Maritza Bretton–Sands, whose Vineyard history spanned the 1960s until the present, died on Sept. 28 of a heart attack while on vacation in Cancun, Mexico. She was 65.

Maritza, who was born on August 10, 1950 in New York city to Maria Valdez and Albert Bretton, was raised by her mother and grandmother. She attended Mother Cabrini High School and Bronx Community College in New York city. Following an instinct to help those in need, Maritza spent her teen years involved in numerous community outreach organizations, including ASPIRA, a Latino community inner-city advocacy group.

Moving to Los Angeles, Calif. in the early 1970s, Maritza began a 40-year career with Air Cal and American Airlines, and continued a life-long love affair with global travel, eventually visiting more than two dozen countries on six continents. During these early years in California, she worked as a customer service representative in Los Angeles and Lake Tahoe and graduated from California State University, Northridge in 1980.

In August 1994, Maritza married Richard Sands, whose family have been Vineyard summer residents since the 1950s. The couple lived in the Los Angeles area with children Iyesha, Christopher, and David for the next 30 years, during which time Maritza continued her inner-city charitable work and global travel. In early 2003 she was diagnosed with a rare blood disorder called TTP (Thrombotic Thrombocytopenic Purpura) and as a result took an early retirement in 2005.

After building their dream home in Oak Bluffs, Maritza and her husband moved permanently to Martha’s Vineyard in 2007. Despite her illness, Maritza continued living life on her terms, involving herself in a number of projects, including volunteering at the Green House in Oak Bluffs and providing care and special services to several Island seniors and disabled residents.

Maritza spent her final days doing the two things she most loved. Having arrived at a favorite resort in Cancun, she and friends had delivered several suitcases of clothing and supplies to the children of an impoverished Mayan village. Later that weekend, she suffered a heart attack and died in a Cancun hospital, surrounded by the friends with whom she had traveled. She is survived by her husband Richard, daughter Iyesha, sons Christopher and David, grandchildren Jalen, Jaden, Sanaa, Irulan, Celeste, Bryce, and Jaxon, other family members, and many loving friends around the world.

Memorial services will be held next winter in California and next spring on the Vineyard.