Lorraine Lidoff of Eastham, a nationally known advocate for the aging and the blind, died on Nov. 18, 2023 at Cape Cod Hospital in Hyannis. Her dearest friend, Sandra Sawyer, was with her. The cause was cancer, which had been diagnosed just two months earlier. She was 77.
Lorraine, who was known as Rainie, was a former vice president of the National Council on Aging and program educator for the Lighthouse for the Blind.
The daughter of the late Herbert and Evelyn Lidoff, Rainie was born on May 26, 1946 in Washington D.C., where she grew up. Her father worked as a patent examiner and later served on the Patent Board of Appeals, and her mother raised their four children. Evelyn’s early death, when Rainie was nine, “had a profound impact on the family,” said her brother, Ken.
“She was a chip off the old block,” family members reported, “with her father’s intelligence and steadfastness and her mother’s kindness and soft touch.”
“Rainie was nearly blind when she was born,” said Ken. “She was super farsighted and had to wear Coke-bottle glasses.” Nonetheless, he added, “she was always a great reader, and she left behind a well-curated library.” If someone named a book she had not read, “She was probably reading it,” he said.
Rainie was a bit of a tomboy who loved sports and was a brilliant student, always at the top of her class in grade school. She graduated from Woodrow Wilson High School in Washington, D.C. with straight As and scored a perfect 800 on each section of the SAT. She went to Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania and graduated with a B.A. in art history.
After college, Rainie lived for a time in a commune, Ken said. She then took a job as a translator for a farm equipment company in France. In her free time, she would ride her racing bike around the countryside. Because only a few women rode racing bikes at that time, Rainie was welcomed in towns and villages and had many opportunities for conversation. She loved learning how different people thought and lived.
Her love of art remained vital to her in France as she studied its cathedrals and museums.
Upon her return to the U.S., Rainie attended Columbia University for graduate studies while working in the university’s art history department. After earning two master’s degrees, one in art history, she explored the country and spent time milking cows and plowing fields on a dairy farm in central Massachusetts.
Rainie devoted her professional life to serving the aging and the blind. She worked for the National Council on Aging in Washington, D.C. for 20 years, rising to vice president and publishing a half dozen books and pamphlets for the Council; these included “Supports for the Family Caregivers of the Elderly” in 1985 and “Caregiver Support Groups in America” in 1990.
When Rainie met Brina Melemed, a stained-glass artist who specialized in producing American quilt patterns in windows and panels, she found her life partner. The couple lived in Maryland for 10 years before settling on Mechanic Street in Provincetown.
“Before it was a thing,” Ken said, “Rainie became one of the first people in the country to work remotely.”
The couple “had years of joy together,” Ken said, and Rainie “cared for Brina throughout her final heroic battle with pancreatic cancer.”
After leaving the National Council on Aging, she worked as an educator for the Lighthouse for the Blind for 10 years, developing programs for older people and their families and advocating for improving Medicare coverage for vision rehabilitation.
Rainie loved reading, riding her bike, walking in the wild places of the Outer Cape, and taking care of her rescue poodles, whom she referred to as “your cousins” when talking to her niece and nephew.
She was a gifted writer, and even quick emails sent later in life from her iPad were a joy to read, her clear voice coming through in each message.
Art, aging, and eyesight were the themes that defined her life. In her final decade, after she retired to Eastham, she reconnected with her love of art, becoming a dedicated student and collector of Native American art. She was particularly drawn to fetishes, rocks inlaid with spirit animals and people, and she loved black pottery.
“She wasn’t just a collector,” Ken said. “She gave of herself in the life of the art community; the Native American artists and their families became her allies and friends.” She loved meeting them in New Mexico at the Great Indian Market until the pandemic made it impossible for her to travel.
Rainie is survived by her brother, Ken, of Los Osos, Calif.; her niece, Genevieve, of San Luis Obispo, Calif.; and her nephew, Daniel, of Lemoore, Calif. She was loved by her family, her friends across the country, and her neighbors in Eastham, and is deeply missed.
She was predeceased by her sister, Joan, her foster mother, Marguerite, and her partner, Brina Melemed.
Rainie was cremated; some of her ashes will join Brina’s in the sea off the coast near Provincetown and the rest will be scattered at the graves of her parents in Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia.
To share a memory or leave an online condolence, visit doanebealamesdennis.com.