Margaret E. Gilbert
EAST BERNE — Margaret E. Gilbert was a Gold Star Mother — her only son had died in Vietnam — who dressed all in white with dignity, gracing many local Memorial Day ceremonies over the years.
She died peacefully on Tuesday, July 8, 2014, at her daughter’s house after a long struggle with Parkinson’s disease. She was 87.
Members of the American Gold Star Mothers are often socially active and comfort hospitalized veterans and other parents of the war dead. Locally, Mrs. Gilbert was also an educator, sometimes visiting students at Berne-Knox-Westerlo and riding in the Memorial Day parades. She had specialty Gold Star Mother license plates.
“She was proud to be there, to represent everybody that had passed that were in service, and then sad knowing that my brother was one of them,” said her only daughter, Patricia Wagoner, of Mrs. Gilbert’s appearance in Memorial Day ceremonies.
Mrs. Gilbert spent most of her life living next to Thacher Park, on the dairy farm on Beaver Dam Road where she and her late husband, Warren Gilbert, raised their two children. She learned to drive on a tractor with a manure spreader, her daughter said. A few times, she said she wasn’t hungry and skipped a meal.
“Now that I’m older, I understand what she was doing,” said Wagoner. “She would go without so my brother and I, and my dad, could have something to eat.”
Mrs. Gilbert worked full-time for Owens Corning in Feura Bush as a data-processing supervisor handling payroll for more than 20 years.
In her last three-and-a-half years, she lived with her daughter. She loved her dog, Saydie, a Chihuahua and Yorkshire terrier mix. When Mrs. Gilbert ate ice cream, her last spoonful was saved for Saydie.
“It was the best medicine I could have ever gotten my mom,” said Mrs. Wagoner.
Born on July 30, 1926 in Knox, Mrs. Gilbert was the daughter of the late Charles and Pearl (née White) Bradt.
She grew up on a farm near Old Stage Road and Thompsons Lake Road, where she attended a one-room schoolhouse across the street. Her sister Jennie, nervous to attend school alone, wanted her sister, Mrs. Gilbert, to join her.
She met the man who would become her husband while visiting for tea; Mr. Gilbert, a young dairy farmer, would regularly bring the hosts, his neighbors, their newspaper. Their union lasted until his death.
At their Beaver Dam Road farm, Mrs. Gilbert was a homemaker. With no running water at first, she scrubbed clothes with a washboard and made ice cream with ice collected by the children from a pond.
She cooked large meals for several children who came to the farm to play.
“She liked the idea of all the kids being at our house because she knew where we were and what we were doing,” said Mrs. Wagoner.
The Gilberts enjoyed going to see stock-car races at local tracks. Mr. Gilbert owned his own stock car and eventually had at least three horses that he and Mrs. Gilbert traveled with to harness races.
Their son, Glenn Gilbert, worked on the farm after he graduated from Berne-Knox. He wasn’t drafted until he got a job working at a local bar.
“She never really talked about it,” Mrs. Wagoner said of her mother’s thoughts on his going to Vietnam. “Granted, she was concerned. She kept a lot to herself.”
They wrote letters often while Glenn Gilbert was in Vietnam for less than two months. He drowned in a river while retrieving supplies.
Mrs. Gilbert waited a few years before joining the Gold Star Mothers, Mrs. Wagoner said.
“Like they say, you have to be ready to join that organization, and, in the beginning, you feel like you’re the only one, but you’re not,” said Mrs. Wagoner. “She had to get through that, over that hurdle, first.”
She added, “When she got together with the moms, she would laugh and carry on and have a good time,” said Mrs. Wagoner.
Mrs. Gilbert was an active member of Albany Chapter 11 American Gold Star Mothers, a member of Boyd Hilton Veterans of Foreign Wars Ladies’ Auxiliary, Zaloga American Legion Post Ladies’ Auxiliary, and Thompson’s Lake Reformed Church. She served as president of the New York State Gold Star Mothers, as well as the Albany chapter.
She was a member of the Tri-County Council of Vietnam Veterans, whose members were pallbearers at her funeral. An honor guard stood behind.
“She knew if she ever needed anything, she could give them a call and they’d be right there for her,” said Wagoner of local veterans.
She is survived by her daughter, Patricia Wagoner and her husband, David; her grandchildren, Stacey Rapp of Jersey City, New Jersey, Richard Rapp and his wife, Diane, of East Berne, Brian Rapp of Colonie, and Holly Roth of West Sand Lake, Rensselaer County; her great-grandchildren, Spencer and Tyler Rapp, and Kyle Roth; her sister, Madeline Bradt of East Berne; her niece, Marlene Tiffany, and her husband, David, and her nephew William Bradt — both of East Berne; her great-nieces Amanda Thomas and her husband, Colin, Sarah Tiffany; and a soon to be great-great-niece.
Her husband, Warren Gilbert, died before her, as did her son, Pfc. Glenn Gilbert, and her sister, Jennie Rapp.
A funeral was held on July 12 at Fredendall Funeral Home in Altamont, with interment at Prospect Hill Cemetery in Guilderland. Online condolences may be made at www.fredendallfuneralhome.com.
Memorial contributions may be made to American Gold Star Mothers, Albany Chapter 11, care of Carrie Farley, 32 Pittsfield Ave. Nassau, NY 12123 or to Tri-County Council of Vietnam Veterans, 142 Catherine St. Albany, NY 12202.
— Marcello Iaia