Some 200 of Andrea Taddeo's friends came to the Coonamesset Inn in Falmouth last month to sing and tell stories. With their heads hung low they sang the songs Taddeo sang when she was a girl back on Long Island in the 1950s, and into her oldest years living in Falmouth, until she died at home on Feb. 11 from cancer. They sang church songs. "The Hymn of Promise" was one, about new life and resurrection. And "Take My Hand" was another.
Taddeo chose the songs, just as she selected the flowers, the speakers and the menu -- from the fish to the fruit salad. Many of the people in attendance knew Taddeo from her volunteer work at Falmouth's John Wesley United Methodist Church, where Taddeo essentially was in charge of most everything, including the church kitchen.
Rev. David Calhoun met Taddeo five years ago when he first came to John Wesley to serve as pastor.
"The former pastor told me, he said, 'We have an angel in the congregation that you need to meet.' So we walked around the church together, and guess where I found her? In the kitchen," Calhoun said. "And he introduced her as one of our angels, and of course she would have nothing to do with that. "I don't know about that. But I'm happy to meet the new pastor."
Taddeo often was the first one to greet new church members. She liked to include people in things, often by inviting them to meals. Her friends say that when people became sick, homebound or just lonely, Taddeo would step in. She would shop for them, pickup their medications, pay their bills and balance their check books -- whatever she could do to make a difference in their lives.
"Many of the things Andi did, people just do not know about," Calhoun said, "because it was her wish that she not be talked about, about the things that she did. She was the integral part of the life of our church, and she is going to be missed greatly. Wow. It's going to take time for everybody to process, but that's what this celebration's for. For us to share stories around the table."
Taddeo was friendly and filled with spirit, her friends say, but she could be bossy. A different way to say it would be: Taddeo was a good delegator, particularly in the church kitchen. She would assign people to slice oranges for the fruit salad to her specifications, and cutting sandwiches required an electric knife. People who could not follow her specific instructions were relieved of their duties.
Sharon Mulcahy of Falmouth was one of Taddeo's closest friends. Mulcahy said that when it came to church events, Taddeo always arrived with detailed instructions on what should be done and how, and when the event was over, Taddeo was always the last one to leave.
"You had to do it her way, or get lost," Mulcahy said with a laugh. "She was so good at it. I mean, you should listen because she had it down pat. Everything went perfectly well. She never thought of herself. She didn't like to be praised at all. She didn't think she deserved it. She was so humble, she just thought she wasn't good enough. I don't know. She was just amazing."
By all accounts, Taddeo knew how to handle things, and when she saw a need, she took over. Half a lifetime ago she did the books for a patent attorney firm in New York City. She came to Cape Cod to care for her mother, and for 25 years she did financial work for Falmouth Lumber before retiring seven years ago to do more for the church.
Falmouth resident Ken Peal worked with Taddeo on the church Stewardship Committee, which Peal chaired.
"I was in charge, but most of the ideas came from her," Peal said. "A lot of the details that we had to do to get the job done, she helped with. Once again, she was a little bit behind the scenes, but she was there doing things and didn't take any credit for it. I was the chairman but using her ideas. ha. Happy to do it."
Taddeo was competent, as well as funny and disarming. Demeris Cooker of Mashpee says, she also was caring.
"Andrea was truly a saint in the sense that she did not take credit for a lot of things she did, but a lot of things no one knows about," Cooker said. "One of the one big thing she did for me, one night I had a terrible pain, and my husband was not well but he took me to the emergency room. About an hour into being there and after my MRI and knowing I needed to wait a long time, I said to him, you need to go home, you're tired. So I called andrea, she came right over, took him home, and then came back to the hospital, stayed until after midnight until my doctor came down to tell me that I was full of cancer. And I had two years of treatment after that, but what I always wonder -- why her, not me? She was just an angel, and did so many things for so many people in so many ways."
Taddeo never wanted anyone to feel lonely or unappreciated. She often greeted people with a sincere, "Hello, Sunshine!" It was her way of letting people know that they mattered.
Mabel Offonoff of Falmouth said many people claimed Taddeo as their best friend. And to Offonoff, Taddeo was an angel, right here on Earth.
"There was nobody like her. She was just my most wonderful friend," Offonoff said. "And I always knew it was going to be a wonderful day. I lived alone, and I could hear Andi on the front steps, the car would come up, and she'd say, -- "Get dressed, we're going to get breakfast." And it was always a wonderful day."
Taddeo was not a smoker, and she wasn't often around people who smoked. But she was diagnosed with lung cancer last April. When confined to her home, she asked her friends to keep an eye out at the church, and to let her know if there was anyone in need. That was her way, friends said. She didn't want praise, and she didn't want recognition. She just wanted to help.