Geraldine “Gerry” A. Gomes (1938-2011) was the first minority woman to run for political office in New Bedford. As Executive Director for New Bedford’s ONBOARD, Gerry provided technical assistance to neighborhood centers and ensured that the needs of the poor were met through free daycare, weatherization, and food programs.
Geraldine “Gerry” A. Gomes (1938-2011) was the first minority woman to run for political office in New Bedford. Born in Fall River on October 24, 1938 to Joseph and Mary (Cabral) Pemberton, Gerry lived in New Bedford for many years before returning to Fall River in 1997. Gerry graduated from Mount Saint Mary Academy in Fall River, and she attended Salve Regina College in Newport as well as Saint Anne’s School of Nursing in Fall River.
Gerry led a life of excellence in service to others. Her earliest career objective was to “assist the disadvantaged to become self-sufficient,” and her career and civic work never wavered from that objective as she fought for the rights of low-income families and children with disabilities.
Gerry saw politics as a path to achieve parity for all, and she was a trailblazer by becoming the first minority woman to run for City Council in New Bedford. The Standard-Times endorsed her at that time by stating, “Geraldine Gomes, whose service with ONBOARD and other community agencies will give diversity to the council’s experience, merits election. Mrs. Gomes, a Cape Verdean, will make an excellent choice as the first minority member of the City Council. Her civic dedication and political civility make her endorsement plain and pleasant.” When Gerry campaigned, there was an overall sense of pride in the minority community that their voices would be heard in city government, and she ushered in a political path for others to follow. A Cape Verdean woman recently remarked that seeing Gerry’s political posters, as a child, was one of the influences on her decision to study political science in college.
And Gerry inspired other young women by becoming the Director of Volunteer Services for the Plymouth Bay Girl Scout Council. Under her leadership, she managed 10 communities in the Greater New Bedford area, and she increased membership dramatically in each of those communities.
Gerry’s service to others also included an area coordinator role with the Commonwealth Service Corps, and a decade of leadership roles, including Executive Director for ONBOARD (Organized New Bedford Opportunity And Resource Development) in New Bedford. She was instrumental in providing technical assistance to neighborhood centers and ensuring that the needs of the poor were served by supporting families with free daycare, weatherization, and food programs. She later worked as a Certified Nursing Assistant for SouthCoast Visiting Nurses and was a Foster Grandmother for the Fall River Public School Department. She also served as a member of the New Bedford Commission on Alcoholism, the Cape Verdean American Veterans Ladies Auxiliary, and the Susan Sullivan Temple #94.
Her commitment to the poor was memorialized, upon her death, by Senator Mark Montigny when he dedicated the book Taxing the Poor: Doing Damage to the Truly Disadvantaged in her name at the UMASS Dartmouth library. Gerry’s work was also recognized with the Secretary of State Citation for her dedicated and superlative service to the underprivileged, and she was honored by the William H. Carney Memorial Academy for demonstrating concern and understanding for all minorities.
Gerry was married to Manuel P. Gomes and had two children, Mark and Cheryl. As a modern-day woman who was able to have it all, she successfully balanced a career and family during the 1970s, when having it all was still a relatively novel idea. And despite the crippling surgeries to remove tumors on her spine during that decade, and later a long battle with breast cancer, she continued on with her life’s objective to help the most vulnerable in the community, and she did so by staying true to her core. Gerry died on September 11, 2011 after a courageous battle with breast cancer.
|In 2020, we asked local students to tell the stories of civically engaged women from the Lighting the Way project through videos—including Geraldine Gomes.|
“Editorial – New Bedford Looks Ahead: The Councilors-At-Large.” The Standard-Times 1972.
“Geraldine A. Gomes.” The Standard-Times 14 Sept. 2011.
Gloria Gemma Breast Cancer Resource Foundation. “The Foundation Helps Families.” The Gazette 1 Feb. 2012.