Orange community mourns the death of Vivian Gaunt, 83

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ORANGE, NJ — Former Orange Councilwoman Vivian Gaunt died on Feb. 10 at age 83. A funeral was held Feb. 20 for the three-term councilwoman and longtime educator at St. Matthew AME Church in Orange.

At the service, Gaunt’s daughter, April Gaunt-Butler, also a former Orange councilwoman, spoke of her mother’s pragmatism, honesty and dedication to serving the community. At the conclusion of her eulogy, Gaunt-Butler shared some of her mother’s wisdom with the mourners: “1. God is everything. Start there and you will never go wrong. 2. Treat others how you want to be treated. 3. Don’t take yourself too seriously. 4. Pay your bills. 5. There are only a few times people really need you in life, so make sure you show up then. 6. Do good while you can. 7. Have fun. 8. Be present. 9. Laugh. 10. Try new things. 11. Don’t forget, doctors practice. 12. After you have done all you can, just stand. 13. Remember, life is not a dress rehearsal.”

Though she was born in New Orleans, La., Gaunt made her home in and left her mark on Orange. The day of Gaunt’s funeral, Orange Mayor Dwayne Warren released a letter he penned to Gaunt’s family, in which he wished them comfort as they mourn the death of a wonderful woman whose legacy will live on in Orange.

“I met Ms. Gaunt in 1976 as a fifth-grader,” Warren wrote. “I found her to be much more than a teacher. Unbeknownst to us, she was preparing us for life. She taught strict discipline, critical thinking, self-assessment and self-esteem. She made us feel that we needed to learn these things because the world was depending on us to be responsible caretakers of our people and our communities. She abhorred foolishness not just because it was bad, but because we did not have time for it in our pursuit of excellence. Looking back 45 years, I realize her stern lessons were heaven sent.

“As a lowly fifth-grader, I never imagined how much her example would help shape my life,” he continued. “As a civic leader, Ms. Gaunt blazed trails. As an early member of the small sorority of women in politics at the time, she distinguished herself as a trusted adviser to mayors, county leaders and state officials. She spoke with reason and authority, she advocated for her people, and she questioned those in charge. Her qualities inspired women and men to keep their talents local and serve where they are. Communities of color are better off because of her example. On Feb. 10, 2021, Orange lost the bones and body of a dedicated leader, but her spirit will forever dwell in the fabric of the city of Orange Township.”

In addition to leaving a lasting impression on her family and Orange’s elected officials, Gaunt will be dearly remembered by many others in the community.

“I’m sending my condolences and prayers to the family,” Patricia Ewell, nee Marsh, wrote in an online memorial. “My family and I lived in the same house as her family from 1964 through 1967 in Newark, and I have many fond memories of them — including babysitting for her. Rest well, Mrs. Gaunt.”

“Ms. Vivian Gaunt was a lovely woman who cared deeply about the Orange community, and she poured her heart and soul into our city,” friend Russella Holloway wrote. “I truly thank God for blessing us with such a champion. She will forever be missed.”

“Thank you for your inspirations and coming to speak at PTA events,” Victoria Brannon wrote. “You are black history!”

“Vivian was a true community role model and advocate. We have lost a champion,” Anzella Nelms wrote.

“Vivian was a very intelligent and kind person. She loved her beloved city of Orange and its residents,” friend Marvin Thomas Braker wrote. “She also did much to promote historical black colleges and universities. I remember how proud she was of my two daughters who graduated from Hampton University and her son and daughter also. God bless, Vivian.”

“Mrs. Gaunt was my seventh-grade teacher at Blessed Sacrament School in Newark,” Natasha Wright Brown wrote. “I was fortunate to cross paths with her throughout my life. She always inspired me by the example she set as a role model and encouraged me with her kind words. Mrs. Gaunt touched my life in wonderful ways and contributed to making me the person I am today.”