Word has been received that Adele M. Giabbai, who taught 1st grade in the Falmouth Public Schools for nearly a half-century, has died at the age of 88. Ms. Giabbai suffered a stroke and died in her sleep on July 25 at the Florida home of her daughter and son-in-law, Jude and Greg Wilson.
At the time of her retirement in 2002, Ms. Giabbai had been teaching at Teaticket Elementary School for 31 years, after beginning her Falmouth teaching career at what was then the Mullen School in 1956. She previously had taught for three years in Boston following her graduation from Boston State Teachers College.
In 1996, at age 65, she decided to pursue a master’s degree in special education through the weekend extension program at Lesley College. She founded a study group of younger teachers, and, following their 1998 graduation, “Adele’s Group” continued to meet once a month at her Falmouth Heights home to share a meal and camaraderie until Ms. Giabbai could no longer live by herself.
During an interview with The Falmouth Enterprise at the group’s post-graduation celebration hosted by Ms. Giabbai, this was the way she answered a question about what she enjoyed most about teaching: “Who else has a job that they can’t wait to get to every day? Each day is always different. I’m so happy to go to work every day!”
Although she sometimes could not remember their faces years later, her former students remembered her. “People are always stopping me and saying hello, and I look and think, ‘Now who is that?’ and then they tell me and of course I remember them.”
Over the course of her long career, she taught several generations of Falmouth children and was often surprised by how clearly they remembered the roles they played in the musical shows she staged each year. “Sometimes you don’t know what impression you’re making—you just hope to touch their lives in some way. One boy who liked to sing nominated me for Who’s Who Among America’s Teachers when he was in high school. It was the first time a 1st-grade teacher had been nominated; that was one of my nicest moments.”
She loved to sing and taught herself to play the piano by ear, although she never learned to read music. She had a piano in her classroom and played chords to signal when it was time to be quiet, start a task, or pack up to leave. She sang with her pupils every day, urging them to belt out the words, even if they were off key, because it made them feel successful, but most of all, because it was fun. “And when they have fun,” she said, “they want to come back.”
During her tenure in the Falmouth school community, Ms. Giabbai saw many administrators come and go. “I started with Miss [Margaret] Mullen, then moved to Teaticket and my principals were Jack Oser, Ray Kenney, and now Michael Arth,” she said in 1998.
Ms. Giabbai was said to be among the first of educators in Falmouth to welcome a disabled student in her classroom after the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, or IDEA, legislation was passed in the 1970s.
She also took every opportunity to learn new methods and share them with colleagues. She became an instructor for the innovative Project T.E.A.C.H. program and regularly mentored student teachers, including Chris Rebello of Falmouth, who became a lifelong friend and kept in touch with her until the day she died. “Adele inspired me and made me fall in love with teaching,” she said recently. “She changed the story of my life and the course of my career.”
Adele Marie O’Brien was born in Weymouth. Her father, Richard O’Brien, died in 1936, and her mother, Livia (DeSimone) O’Brien, supported her three children by working as a teacher in Boston.
She graduated from Weymouth High School and was the second of four in her family to graduate from Boston State Teachers College, which became part of University of Massachusetts Boston. Her mother had earned a master’s degree there and she followed in her footsteps by earning a degree in elementary education in 1953.
During a summer break from her teaching job in Boston, she met Falmouth native John W. Giabbai while working as a waitress at the Terrace Gables Hotel. They became engaged, and when she applied for a job in Falmouth, she was astonished that then-School Superintendent Harry Merson “came to Boston himself to hire me. You didn’t have a contract in those days, so I started in March. I remember because there was a blizzard that day—St. Patrick’s Day—and it was the first time they didn’t have a parade in Boston.”
She and Mr. Giabbai were married on Thanksgiving Day 1956 at St. Columbkille’s Church in Brighton, and made their home in the Maravista neighborhood until they bought a house called Seaview at the corner of Grand and Melrose avenues in Falmouth Heights. They moved in just before Christmas 1959 with plans to operate as a guest house.
The couple had two daughters and ran the guest house together each summer until they divorced in 1971.
Ms. Giabbai welcomed guests to Seaview for the next 50 years, and for a time contracted with the Falmouth Playhouse to rent rooms for use by the cast and crew during their summer production season; she threw a cast party for them each weekend.
In addition to using her home as a bed and breakfast for many years, Ms. Giabbai’s daughter Jude said her mother “never missed a chance to turn an occasion into a celebration. What began as a private family cookout on the Fourth of July with cheeseburgers and fries became an annual town-wide party, with everyone invited to watch the fireworks, catch up with friends, and bring a red, white and blue dessert to share.” She always wore a big straw hat with a red, white and blue band and encouraged everyone else to wear one from the stack of hats she provided.
For more than 30 years, her daughter said, her mother hosted the annual “school’s out” party for all the teachers in the Falmouth system. They “filled the eight-foot dining room table with everything from baked ham and lobster to pretzels and Velveeta and double-parked on every street in the neighborhood.”
Ms. Giabbai lived at Seaview until well into her 80s, when she decided to sell her home and move into assisted living. She enjoyed her time at Heritage at Falmouth, inviting friends to dinner and earning the title of “Trivia Champ” until her aphasia progressed and she was no longer able to stay there.
Four years ago, Ms. Giabbai moved to Florida to be closer to her daughter Jude, and this year they decided “to don their straw hats and eat Friendly’s ‘clam chowdah,’ Big Beef Cheeseburgers, and chocolate Fribbles while they watched the Fourth of July fireworks on Paradise Beach,” her daughter said.
In addition to her daughter Jude, she leaves her daughter Susan M. Giabbai of East Falmouth; her brother, Robert O’Brien; and her niece, Cathy Moynihan and her children, Kerri and Sean Moynihan, all of Falmouth.
She was preceded in death by her sister, Mary Lou Costa.
Ms. Giabbai’s ashes will be scattered in front of Seaview on Martha’s Vineyard Sound.