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A Life: Anne Marsden Garrigue, 1930 — 2020; ‘A model of civic engagement’

  • Anne Garrigue, second from left, was content to blend into the background after bringing together a group of friends to listen to and play music with Uilleann piper Ruairi Somers, of County Meath, Ireland, center, at her Norwich, Vt., home on August 21, 2019. Garrigue met Somers when she heard him busking outside Rockefeller Center in New York City and struck up a friendship that lasted 40 years. Clockwise from left are Hilary Coons and Bruce Potter, of Bradford, Garrigue, Somers, Ted Levin, of Norwich, and Anthony Santoro, of Lebanon. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Anne Garrigue at left with her sister-in-law Sheila Garrigue and Sheila's daughter Elizabeth in a circa 1966 visit to New York City. (Family photograph)

  • Anne Garrigue in a circa 1949 photograph as a freshman at Vassar College. (Family photograph)

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 8/2/2020 9:05:31 PM
Modified: 8/2/2020 9:05:30 PM

NORWICH — If an interesting event appeared on a public calendar in the Upper Valley, chances are Anne Garrigue went to check it out.

After decades living in New York City, Garrigue moved to Norwich in her 60s and set about understanding her new home with a will, much as she had treated the Big Apple. She attended Norwich government meetings, went to movies at the Hopkins Center, attended concerts and readings, browsed farmers markets, studied the newspaper in minute detail and when she had questions about something would pick up the phone and call whoever she thought might have the answers.

“Anne would call me about issues and would ask about how I would recommend voting,” said Liz Blum, who served on the Norwich Selectboard and is active in progressive politics. She would ask about all manner of votes, even for the board of the Hanover Consumer Cooperative Society.

“She will really be missed in this town, because she was a model of civic engagement,” Blum said.

Garrigue’s excavation of Norwich and its environs stemmed from a couple of lifelong character traits: She was both intensely curious and persistent. She followed her interests, took notes on index cards and made files. And while this behavior seems singular, she sought people out, made many friends and was an excellent cook who often brought people together, introducing them before serving them dinner.

After suffering a broken hip, her second, late last year, Garrigue went through a period of declining health. She died on April 17, a few months after turning 90.

“She got out a lot,” said Lis Flannery, one of her Norwich neighbors. “She told me that she didn’t want to live any longer if she couldn’t get out anymore.”

Born in 1930, Garrigue grew up in Hyde Park, N.Y., in the Hudson River Valley, where her parents, Paul Garrigue and Katharine Reynolds Cooke Greeff, operated a school for young children of wealthy families, the Hill and Hollow Farm School.

The school started by accident, said Paul Garrigue Jr., Anne’s brother. Friends living nearby were heading to Europe for two months and Anne’s parents agreed to take care of their twin boys. Many of the children who attended had famous parents, including columnist Walter Winchell, Elliott Roosevelt, son of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and actress Helen Hayes.

“It’s pretty young to send children away,” said Paul Garrigue Jr.

Garrigue grew up riding ponies, and the farm school had dogs and other animals, which she enjoyed. She was sent to boarding school herself in Dobbs Ferry, N.Y., where she made friends who later led her to move to the Upper Valley.

She attended Vassar College, not far from Hyde Park, for a couple of years. Her parents were divorced in the early 1950s and her father died in 1959. Her relationship with her father was strained.

“They didn’t get along terribly well, our father and Anne, for whatever reason,” her brother said.

Garrigue lived in Manhattan for most of her life. She worked at Columbia University, where she finished her bachelor’s degree, and for the city’s Parks Department during the administration of Mayor John Lindsay.

She also lived and worked in Paris, where Columbia has long operated Reid Hall, a classroom building for students from American colleges and universities. From this experience and the French origins of her surname came a long affinity for all things French.

A famous family story: Her brother’s first wife was English. In New York, she applied for a job as secretary to Edward R. Murrow, the famous broadcast journalist. Her country of origin gave her the inside track for the job, as Murrow was a huge Anglophile.

At a party, her brother said, participants witnessed a spirited argument between the tall Murrow and a diminutive young woman, Garrigue, over which city was greater, London or Paris. “I don’t think anyone won that argument,” Paul Garrigue said.

Living in Manhattan, Garrigue often treated the city as her oyster, traveling around to places she’d read about.

“She just loved discovering new things and new places,” her niece, Elizabeth Garrigue, said.

Garrigue often hosted her niece in New York and took her places she wanted to go. “I was sort of a shy person and she was not at all,” Elizabeth said. Garrigue took her to the New York Doll Hospital, where families would bring dolls and stuffed animals for surgery. Or Garrigue would arrange backstage tours, at the Metropolitan Opera or at the circus.

Even into her 60s, Garrigue bicycled around New York. She cared for her mother, who died in 1993. Then Garrigue surprised everyone by moving to the Upper Valley, first to an apartment in Hanover, then to a house in Norwich.

Her friends thought she’d be a New Yorker for life, but two friends who she’d gone to school with lived in the Upper Valley and she moved to join them. Once settled, she became known here for everything she had been known for in New York, her curiosity and energy, her cooking and her plainspokenness.

“She would never couch anything,” Flannery said. “Any way she felt, it was right out there.”

Her blunt statements sometimes had a Yogi Berra-like quality, but they could sometimes get her into trouble with people who didn’t know her well. Flannery once was dressed up when she ran into Garrigue at Dan and Whit’s. “‘You look so nice, I didn’t recognize you,’” Garrigue said.

“From her point of view,” Elizabeth Garrigue said, “she wanted people to be honest with her.”

She could be equally blunt in assessing her own cooking, no matter how wonderful others felt it was. She would test multiple recipes for dishes until she found the one she liked best, and she tried them out on guests. “Several of us would enjoy partaking of the meal and she would say, ‘Oh, not enough salt,’ ” Elizabeth Garrigue said.

Or she’d bring a dish over to Flannery’s house for her to try and proffer it by saying, “Let me know what you think of this; I didn’t like it.” And she would expect feedback, Flannery said. If she didn’t call Garrigue back, Garrigue would call to ask.

Garrigue was a conversationalist, and didn’t have much use for small children, but once Flannery’s daughter, Alice Garner, could talk, she and Garrigue became close friends.

In her quest for information, Garrigue sometimes would phone the Valley News to ask about something she’d read.

Sometimes long conversations would ensue about the issues of the day, or about how the features editor’s son — whose name she always remembered — was doing in school. Her devotion to finding out what was going on ran very deep.

A final example, from late in her long, curious life: The minutes for the Aug. 14, 2019, meeting of the board of CATV, the White River Junction-based community access television nonprofit, list only one member of the public in attendance: Anne Garrigue.

Alex Hanson can be reached at ahanson@vnews.com or 603-727-3207.

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