Edythe Marie Gregoire, a daughter of legendary Shinnecock Chief Thunderbird and a founding member of the Seventh Day Wildwood Chapel who traveled extensively as a nurse before settling home on the tribe’s Southampton reservation, died May 31 with family at her side. She was 87 and died of natural causes, family members said.
Gregoire was woman of deep faith who “loved God more than anything in the world,” she wrote last year in a life document that also counted her extended family of 10 children, 20 grandchildren, 21 great-grandchildren and two great-great grandchildren.
“The joy on her face when she held her great-great grandson for the first time, I’ll never forget,” said her daughter Dianne Vieira, of Southampton, who was the youngest daughter of Gregoire’s 10 children.
Gregoire was born Aug. 30, 1932, one of four children of Edith Whitney Bess and Henry F. Bess Jr., the Shinnecock Chief Thunderbird. She was one of Three Sisters of the Thunderbird Clan, including siblings Elizabeth Bess Haile and Grace Valdez, both of whom predeceased her. A brother, Frederick Bess, of Southampton, survives her.
Vieira remembered her mother for her outsize kindness.
“She loved people and people loved her,” Vieira said. “Her door was always open. She was a very family-oriented person. She was always willing to help anyone who came to her in need.”
Gregoire traveled extensively while working as a nurse, her daughter said, at one point living and working in St. Croix. She worked most of her career as a surgical nurse at the Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami, and retired from Perdue Medical Center.
After retirement, Gregoire returned to the reservation 15 years ago, a chance to get even closer to her family.
“She has always been an inspiration, not just to me but to all her grandkids,” said Bryan Polite, who is chairman of the Shinnecock Nation council of trustees, the tribe’s governing body. “She actually taught me how to play the violin,” an instrument he recently took up again during the coronavirus lockdown.
Polite said he has also been inspired by his grandmother’s faith.
“I try to lead by the example of Jesus Christ and I got that from my grandmother,” he said.
Services for Gregoire are private, with an interment scheduled for August at the Shinnecock Nation burial grounds.
Gregoire in her life document advised family members and friends to become and stay “faithful to Christ with all your heart and we will meet again on that heavenly shore.”
“She was definitely at peace when she left us,” Vieira said.