Roughly 50 years since forming the The Folk Group, a choral group that performs at the Church of the Immaculate Conception on Quiogue, four of the original singers will once again join voices on Friday morning in honor of the group’s founder Mardythe DiPirro.Ms. DiPirro, 78, of Westhampton Beach—who was best known as the first woman to serve as supervisor of the Town of Southampton—died on Sunday.
“We learned to play our guitars around 1965 or ’66,” Ms. DiPirro’s friend Jeanne Lewin remembered on Tuesday. “And then our first folk Mass was a Thanksgiving Mass, and she and I and one other played our little hearts out during the liturgy. I think we knew all of four chords at the time. Then our kids all got involved, and it was a good thing. She was a great lady.”
Ms. DiPirro was born on September 19, 1937, in Monrovia, California, to Jack O’Mara and Jeanne Patterson O’Mara. A proud Welsh and Irish woman, she graduated with a bachelor’s degree in literature from the University of Southern California in 1958 before moving across the country to New York to take up a job as a tour guide for the United Nations with her friends in 1960.
On St. Patrick’s Day of that year, her life changed for the better when, at the annual Manhattan parade, she met Charles DiPirro, the man she would marry six months later. The couple, who moved to Westhampton Beach in 1963, had four children—Dante, Jean, Kevin and Carolann.
“She really loved people, and she was very passionate about the things that she thought were right,” her son, Dante DiPirro, said. “If something wasn’t right, she didn’t hesitate—she stayed with it and dedicated herself until it changed. It is a wonderful quality in a person to have that determination to always do something good for the community.”
According to Mr. DiPirro, his mother was always doing something to help other people, and would often pick a cause and tell her friends they had to fix it.
Ms. Lewin agreed, saying that at one particular rehearsal at her house for the folk singers, Ms. DiPirro announced that the group had to do something to help feed the hungry, and hence the food pantry at the Church of the Immaculate Conception was born. Another time, Ms. DiPirro wanted to find ways to help children experience the beauty Southampton Town had to offer, and so she brought the Fresh Air Fund—a group that matches urban children with rural families for the summer—to the Hamptons.
“She got all of the people in the town that she knew to bring in these kids for the summertime,” Mr. DiPirro said. “They all came and swam in our swimming pool and stayed at the neighbors’ houses so they could have a decent time in the summer.”
In the late 1980s, Ms. DiPirro took up a new cause, and was one of the organizing members of the town Democratic Party—before being elected the first female supervisor for the town in 1987. She served a two-year term before losing a reelection bid, due to contention on an almost all-Republican board, her husband explained.
“From day one on the board, it was all Republican, and all they did was nothing but try to get her out,” Charles DiPirro said. “All of the laws and proposals that she tried to pass were nixed. [They] even took away the deputy supervisor, so she was all by herself. But every law she tried was subsequently passed the next term.”
Even though her time on the board was short, Ms. DiPirro was an inspiration to future generations of town leaders.
“She was a lovely lady and a great friend to the Town of Southampton,” current Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst said this week. “She was a political trailblazer, serving as the first female supervisor, and she served with grace and conviction and passion. I think she is a great role model for any public servant—she definitely was for me—and she will be greatly missed.”
Councilman-elect John Bouvier said he first met Ms. DiPirro while working as an election inspector in the town, and got to know her better through their work in and around Westhampton Beach. “I was in awe of her elegance and her ability to connect with people,” he said this week. “It is a real sad moment for a lot of us, because she was a really good friend and a lovely person.”
While her political prowess could not be denied, Ms. DiPirro was also deeply connected to music and the arts, serving for a period as the president of the State Council on the Arts in Albany, executive director of the East End Arts and Humanities Council in Riverhead, and executive director of Theater Three in Port Jefferson.
Other titles held by Ms. DiPirro at various times included development director of Dominican Sisters Family Health Service in Hampton Bays, member of the Folk Group of Immaculate Conception Church on Quiogue, president of the Westhampton Beach School Board, founder of the Westhampton Beach Recreation program, and organizer of the Southampton Town Democratic Party. She also was a supporter of numerous charities.
“She was an incredible woman,” her son Dante said. “My hero for sure.”
Visitation will be held on Thursday, December 17, from 6 to 9 p.m. at the Follett and Werner Funeral Home in Westhampton Beach. A funeral Mass will be held on Friday, December 18, at 11 a.m. at the Church of the Immaculate Conception on Quiogue.
According to her son, she will be cremated, and half of her ashes will be spread in California in a West Coast ceremony in the future for her friends and family, while the other half will be entrusted to her husband on the East Coast.
“Mardy,” as she was known, is survived by her husband, Charles, brother Kevin, son Dante, daughter Jean, son Kevin, daughter Carolann, grandchildren, Sebastian, Simone and Charlie, and in-laws, Joe, Stephanie and Susan.
Donations in lieu of flowers should be sent to Maureen’s Haven, the Dominican Sisters Family Health Service, Bideawee, and the Fresh Air Fund.