Recently, this librarian opened the 2011Town Report for Nahant and noticed on the in memoriam page a picture of a woman in a pretty, flowery hat. The picture was captioned “First Lady of the Commonwealth.” Her name was Jennie Benedetto Volpe and she was the wife of John Volpe, Massachusetts Governor from 1961-1963 and 1965-1969.
Mrs. Volpe died on January 12, 2011 at the age of 98. According to the Boston Globe obituary, she designed hats, including the one she wore for her husband’s first inauguration. She also had “impeccable taste in fashions” and she had a no-nonsense attitude about life: if there was a problem such as her stove breaking down she would say, “I don’t discuss it, I solve it.”
She was born Giovannina Benedetto in 1912 in Pescosansonesco, Italy. She and her mother emigrated to the United States in 1915, to the town of Wakefield, Massachusetts, where she joined her father. When she married John Volpe he owned a construction company, and he built them a stately house in Winchester, Massachusetts.
According to her online obituary, when her husband was Governor of Massachusetts she “worked to improve the quality of the state's mental-health facilities and she delivered numerous addresses on her husband's behalf on the campaign trail.” She later lived in Washington, D.C., and in Italy when her husband became U. S. ambassador. She and her husband returned to the United States in 1978 and lived in a ranch-style house in Nahant, Massachusetts. She lived there until her death in 2011.