Sao Nicolau, Cape Verde, to settle in New Bedford, where Frank became chief engineer at Pairpoint Corporation. Valentina was born on November 9, 1913 in New Bedford, where she resided all her life while keeping close ties to both Cape Verde and Portugal. Valentina once shared that she had wanted to be a nun when she was young, but when Valentina was 12 her mother had a heart attack. Valentina, the only daughter, was unwilling to leave her sick mother. She attended elementary school at New Bedford’s Escola Oficial Portuguesa. When graduating from New Bedford High School her father awarded her good grades with Valentina’s first trip to Cape Verde. She went on to earn two bachelor’s degrees, one in Portuguese culture and language from the University of Lisbon and another in accounting from Southeastern Massachusetts Technological Institute (now University of Massachusetts Dartmouth). In the 1970s, Valentina also received a master’s degree in Portuguese from the University of Lisbon.

She married Frank M. Almeida, who after 30 years of marriage died in 1979. Valentina Almeida died on December 21, 2009, at the age of 96. On December 28, 2009, Valentina’s funeral Mass was celebrated at Our Lady of the Assumption Church and she was buried at St. John’s Cemetery.

Ann O’Leary

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