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Former ‘government girl’ turned beloved grandmother dies of covid-19

Dolores Guindon Gaffney, who arrived in Washington as a “government girl” during World War II, died of covid-19 in Springfield, Va., on April 17. She was 95.
Dolores Guindon Gaffney, who arrived in Washington as a “government girl” during World War II, died of covid-19 in Springfield, Va., on April 17. She was 95. (Kristen Thomas)
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When Dolores Guindon Gaffney stepped off the train at the District’s Union Station in the summer of 1941, her life changed forever.

The daughter of a coal miner, Gaffney was one of the thousands of young women who flocked to Washington from across the country to help keep the government running during World War II, her family said. With men in short supply, Gaffney was a part of what Good Housekeeping called “a new army on the Potomac.”

These were the “government girls” — the “G-girls.” Gaffney was just 17.

“That was pretty brave to be 17 and going to a place you’d never been before,” said a daughter, Diane Vagts.

Gaffney worked for the Department of the Navy, where she met her first husband, Francis Guindon. The couple married and had three children, Lynne, Diane and Marc.

A devoted mother, grandmother and great-grandmother, Gaffney died on April 17 of complications from covid-19 at a retirement community in Northern Virginia. She was 95.

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“She should have been a movie star,” said Rick Bryant, Gaffney’s cousin. “She was one of the most beautiful women that I ever saw.”

Although she never attended college, Gaffney was whip-smart and remained close to education throughout her life, her family said. She worked as a school secretary for many different elementary schools throughout Fairfax County.

“My parents just worked really hard to make sure that their kids could go to college,” Vagts said.

After Guindon died in 1987, Vagts’s mother remarried Raymond Gaffney, and her family expanded to include five stepchildren and five grandchildren.

Vagts said her mother retained her characteristic can-do attitude well into her 90s, refusing walkers and wheelchairs from prodding doctors, determined to show them she could still walk.

“She was always trying to prove how strong she was,” Vagts said.

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Gaffney also had a competitive streak. She played in the Golden Girls senior softball league in her 70s. She was the team’s catcher.

“According to her, she was a pretty good hitter, too, but she wouldn’t let us come to her games,” Vagts said.

Gaffney outlived two husbands and many friends, but she never lost her strong will or her independence.

“Her mother encouraged her to be her own person,” said Lynne Heflin, Guindon’s daughter. “I think it’s because she grew up in West Virginia — you have to be strong if you’re going to survive it.”