Adele Harman Waggaman died Sept. 26 in Washington, D.C., just short of her 101st birthday. The heavens can expect a spicy, feisty, entertaining, elegant, funny, salty, gracious and ever beautiful addition to the hereafter. Though failing, she was still Adele near the end, clever, unbridled, demonstrative and strong.
She was born Oct. 21, 1919, in Orange, N.J., the second child of Lillien and Archer Harman. She spent much of her early years at St. Paul’s School in Concord, N.H., where her father taught. In her teen years she enrolled at the Ethel Walker School in Simsbury, Conn., where she attended her 80th reunion three years ago. Later at Bennington College, she honed her rebellious, rambunctious skills.
After a brief modeling career in New York, Adele married naval officer Arnold Welles in 1944. The marriage ended in divorce in 1948. In 1950 she married foreign service officer David LeBreton, who died in a drowning incident in 1953. When her beloved father died six months later, she was 34 and reeling, with three young boys. Happily, she found and married Robert Waggaman in 1957, a kind and generous Washington, D.C., and Nantucket fixture, who provided warmth, stability and a gentle nudge now and again to rein her in. Bob died in 1981.
Adele and Bob had two children, bringing the household offspring to five kids from three different fathers — all in a sprawling and noisy Chevy Chase, M.D., home. It was a great testament to her deep conviction of the importance of family that this disparate group bonded and remained as one, with Adele as the cornerstone. She recently remarked that she could rarely have any house guests in Edgartown, because “you kids were always there.”
She loved Edgartown, where her grandparents brought her as a child. Her parents were engaged on the Harbor View Hotel porch, and later bought a home on Starbuck’s Neck before acquiring a piece of property overlooking Edgartown Harbor. When Adele’s brother Archer Harman married Mari, who lived next door, the result was a parcel of close to 40 acres. It was an extraordinary spot for wonderful extended family activity, where, for decades, there have been heated tennis games, beach shenanigans, touch football, celebrations, clambakes, and an odd assortment of dogs.
Adele had a passion for skiing, tennis, paddle tennis, her clunky bike, her collection of Nantucket baskets, bridge, salt, chocolate, opera and the evening cocktail. And sailing until she managed to insert herself between the dock and the fast approaching family sloop. Her final boating adventure was on a small Whaler watching the 12-meters while in her mid-90s a few summers back. Having had her fill of the choppy, windy conditions, she demanded to be left off at the Chappy Beach Club, marched to the ferry and walked home. She also enjoyed playing the piano, and during Christmas holidays could be persuaded to pull out her accordion and sing German folk songs.
Her passport was well worn. She spent extended periods of time in Germany, Tunisia, Paris and South America. She traveled much of the world and generously hosted many extended family trips to far-off ski resorts, a particular joy for her and all involved.
She was a member of the Edgartown Yacht Club, where she was the club’s first female trustee, a position she held for nearly 70 years, the Chevy Chase Club and the Sulgrave Club in Washington. Charity work included stints as chairman of the DC chapter of Recording for the Blind and head Trustee of the St. John’s Child Development Center in Washington.
Adele remained elegant and regal in manner and bearing until suffering a broken hip two years ago. The family is grateful that she in large part retained her amusing, opinionated personna.
She led by dignified example, didn’t sweat the small stuff and was someone who truly grasped what mattered in life.
She is survived by sons Alexander Welles of Seattle, Wash., and Edgartown, Arnold Welles of Greenwich, Conn., and Edgartown, David LeBreton of Dedham and Edgartown; a daughter Victoria Knopes of Chevy Chase, Md., and Edgartown; stepson MacKenzie Waggaman of Mt. Washington; a sister Elizabeth Brainard of Marion; 16 grandchildren and step-grandchildren and two great-granddaughters. A son, William Waggaman, died in 2018.
A memorial celebration will take place next summer.
Donations in her memory can be made to the Martha’s Vineyard Museum, with Cooke House Legacy Gardens on the memo line, 151 Lagoon Road Vineyard Haven, MA 02568.