Maria G. Wilmeth, an Italian-born linguist who for 15 years coordinated the Fairfax County school system’s foreign language program, died Dec. 18 at the Sleepy Hollow rehabilitation center in Annandale, Va. She was 89 and was a McLean, Va., resident.
The cause was cardiac arrest and congestive heart failure, said a daughter, Deborah W. Campos.
Dr. Wilmeth, who received a doctorate in linguistics from Georgetown University in 1986, was a professor of the Italian language at George Washington University from 1970 to 1974.
She then became foreign language program coordinator in the Fairfax schools. She helped start the foreign-language immersion program and introduced Japanese, among other languages, into the curriculum.
After leaving the public school system, Dr. Wilmeth spent about a decade as coordinator of foreign languages at the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s graduate school.
She also founded and then led the Italian Cultural Society of Washington’s Italian language program for decades. Dr. Wilmeth also worked with the Italian embassy in Washington to place teachers of Italian in schools to help Italian children living in the United States continue their education.
Maria Aurelia Guarrera was a native of Nicosia, on Sicily, and grew up in Caserta, Italy. She attended the University of Naples with the hope of studying medicine. After marrying a U.S. soldier in 1946, she accompanied him on his military assignments before settling in the Washington area in the mid-1960s. In the meantime, she graduated from the Sorbonne and received a doctorate in French from the University of Naples.
Dr. Wilmeth was a past president of Amerito, an umbrella group of Italian American organizations; founding president of the American Association of Teachers of Italian; and a founding director of the National Council for the Promotion of Italian Language and Culture in American Schools.
She was co-author of “Exploring Languages: A Complete Introduction for Foreign Language Students,” published in 1994.
Her husband, retired Army Lt. Col. Elwood E. Wilmeth, died in 1995. Survivors include three children, Eric Wilmeth of Leesburg, Va., Deborah W. Campos of McLean and Michelle W. Hansen of Purcellville, Va.; two sisters; three grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.