Former SVdP Development Director Remembers A Friend: Anne Williams.
Anne Williams was a study in contrasts.
Elegant, long tapered fingers held a pen, or a cigarette, or a well-used trowel or a rambunctious dog.
She loved her husband so fiercely and privately, that I will say no more about that topic, except that they married on a Hallowe’en night. She was a witch and he was in a gorilla costume. I think. I never saw a photo.
Anne had refined tastes and I don’t think she ever wore “thrift” as so many of us did. She bought real leather and cashmere and silk, but never talked about it. That wasn’t “done”. She learned etiquette from her maternal grandmother and behaving properly, with grace, was a given. From that same grandmother came delicate, anise flavored sugar cookies. What, licorice cookies?! No, subtly scented and rich with the best European butter, they were simple perfection. She also made tiny little cream puffs with gruyere cheese. Delectable. Her Gravenstein apple pies were an annual event.
Before the poodles, Zoe and Aldo, there was German shepherd Luke and mutt Rocky. Once Luke and Rocky, left at home all day, got into some beer which they pierced and lapped up. Anne came home to very boozy dogs who had also decided to drag pillows through the dog doors and tore them up. I joked that at least they hadn’t made prank phone calls. Anne loved her dogs.
Anne was a fine cook– from cooking at a ski lodge, she could crack two eggs in each hand, simultaneously. Without showing off, just as a matter of fact.
In high school? college? Anne was a champion skier. She said it was the closest she could get to flying. An ectomorph (“spider people” as she described herself and her husband) she talked about being allowed to munch on raisins and nuts throughout class to be able to get enough calories during the day.
Anne had a well-known wordless gesture meaning, “Stop right there. Now.” But she could also open her arms wide for a rare hug. She could. But she didn’t very often.
Anne loved flowers, but she was not sentimental about them. The exquisite blooms from her garden were crammed in any old container and placed without fanfare. When I was rhapsodizing about one bloom whose deep red, almost black heart, looked as if it were a window into the universe and should have been spangled with stars, she accepted the compliment and replied, “I use bat guano.”
Anne had an interesting (to me) lack of spirituality for someone who worked for a Catholic organization. She was an avowed atheist. (That seems like an oxymoron.) But we talked a lot about God. At one dinner party, we got to talking about the afterlife (me) or lack thereof (her) and she was horrified to learn that Mormons can supposedly pray you into heaven against your will and I told her Mormon heaven would be her hell. I told her I would come and find her. The offer still stands, but will have to wait for many years, I hope.
On more than one occasion, I’d catch her looking up at the sky and murmuring something and I would say, “Who ya talking to?” She put up with my teasing with a disdainful look and a raised eyebrow.
One spiritual story is too important not to tell because the main character and Anne are both dead and otherwise, the story would die with me.
Our co-worker and grant writer was gravely ill. We had been told she was on her deathbed so Anne and I went to see her in the hospital. She was in a coma. We stood silently by her bed and I prayed for our friend’s soul.
No one expected our co-worker to live, but surprisingly she recovered and came back to St. Vinnie’s a month later. Too weak to actually come inside, she told us this story through the window of the car.
She described being able to hear the nurses talking about how she was terminal and how the family would need to make a decision soon to take her off life-support. She couldn’t speak, she couldn’t even blink to make them realize she was aware of their words and implications. Hopeless, resigned, she fell asleep. While she was asleep she said she dreamed of a bearded man. “You’re Saint Vincent de Paul!” she exclaimed. “Just call me ‘Vincent’”, he replied. He went on to tell her that she was not going to die, she still had work to do and so she did and lived for several more years, writing grants, helping enact the mission of St. Vincent de Paul.
As the car drove away I looked quite pointedly at Anne. “It’s a good thing we use our powers for good,” she said.
Anne used her powers for good. Her advocacy and skill helped shelter thousands over the years, helped families and veterans and homeless people access services and have healthier, more hopeful lives. She left the world a better and more beautiful place. I hope I’m right and she is in some place of light and love, peace and joy.