The Washington, D.C., Italian America community held a memorial service today at Holy Rosary Church to pay tribute to Dr. Maria Guarrera Wilmeth, who passed away on December 18, 2013, in Annandale, Virginia.
Dr. Wilmeth, was a distinguished authority on the teaching of foreign languages and a dear friend of the Italian-American community in the Washington D.C. area.
After a career as coordinator of foreign languages in the Fairfax County, Va. school system, Maria established and became the founding director of the Italian Language Program of the Italian Cultural Society, developing an organization providing language services to the Italian community in collaboration with the Embassy of Italy, while also serving area Americans wishing to learn the Italian language and Italian culture.
Further, she established a role for the Italian Cultural Society as an “Ente Gestore” to manage Italian Embassy efforts in placing teachers of Italian in local schools and educating children of Italians. Together with Prof. Roberto Severino of the Georgetown University Italian Department and others, she also initiated a program funded by the National Endowment of the Humanities to educate teachers from across the country in a program in Rome called, “The Art of Teaching Italian through Italian Art.”
A founding member of the National Council for the Promotion of Italian Language in American Schools (COPILAS), she served on its board for twelve years. Her leadership in promoting the Italian language and culture in the United States is unparalleled. She chaired numerous workshops at the annual American Council of Teachers of Foreign Languages over a period of twenty years.
Maria was an icon in the Italian American community, implementing Italian language programs throughout the United States and establishing state-wide strategies for expanding Advanced Placement Italian language programs. Maria is without peer for all her contributions. She was my mentor.
Maria held degrees from the University of Naples and the Sorbonne University in Paris, and a Ph.D in Theoretical and Applied Linguistics from Georgetown University.
She received many honors for her work, including from the government of Japan. The Italian government honored her as Commendatore dell’Ordine della Stella della Solidarietà Italiana.
Maria is survived by her son Eric Wilmeth, and daughters Deborah W. Campos and Michelle W. Hansen, three grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. She was loved and admired by her family, friends and colleagues, whom she inspired with her positive attitude.
Services will be held at a later date at Arlington National Cemetery. Donations in her memory may be made to the “Maria G. Wilmeth Scholarship,” either online at www.italianculturalsociety.org/donate/, or forwarded to: Maria Wilmeth Scholarship, Italian Cultural Society of Washington D.C., 4827 Rugby Ave., #301, Bethesda, Md. 20814.
–Daniel Stabile, Ph.D., National COPILAS President