Mary Frances Attaway, born in Birmingham, Alabama, grew up in Montgomery. She met Malcolm Gifford when he trained at Maxwell Air Force Base outside Montgomery. They married in 1945 and moved north to Fall River, then RI, where they raised two sons. Malcolm taught at Providence Country Day School and died in 1965. The family visited Alabama regularly. Fran’s commitment to social justice was sparked by her early life and presence at the Montgomery end of the Selma - Montgomery civil rights march.
When her children were young, Fran drove a bus for The Gordon School, where she also worked briefly as a Nursery teacher. In 1960 she shifted to Kindergarten teaching, inspiring and entertaining young children for the next 34 energetic years. In 1979 Fran married Richard Bidwell, with a reception held at Gordon, kindergarteners as attendants. The Gordon community dedicated their Children’s Garden to her and a colleague when they retired in 1994.
Fran and Dick have lived in Providence nearly 40 years. Fran was an active member of Providence’s First Unitarian Women’s Alliance and a longtime Religious Education teacher. Her open hearted spirit permeated casual companionships and supported close friends and family. Never hesitating to give feisty support to any causes she championed, Fran worked with the Fox Point Neighborhood Association and the Gray Panthers (now Senior Agenda Coalition).
Although Fran’s health declined over the last decade, her death came with unexpected quickness. She was predeceased by her sister, Sandra Attaway, and granddaughter, Guen Gifford. Fran is survived by her husband, Dick, sons Kendall and Russell Gifford, Kendall’s wife Liz Bourne, and grandchildren Josh Buell, Michael Gifford and Molly Bruce Patterson.
A memorial service will be held at the First Unitarian Church in Providence on Saturday, February 11th at 2:00. Donations in Fran’s memory may be made to: The Unitarian Universalist Service Committee; The Southern Poverty Law Center; The Senior Agenda Coalition of RI; Hope Hospice & Palliative Care RI.
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