Margaret Xifaras

June 15, 1945October 8, 2019
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Margaret Dexter (Strahorn) Xifaras, a New Bedford lawyer, citizen activist and stalwart Democrat, died shortly after midnight on October 8, 2019 of metastatic breast cancer. She was 74. Universally known as MarDee, she played a vital behind the scenes role in state and national Democratic Party politics for nearly 50 years. She served on the Democratic State Committee for 48 years, often acting as parliamentarian at state conventions, and on the Democratic National Committee and as a delegate or super delegate to Democratic National Convention for 30 years. MarDee was a key force behind creation of the state’s first and only public law school. She described establishment of the UMass Law School in Dartmouth as her greatest public accomplishment. She served on the UMass Board of Trustees, State Board of Bar Overseers and was an active esteemed member of the state Bar Association known for her expertise in family law and ethics. In her 35-year legal career, MarDee resolved numerous and complicated legal matters with a consistent commitment to fairness, integrity and creative problem solving.

MarDee was born in Rapid City, South Dakota but raised in Winnetka, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago. She graduated from the University of Illinois in 1967 and then became a member of the first generation of idealistic young Americans to serve in the Peace Corps. Her two years teaching in Malawi in South Central Africa was both formative and a template for a life of activism and service to others.

She came to Massachusetts on a fellowship to study international relations at the prestigious Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts in Medford. With the Vietnam War raging, she took a leave of absence from her studies to work in the uphill campaign of Gerry E. Studds, an anti- war candidate running for Congress in the district that stretched from New Bedford to Cape Cod. It was there she met her future husband, a New Bedford School Committeeman and labor lawyer, John M. Xifaras who later became a District and then Superior Court Judge. They soon married and launched a partnership that lasted for 48 years until her death.

She worked as Studds’ top district aide after he won election to Congress, finished her master’s degree at Fletcher, earned a law degree at Boston University, earned a MBA at what was then Southeastern Massachusetts University, worked as a part time assistant District Attorney in Bristol County, served as a special assistant to Governor Michael S. Dukakis during his second term and became a partner in one of New Bedford’s top law firms, Lang, Xifaras and Bullard.

She was an active member of her community as a board member for the Oceanarium in New Bedford, the Buzzards Bay Coalition and the Southcoast YMCA. She also helped build a few local houses for Habitat for Humanity.

Her ability to get things done and energy were legendary. She loved nothing more than to fit all her avocations, law, politics, charitable work, family, friends and volunteerism into a single day. She was happiest topping her day off with several sets of tennis followed by a swim in Buzzards Bay. In her final years, she played Pied Piper to her grandchildren, leading them on adventures to the beach, the ice cream store, trips near and far, and exposing them around the Southcoast to her many passions and causes. She was the hub of an extraordinary network of friends who stretched across the nation and loved nothing more than introducing them to one another. She relished time with people and never wasted an opportunity to connect folks with common interests and goals. Relationships energized MarDee. She invited so many people to the Xifaras’ family annual Greek Easter Party that the event became completely unwieldly and her husband the Judge ordered it to cease.

She was a trusted counselor to generations of Democratic politicians. Recognizing MarDee’s talents as a political organizer, presidential candidate Al Gore selected MarDee as state director for his presidential campaign in the important swing state of Pennsylvania. John Kerry similarly tapped MarDee to consult on hotly contested Ohio four years later. As her health failed, she heard from former President Barack Obama, former Governor Deval Patrick, former Senator John F. Kerry, and many others who valued her wise advice and loyal service. Her preferred role, however, was of the quiet behind the scenes staffer. She liked nothing more than to stand at the back of a political event, clipboard in hand, pen tucked behind one ear, ever vigilant for the sign of a problem which would prompt her to leap into action to fix. She did the essential work of politics and thought nothing of going door to door to persuade individual voters of the merits of her candidate as recently as a year ago when she flew to Texas to help Beto O’Rourke in his Senate campaign. She was the volunteer who bought pizzas for the phone bank callers, who raced to make copies of a campaign leaflet at the nearby copy shop, who meticulously advanced a candidate stop, who personified the opposing candidates in debate prep, who showed up early, stayed late and believed that government could be a force for good in society.

In a business where cynicism and self-interest are manifest, she was ever modest, unassuming, loyal and idealistic. She mockingly called herself ``the Girl Scout’’ and she exhibited Midwestern niceness and consideration to all she met during a life of meaning and consequence.

She is survived by her husband, retired Judge John M. Xifaras of Marion; her three children: Michael John (“M.J.”) Xifaras and his wife Rachel of Tallahassee, Florida; Juliet Dexter Xifaras and her husband Thomas Cooney of Mattapoisett; Attorney Dena Xifaras and her husband Michael Papadakis of Mattapoisett; six much loved grandchildren: Yanni, Zoe, Spiros, Stella, Thomas and Theo; two brothers: John Strahorn of Maryland and James Strahorn of California and many nieces and nephews.

A celebration of MarDee’s life will be held on Sunday, October 13th at 2pm at the UMass Law School in Dartmouth. In lieu of flowers, please consider joining friends and family in endowing a scholarship at UMass Law to honor MarDee’s legacy. Memorial donations may be sent to UMass Law Attn: Paula Cabral 333 Faunce Corner Road, Dartmouth, MA 02747. Burial will be private. Arrangements are in the care of the Waring-Sullivan Funeral Homes. For online tributes, please visit:


  • Celebration of Life

    Sunday, October 13, 2019


Margaret Xifaras

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Charles George

January 20, 2020

I'm speaking for the many friends from Pompano Beach Tennis group who love and adored Mardee. We were sadden when we heard of the loss. Her smile, her competive spirit, and desire to compete made her a very popular person who we all looked forward In seeing her each season. Our hearts and prayers go out to her family. We will miss her very much.
Charlie George.
Pompano - Circle of Friends

Cynthia Kelly

December 22, 2019

Mardee was a force and I miss her. I always felt she was a mentor to me in politics. I was an elected member of the Massachusetts Democratic State Committee and served as a delegate for the late U.S. Senator Ted Kennedy's presidential bid at the 1980 Democratic National Convention. My heartfelt condolences to her family.

Carl J. Cruz

October 14, 2019

John (Judge), Dena and Family : I was sorry I was unable to make the Memorial Service Sunday to express my heartfelt sympathy on MarDee's passing. I have so many wonderful memories of working with MarDee in court and watching her work on behalf of her clients with respect and dignity. She was always well prepared to give her best. I was glad to thank MarDee for all the work she did on behalf of the Schooner Ernestina and her recommendation to the Governor that I become one of the Commissioners to represent New Bedford. I was honored when she asked me to lead the Pledge of Allegiance when President Clinton visited New Bedford. These are just a few examples in how MarDee included Community members in the work she did. Inclusion was very important to her. She has left our community better place than she found it. May her soul rest in Peace and you find Comfort in those treasured memories . Thank you all for sharing her with us.

Jono West

October 14, 2019

As a very bright light dims let plentiful thoughts and memories of Mardee provide her family with the courage and strength to continue to make the important things in life a priority. Mom (Joyce) and Dad (Bruce) were cheerleaders with you on many occasions trying to well by doing good! Thank you for showing so many the way forward and may the peace and solitude be ever present in the days ahead.

James Snow

October 14, 2019

Thank you Mardee for the many ways you gave us all strength and enthusiasm for the fight! And for your love!

Bill Xifaras

October 13, 2019

MarDee, thank you for showing us all, that no matter the obstacles we face in life, nothing is impossible. Your integrity, work ethic, charisma, and brains were admired by everyone who knew you. Above all, your love of family will remain with your children and grandchildren. Until we meet again, may God keep you close.

Lisa Jenney-Duncan

October 12, 2019

MarDee was so kind in helping me through a family issue.

She was very kind and respectful to my mother, Marjorie Jenney,
a colleague from the YWCA.

Such kindness. Deepest sympathies. Lisa Jenney-Duncan

Jovita Fontanez

October 12, 2019

Mardee was mi jefita in the Latino world we called her the boss I will carry her and memories of state and national conventions in my heart she was my rock mil gracias to her familia for sharing Mardee 🙏🐶✅jovita

Marty Lipman

October 12, 2019

For Mardee there was no job too small for her to give her all nor any cause or organization too insignificant for her to give her support. And always there was pizza.

Leo Choquette

October 10, 2019

MarDee, I never got to thank you for all the little things you did for me, all of which added up to an impact on my life in total which has been profound. Because of you, I started my interest in local politics, joined the Democratic Party, have a fully ABA accredited Law school from which I am an Alum, and finally, you helped me find my path in city government. The night before you passed, I held my campaign fundraiser for New Bedford City Councillor at Large, and it was a successful one! Without you, none of this would have happened. You touched so many people and inspired so many more, but I want to thank you now for everything. Please watch over me as I finish out my attempt to win a seat on the New Bedford City Council. I will NEVER forget you. Thank you, MarDee.