Gretchen Hammerstein Cuffe — She spoke truth to power

At 72 years of age Phoebe Gretchen Grove Hammerstein Cuffe of Rockland died Feb. 8, 2010, after a courageous three-year battle with cancer at Quarry Hill Nursing Home in Camden.

Born July 13, 1937, in Indiana County, Pa., she was raised in Elmira, N.Y., where she married Richard Albert Hammerstein on June 10, 1961.

Gretchen received a bachelor of arts degree in chemistry from Wells College in Aurora, N.Y., in 1959. After graduation she worked as a laboratory assistant at the Rockefeller Institute in New York City, where she served on a research team that went on to win a Nobel Prize in chemistry. She achieved a master of library science degree from Southern Connecticut State University in 1974.

Gretchen spent 21 years as a public or university library chief administrator, overseeing library construction projects in Connecticut, Florida and Grenada. She also worked internationally in the Philippines, the Bahamas and Grenada focusing on organizational development, technology and education.

Gretchen was most at peace when sailing the waters of Keuka Lake in upstate New York, Long Island Sound, the South China Sea and the Abaco Islands. While in the Abacos she was involved in a variety of causes, such as Abaco Royal Barb Wild Horse Rescue, land preservation for eco-tourism, and the rescue, spay and neuter, and adoption of native Abaco “Potcake” stray dogs, which she transported, fostered and found homes for in both Florida and Maine.

She was also active in many political action organizations, as well as Unitarian Universalist and Unity churches in Maine and Florida. In her final days Gretchen penned a guidebook for cancer patients that is currently in its editing stage and will benefit The Cancer Community Center of South Portland. This organization provided her much comfort during her final days, as did members of both the First Universalist Church of Rockland and the Unity Church of Greater Portland.

Gretchen is survived by three children she raised as a single mother, Katrina Fitzgerald of Mystic, Conn., Kurt Hammerstein of Lake Worth, Fla., and Mary Hammerstein of Groton, Conn.; her son-in-law, Michael Fitzgerald; her grandsons, Matthew and Kurt Thomas Fitzgerald of Mystic, Conn., and her granddaughter, Jasmine Hammerstein of West Palm Beach, Fla. Her beloved Bahamian Potcake dog Matisse will remain with his new family in Rockland.

She was predeceased in 1979 by her husband, Richard A. Hammerstein.

Gretchen’s family said she was eternally grateful for the welcome, love and friendships that helped sustain her during her last days, in particular her beloved friend and neighbor Virginia Oliver, her stepdaughter Rhonda Kalkwarf and Diane Schetky of Rockport.

A memorial service will be announced at a later date and will be held at the First Universalist Church of Rockland, 345 Broadway in Rockland. A private graveside service will be held in the spring at Achorn Cemetery in Rockland.

In lieu of flowers, the family asked that donations be made to The Cancer Community Center, 778 Main St., South Portland ME 04106.

Arrangements are with the Burpee, Carpenter & Hutchins Funeral Home in Rockland.

To sign Gretchen’s online guest book, visit