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M. Rachael Baxter

September 13, 1938 March 5, 2015
M. Rachael Baxter
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Obituary for M. Rachael Baxter

M Rachel Sousa Baxter, formerly M Rachel Cunha, a leader in the Portuguese-American community, a prominent educator and tireless contributor to numerous social and religious causes, died suddenly Thursday at Rhode Island Hospital from multiple organ failure after a brief but severe bout of septicemia. She was 76.
 
Born in a small town in the Algarve in the south of Portugal as Maria Raquel Mendonça de Brito Sousa, she emigrated with her family to Providence in 1945 and was enrolled in Cleary School, a private Catholic elementary and middle school on Hope Street. She attended Hope High School, where she met her first husband, Fernando S Cunha, now an attorney. They married in 1959 and had three sons, Marc, Michael and Paul. Once her youngest son was in kindergarten, she became a sociology major at the University of Rhode Island and then completed her BA, Magna Cum Laude, at UMass Dartmouth before receiving her Master's in Bilingual Education, Suma Cum Laude, from Rhode Island College. She went on to receive Certificates in Bilingual Studies from the University of Lisbon and from Brown University and then a Principle's Certificate from Rhode Island College. She was a professor of Portuguese at Rhode Island College and one of the first Administrators for Gifted Programs at the Providence School Department. In 1978 she was appointed by Governor J Joseph Garrahy to the Board of Regents for Higher Education where she served for the next 12 years setting policy and overseeing structural and pedagogical changes at Rhode Island's public universities. After two terms as Regent, she served as a Coordinator for the Rhode Island Worker's Compensation Court.
 
Governor Garrahy also appointed her to the Rhode Island Higher Education Assistance Authority and to the Rhode Island Heritage Commission while United States Senator Claiborne Pell nominated her as the first President of the Portuguese Cultural Association. She also served as a member of the Board of Directors of the National Association of State Boards of Education, as Vice President of the Heritage Harbor Museum and on the boards of The Rhode Island Historical Society, the Rhode Island Committee for the Humanities as well as on the boards of numerous Portuguese-American organizations. She was a familiar face to many from her work on ABC6’s TV show "The Portuguese Around Us" where she was the host of a monthly cooking show featuring well known guests preparing their favorite Portuguese dishes.
 
Since retiring from public service, she volunteered for many social and religious organizations. For many years she drove throughout Providence twice weekly for Meals on Wheels, delivering lunches to elderly shut-ins and serving as a Eucharistic Minister at both St Sebastian's Church in Providence and at St Anne's Church in Naples, Florida. She was a very active parishioner at St Sebastian's Church, especially in the Pray Shawl Ministry, where she was an energetic knitter. She traveled frequently, spending about haft the year between her home in the Algarve and her home in Naples, Florida as well as participating in multiple pilgrimages to Lourdes, Fatima, Medjugorje, Assisi and Jerusalem.
 
She is survived by her second husband, Dr John C Baxter, a radiologist, her two sisters, Vicki Souza and Grace Murphy, her three sons, Marc, Michael and Paul Cunha and her five grandchildren, Madison, Max, Mason, Francesca and Preston Cunha. In lieu of flowers, the family requests that donations be made either to Holy Rosary Church, St Sebastian's Church in Providence or the Institute for Portuguese and Lusophone World Studies at Rhode Island College.
 
 

A Mass of Christian Burial will be held Tuesday at 10 am in the Church of Saint Sebastian, Cole Avenue Providence. Burial will be in Swan Point Cemetery, Blackstone Blvd. Calling hours Monday from 5 to 8pm

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