April 12, 2021

Remembrance: Ann Elvgren, a Trusted and Passionate Advocate for Women

A couple of years ago, my friend Anne Elvgren and I sat in an empty Connecticut Convention Center ballroom, unwilling to allow the night to end. An hour earlier, the table had been filled with the heavy-hitting women Anne had long befriended from all corners of Connecticut: a TV anchor turned college professor, a nonprofit leader, at least two lawyers, an accountant. When I arrived, I knew one or two of them. But by the end of the evening, because Anne worked so masterfully the threads that connected people, I knew them all.

But she wasn’t done. As we sat in the darkening room, servers hopscotching around us, Anne spotted a man headed to the exit door from the stage. She waved him over. “Garry,” she called, “I have someone here I want you to meet.” That was another aspect of Anne’s that I loved; she could make you feel like a celebrity when you were pretty sure — well, I was pretty sure — you were a regular Joe. Or Jane, as it were.The man named Garry hurried over to our table.

“Garry,” Anne said, “this is Jane Gordon Julien. For years, she covered Connecticut for The New York Times.” Garry, nice man that he was, smiled an appreciative smile. I knew that smile; he looked awfully familiar.

“Jane,” Anne said, “this is Garry Trudeau.”

My jaw dropped.

She didn’t say, “Of course you know Garry,” because she wasn’t one to assume. She didn’t say, “Do you know Garry?” because on the off chance I didn’t, she’d risk me looking foolish, and Anne’s model manners would not allow that. Instead, she waited a beat, heard me gasp — because what self-respecting journalist doesn’t know the eminent political cartoonist Garry Trudeau? — then started a lively conversation that included all three of us. The chatter allowed me to stop myself from dropping off a cliff of well-meaning but full-throttled fan worship, to regain a shred of dignity, to sound mildly intelligible.

Because that is what Anne Elvgren did: She connected people to one another, and she worked to stay connected to them all. Once she planted those seeds, she nurtured them, as any good gardener would do.

I use the past tense because Anne died in the days before Easter, unexpectedly for all of us, and from the looks of it, unexpectedly for her, too. A friend told me she was found in her bed, a slice of chocolate cake and a book beside her, a peaceful expression upon her glorious face. I pray she fell asleep and the angels escorted her into the heavens, into a garden where great books, moist, velvety cake and healthy plants reigned aplenty.

This is not an obituary. The real obituary already listed some of Anne’s accomplishments: how for 10 years she ran a Farmington-based marketing and management company that bore her name, how she served on a host of Hartford nonprofit boards and commissions, how in 2013 she was named a Remarkable Woman in Business by the Hartford Business Journal.

I met Anne through the Connecticut Women’s Council, a Hartford-based organization of professional women that draws members from throughout the state. I remember our first conversation; she found out I gardened, strolled over to me and said, “I have some extra hostas I can’t fit into my garden. Would you like them?”

A few weeks later, I loaded into my car from hers some of the biggest hostas I’d ever seen. She never checked on their health; what if I’d killed them? She was too kind to ever spark that conversation, but I’d update her anyway, because Anne was the sort of person who would only give a gardener good hostas. Together, those plants grew in my garden to a clump the size of a Volkswagen.

Instead, this is a remembrance. For a friend, but also for a cheerleader and a champion of women. Whenever she could, wherever she could, she brought women together. She encouraged creativity, courage, new pursuits. When I added her to the email distribution list for my blog in January of this year, she wrote me every week to let me know she had read it, what she thought and how her own story figured into what I had written. Here is what Anne wrote on the occasion of International Women’s Day, March 8. I pray she forgives me for sharing it with all of you:

“The first woman who influenced my life was my maternal grandmother, Louise Bohannon, who at the age of 36 lost her husband. They were the parents of five girls, the oldest of which was my mother, Margy, who was 14 at the time; the youngest was 3 years of age. That was in 1942 and they were not an affluent family, living in a small Indiana town. The mayor of the town gave my grandma a job, and while completing her education, my mother assumed significant responsibilities at home and with the younger children. Right after high school graduation, Mom went to work, then married my dad when she was in her early 20s and moved to the Twin Cities. I honor my mom too, but I have always believed that my Grandma Louise had remarkable strength to overcome what she did in her life. Through it all, she remained a kind and generous person. I have always truly believed that her strength and perseverance flowed through to me.”

In May, as the sun warms the soil in my gardens to where the hostas deem it safe to spring forth, I will think of Anne. Of her kindness. Her generosity. Her belief in the power, the intelligence, the promise of women. We need more women like her, women who bring us together, who build us up, who believe in us. She was special in that way, I daresay extraordinary: She made the space around her a safe, and a joyous, place to bloom.

Dear Readers: This week, I share with you a small tribute I wrote that appeared in The Hartford Courant this past Saturday. The writing prompt for this week, then, is this: think of somebody you have lost and write a small memory of that individual. A specific memory, a scene. Share it with me if you’d like. Another thought: there are so many people in our lives who have had an impact on us; today, let them know how much you value them