Remembering Ann Casson

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[From the Church Hill Newsletter; June, 2006]

Ann and Mort Casson while on a trip to Costa Rica (photo courtesy of Gayle and Jerry Casson).

When there is an alley rally coming up, I always think of Ann Casson. She rarely missed one. Ann was born in Greenwich Village, New York City and grew up in the Westchester river town of Crotan-on-Hudson. Her father was an early producer-director of radio theatre and was also associated with the Provincetown Players in the first quarter of the twentieth century. He worked with well known theatre people of the era including Eugene O’Neill. Ann’s father died when she was very young of a bacteriological infection commonly cured today by antibiotics. Ann and her mother stayed on Crotan living the progressive community life that characterized its pre-war years.

In the 1970’s, she and her husband, Mort, moved to Richmond from King of Prussia, Pennsylvania where Mort had built a career in the addiction sciences. Mort was the first Assistance Commissioner for Substance Abuse in Virginia and helped build a statewide public sector treatment network working with the STATE Departments of Mental Health and Health. Ann, who did her undergraduate work at Smith, finished her training with an MSW from Bryn Mawr. She worked for the Office on Aging and later the State Department of Social Services. They lived for years in what’s now the near West End a mile or so from the Village Shopping Center where they raised their son Gerry. There they experienced the cordial disconnectedness that characterizes so many of America’s neighborhoods.

After Gerry graduated from the University of Virginia and pursued a career in atmospheric science in Seattle they began to look around for a neighborhood more to their liking—one where people know one another and cultivate a sense of community. They came to see Church Hill as possessing these qualities and began looking for a house. They found a house on Libby Terrace that was coming on the market. They had the house inspected and made an offer. A year later the offer was accepted and they moved to Church Hill overlooking the river.

But, getting back to the Alley Rally, Ann played a quiet and valuable role in the bi-annual cleanups. While most of us were riding on the garbage truck and watching the driver crush discarded sleep sofas or snap six inch beams with the truck’s hydraulic powered blade, Ann followed along behind picking up the little pieces of trash the rest of us missed--bottles, fast food containers and other litter.

I remember a particular year when we came across an especially messy area late in the morning. We had run out tree clippings, old wood, wet bookcases, broken tables, and overstuffed recliners to smash and compact and many of us were tired. The suggestion was made that this messy area was not easily seen, that we’d done enough and it was time to quit. As if not hearing the suggestion, Ann began picking up the trash and without a word the rest of us joined in and picked the area clean.

In 1999 Ann suffered a stroke and was eventually confined to a wheelchair. She stayed at home with Mort where she could enjoy their view of the river and walks through the neighborhood. Ann died in 2002 and Church Hill lost a friend. This year, in memory of Ann, an oak leaf hydrangea was planted in the northwest corner of Reed Square.

Submitted by Tom Sanders

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