Jacqueline (Jacqui) Lucette Maidana
Updated: Sep 15
On a sunny Monday afternoon, July 26, 2021 a vibrant and joyful flame flickered out and vanished from our presence. Jacqueline (Jacqui) Lucette Maidana passed away after a painful battle with stage four pancreatic cancer at Hospice of the Fisher Home, Amherst, Ma. She credited Dr. Deborah Smith, her oncologist, and Cooley Dickinson Cancer Center for extending her life for months in order to say good-bye to loved ones far and near. Hospice at Fisher Home was excellent with superior, caring staff, a terrific physician, Rich Rosen, MD, and beautiful gardens nurtured by Master Gardeners who worked diligently to guarantee beauty for the residents as they make their transition.
Jacqui was born in Boston Lying-In-Hospital to Sarah Geraldine (Gerry) (MacDonald) Maidana and F. Carlos Maidana on March 10, 1947 and was warily welcomed by her intimidating yet loving older sister, Karen. She was considered "different" from an early age....she claimed that she flunked out of kindergarten. From the moment she discovered finger paints her life was dedicated to bright colors, the vibrancy of the natural world and the beauty surrounding her.
Jacqui and Karen learned to be strong and independent women from their mother who had joined the Women's Army Auxiliary Corp immediately after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. While stationed in England, she contract pneumonia three times in one year and received a medical discharge. Determined to continue working on the war front, she then joined the British Red Cross with whom she worked until the end of the war in Europe. She met her husband aboard ship returning to the USA. Two babies later, they divorced. As a single mother, Gerry showed determination, hard work and an undaunted happy demeanor. She passed on to her daughters independence, ability to adjust to challenges and had a positive outlook. She was an unapologetic bleeding heart liberal and shared this legacy with her two girls.
Jacqui dropped out of high school in her sophomore year in 1964 to marry. She gave birth to James Russell Secord and later Saundra Lynn Secord. She said she was a child raising children. She divorced her husband of ten years with trepidation in her heart as she had no education, was penniless, had no skills and was a single mother. After her move to Northampton, she applied for a training and work program with CETA, Comprehensive Employment and Training Act , one of the most successful anti-poverty programs signed into law in 1973. She worked for CETA for nine months, earned a GSED at night and applied to University of Massachusetts - Amherst and earned a para-professional certificate to work with special needs students. This launched her lifelong pursuit of knowledge and education. She earned her Bachelor of Fine Arts (cum laude) in painting and went on to earn a masters in psychotherapy and a certificate of advanced graduate studies, always on the dean's list. She defied the college counsellor who told her she was too old to start her education at U-Mass competing with highly talented students.
Boy, was he wrong!
Horses drew Jacqui like flies to honey. She and Karen were city children and their playground was the alley behind their house in Back Bay. One day they discovered the mounted police stable at Station 16 not too far from their home. Many a wonderful hour was spent cleaning stalls, shoveling manure, brushing and cleaning horses and with a wink and a nog, got to exercise the horses. Nirvana! Jacqui had hope to ride at Patty Devine's of South Deerfield but the last three months of cancer drained her energy and the pain was ever present, but she still talked about it resurrecting many happy memories in the saddle. She longed to smell the aroma of horse manure and the smell of fresh cut hay!
Jacqui taught at U-Mass for 21 years in the General Physical Education Department and enjoyed every student and every class throughout the years with many students becoming life-long friends. . She also was a gallery manager at the university as well as owning and operating an art gallery and dance studio in Easthampton.
Art in all forms fascinated her but she developed a deeply moving love for Argentine tango which she was credited with bringing to the Connecticut Valley over 40 years ago. She loved the quote, "Dance is the language of the soul" ( Anonymous) While she was an excellent landscape and still life artist, she endeavored to push the envelope creating some of the ugliest paintings known to mankind. After developing neuropathy in her hands, she took up photography using unusual angles and her shadowy signature. The photos captured people, places and nature touched with whimsey and creativity. Everything in nature fascinated her not only for her art but her simple love of patterns in clouds, sunlight shining through leaves, and flowers abloom with fabulous colors. She was an animal lover, both domestic and wild, and would stop to remove a snake from a highway, feed feral cats, and never met a dog that she didn't love....even when they growled at her. She carried kibble in her purse for such occasions. Along with painting, photography and dance, she also sang opera as well as soul and boogey woogey. She sang at weddings and funerals. She was on Valley Free Radio for several years each Wednesday from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. hosting a tango program featuring music, stories, history of a particular piece of music and current events in the tango world. One Valley newspaper dubbed her "Queen of Tango in the Connecticut Val-ley".
She taught dance in Europe, Thailand and around the USA but she flourished in the Valley.
Jacqui was a deeply compassionate person as well as ardent, obdurate and tireless working hard representing low income and homeless people while she served on Amherst Town Meeting. She was kind to the elderly, champion of the underprivileged, loyal to her friends, fiendish in her earth shaking dislike for all things Trump, and supported animal causes, equal rights, hu-man rights and climate change education and actions.
Jacqui developed a fascination and passion for gardening in her flower garden in Florence more than 20 years ago. She said working in the garden was relaxing, cathartic and fulfilling. She became a Master Gardener much to the delight of her friends and family even though she as a stern taskmistress in her volunteer work in local gardens such as Fisher Home and Clark House. She had certain ideas that shouldn't be challenged as she was so certain of her artistic eye and firm beliefs that she was right! She never met a flower that she didn't love.
She was married to Larry O'Connor for approximately 10 years and she loved and was enriched by her two step-daughters, Emily and Sarah. Larry and Jacqui parted in 2001 as friends and she continued to teach dance - salsa, cha cha, meringue, fox trot, waltz and other social dances. Her specialty was, of course, Argentine tango. She proclaimed that Tango is life! She worked for Amherst's Leisure Services and Supplemental Education program teaching dance as well as keeping up her tango education studying under internationally renowned tango champions and participated in tango workshops. She traveled to Argentina to dance with tangier's with her friends, extraordinary Judy Phelps (CT) and Judith Schwartz (NH). Jacqui was a free spirit. While walking along the banks of the Seine in Paris, she stopped to talk to an elderly man. Immediately they found out their mutual love was tango...and they danced on the banks of the river humming tango music!
While in Bangkok 9 years ago she insisted that we attend a milonga , a tango dance open to the public. Off we went to the hotel where it was held and she immediately captivated the other dancers. One fellow invited her to his house for an evening of tango with fellow Argentinians...he was the ambassador to Thai-land from Argentina! Also in Bangkok she captivated the staff of the Duang Prateep Foundation, an NGO that works with rural and urban poor. For years afterwards, they wanted to know when Khun Jacqui was returning.
A hallmark of her teaching was her sense of humor, laughter and had a special way of making neophytes feel that they were doing well. Everybody enjoyed the teacher, her delightful personality and the dance. Many former students commented that she had changed their lives forever.
Everybody knew Jacqui recognizable by her wonderfully original hats for every occasion and season. She dressed outrageously to amuse those who were undergoing chemo where their lives were gray sometimes without hope and a future with more chemo, pain and certain death. She said they may not have had anything to smile about that day but she gave them the gift of whimsey. Her outfits were vivid and exuded life affirming joy.
She commented during her last months that she had finally found herself. She was a tireless campaigner, and was morally of the highest standards. Serious as she was she was also fun-ny, whimsical, and ready at the drop of the hat for some mischief. She was the ultimate activist recording testimony from her death bed on behalf of Death With Dignity, legislation coming before the MA legislature late September. Jacqui said that nobody should suffer like she did in the 21st century.
She leaves an interesting collection of characters in her loving family; son SFC James Secord (US Army) and his wife Jamesha (NC), and Jim's children, SSG Alex (82nd Airborne), Chainey, Abby and Athena; daughter Saundra Lynn Higgins and husband Loren (TX) and their two children, Matthew and Nicole as well as sister Karen Maidana Dahl and son Paul Dahl (WI) ; sister Leila Maidana Holen and daughter Shaynan (WI); brother Allen Maidana and wife Christy (TX); sister Saundra Lee Maidana Kuhl and Dr. Derek Kuhl (TX) as well niece and Jacqui's soul sis-ter, Rochelle Spivey, and nephew James Mistrot and wife Court-ney; aunt Sumiko MacDonald (CA) and a cherished niece, Nancy Dahl (CA). The MacDonald cousins truly rock! Special and loving friends are many however Kathy Edgel, Susan Roy, Delsey Thomas, Judy Phelps, Judith Schwartz, Bob Bernstein, Carolyn Thomas and her husband John Strickland, Sydney Stern O'Connor, Larry and Barbara O'Conner (MA) and Mary Latham are especially dear. The Connecticut Argentine Tango Society (CATS) will always be cherished and never will they be forgotten. The Tango Ladies of Amherst always shared laughter and joy with their dearest friend, Jacqui. Phyllis Brown Downes, (FL), was her closest and best friend for almost 60 years! Nancy and Linda Sabatino were sister pirates walking the plank in the back yard 70 years ago! She will be missed by ZsaZsa, her beloved cat who sheds more hair than a billy goat. And Stewart Williams now must find a new Saturday breakfast buddy.
On July 26th, Jacqui walked toward the light and ascended into heaven where immediately she started to organize the an-gels to become crusaders to right wrongs on the earth and she established the largest milonga heaven has ever seen. And, every room in heaven has a panoramic view of the ocean. Dance on JaquiBean, dance on. We will miss you fiercely until we meet again. Read more about Jacqui in The Women of Clark House: The Art of Positive Aging by Jeanette Miller which is available at Amherst Books.
A celebration of life will be held on Sunday, September 19th at 2 p.m. (EDST) at the Unitarian Universalist Society of Amherst, 121 North Pleasant St., Amherst. Those who wish to attend in person are asked to be vaccinated, wear a mask, maintain social distancing and WEAR AN OUTRAGEOUS HAT.
The event will be Zoomed and will also be on YouTube. Those who wish to join us in person at the church or on Zoom are asked to RSVP to Karen Dahl at email@example.com
Following the celebration, there will be several people join-ing the family in Rockport, MA to disperse Jacqui's ashes. If there are very many friends who wish to join us, we will charter a boat. Please e-mail Karen that you would join us following the memorial in Rockport.
Judy Phelps (Connecticut Argentine Tango Society) CATS, developed a GoFundMe for Jacqueline Maidana which helped defray medical expenses . Judy took the worry out of Jacqui's medical care and final expenses and for that Jacqui was extremely grateful. The account is still open. Those who wish to make a donation to a favorite charity in Jacqui's memory are encouraged to do so.
Her family wishes to thank all those who helped with her apartment, visited her in the hospital and hospice and made her last days joyful and their loving generosity told her how much she was treasured Thank you all.