Obituary: Rev. Ann Elizabeth Geer, 1938-2022 | Obituaries | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice

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Obituary: Rev. Ann Elizabeth Geer, 1938-2022 

Minister, scientist, artist and matriarch had an activist and adventurous heart

Published June 13, 2022 at 6:11 a.m. | Updated June 13, 2022 at 2:43 p.m.

click to enlarge Ann Geer - COURTESY
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Rev. Ann Elizabeth Geer, 83, minister, scientist, artist and beloved matriarch, died peacefully following a short illness at home in Burlington, Vt., on June 1, 2022. She was a fascinating woman with an activist and adventurous heart; she thought she could do anything, and she was right. She was born in New Orleans, La., on December 16, 1938, daughter of Frederick Hannon and Lois Eddy (Johnson) Hannon, and later adopted by her stepfather, William Wallace Blake-Haskins. She lived her early life in the West Indies, first in Cuba and then in the Dominican Republic, where her father trained racehorses on the presidential palace grounds. Her first language was Spanish.

Following political upheaval, the family moved to Hialeah, Fla., and then relocated to Lincroft, N.J., where they shared their land with jockeys and trainers in a home surrounded by a mile-and-a-half horse-racing track. Following the death of her father, when Ann was 13, her mother, an emergency room nurse and supervisor, moved Ann and her two brothers, Fred Jr. and John “Jake” to Little Silver, N.J. There Lois met and married William Wallace Blake-Haskins, who adopted both Ann and Jake. Ann attended Mary Help of Christians Convent School until her senior year, when — caught reading books on science under the covers and threatened with punishment — her stepfather, a longtime educator, "liberated" her from the school. For the last half of her senior year, she attended Freehold Regional High School, where she was recognized as a National Merit Scholar upon graduation. Through most of her childhood she studied ballet, which contributed to her lifelong elegance.  

Following high school, Ann studied nursing at Monmouth College while working as a proofreader for the Asbury Press at night. It was during this time Ann learned to fly biplanes, taught by an instructor who tried to dissuade her by flying under a bridge and making repeated engine stalls. Undeterred, she continued until she was flying solo. Ann also bought a baby blue MG, which she sometimes raced on weekends with a group of friends. She did many repairs on the little race car on her own, as few mechanics in the area knew about foreign cars. After nursing school, wanting to go into medicine, she attended Rutgers and lived with a Hungarian family who told her “We will not feed you” and then, of course, fed her every meal. At Rutgers, while studying science, she became fascinated with animal behavior, particularly interested in "The Dance of the Bees," swallows, monkeys and bats and how their behavior was affected by the sun and poles. Her interest in animal behavior, which included living with her own spider monkey named Samantha, brought her to Princeton, where she met Klaus Hoffman, a visiting professor from the Max Planck Institute in Hamburg, Germany. They developed a personal and professional relationship, primarily learning about nocturnal and navigation behavior and its connection with the pineal gland. Once, they brought thousands of bats to the top of a clock tower in Princeton, releasing them in a thunderstorm to study their behavior. Local newspapers wrote about the curious numbers of bats flying around town that night. Visitors to her home would often find bats hibernating in her freezer. Following Ann's graduation from Rutgers with a bachelor of science, she and Hans traveled the United States — often in her MG — studying and embracing botany, biology and marine life before moving to Hamburg, Germany, where Ann partnered with Hans on research. 

Ann returned to America in 1964 and moved to "the Village" in New York City, hanging out with “famous” beatniks and beginning her long history of political activism. She began working as a teaching assistant at Columbia Presbyterian Academic Hospital, working in cardiology and discovering that she had an affinity for micro cardiac surgery. In 1967 she met Robert G. Mead when they were both working in pharmaceuticals. They married and moved to Yonkers, N.Y., with their son, William Wallace Mead, born 1967. In 1970, their daughter, Elizabeth Ann Mead, was born. A student of famous silhouette artist Carew Rice, Ann started cutting beautiful and intricate silhouettes, showing her work around New England to high acclaim. In 1972 the family moved to Arlington, Vt., where Robert began his long career at Mount Anthony High School as a teacher and track coach. They divorced but remained in close contact, sharing in the upbringing of their beloved children.

In 1975 Ann married Rev. John Geer, the pastor of a Methodist church. Feeling the call of the ministry herself, Ann obtained her master of divinity and in 1978 was ordained as a Faith United Methodist minister after studying at Wesley Theological Seminary. Their marriage and ministry brought them to the Berkshire hill towns of Charlemont, Heath and Rowe, where she won over the rugged and heartfelt hill-town folks when she changed one of the parishioner’s tires in a blizzard. Ann and John’s ministry then took them to Chicopee, Mass., where they continued their "Deaf Church of Love" for deaf and hearing-impaired persons of all faiths. This work eventually led to the creation of a deaf AA group and a deaf-signing choir, with Ann as the "choir director" kneeling in front and signing backwards. In Chicopee, her ecumenical work expanded beyond her brilliant Sunday sermons to include working on the Peace and Justice Commission of the Springfield Diocese and with members of the Black community to reorganize the NAACP — where she served on the executive and fair housing committees. This led to her work with Nueva Esperanza, where she led public forums and eventually cocreated an ecumenical group to establish wake services and advocacy on behalf of Holyoke's "dead poor," especially members of the Puerto Rican community who some funeral directors refused to serve. Other activism included grassroots advocacy for citywide support for an arms freeze; presenting public testimony; and work to improve dialogue between Yankee Atomic employees and local activists. In her free time, she and John traveled — always to the water — with their family or dear friends, Bob and Cindy Gagne. In their travels, if there were a ferry even remotely nearby, that was the route she’d take.

At the height of her career Ann was hired as executive director of the Greater Springfield Council of Churches. There, her fearless activism and zeal combined to make her a leader on anti-racism, AIDS activism and work to keep predatory casinos out of western Massachusetts — along with bringing together leaders of all faiths to understand their collective mission. Her work also included interfaith trips to Israel to work with Palestinian and Jewish ecumenical leaders. Notably, in 1996 after over 100 Black churches were burned in the South, Ann led a delegation of churches and volunteers to rebuild churches and increase public awareness. Similarly, when she learned that AIDs patients — dear friends of hers — were being denied burials, she organized a private coalition of faith leaders and volunteers to bring dignity to their final days and burials. In response to concerns about gambling, Ann cocreated and was the president of the National Coalition Against Gambling Expansion, a national political action organization across all 50 states concerned about the addictive effects and the dependence of governments on revenues from gambling. This work brought her national attention, and sometimes backlash. It also brought her awards for speaking up, notably from a chiropractic association who heralded her "strong backbone." She was recognized as "Woman of the Year" and was one of the first female Rotarians in 1999.

Following a car accident and subsequent failed back surgeries, Ann retired from the Council of Churches and moved to Burlington, Vt., to be closer to her daughter's family. There, she and her husband, John, who passed away in 2004, lived in a little blue bungalow overlooking Lake Champlain. Her 20 years of retirement were highlighted by travel, wonderful dinners, laughter, gardening and obsessive attention to politics. Ann was a stalwart Democrat with progressive leanings. She was a wonderful cook and loved all kinds of food — especially from the West Indies. She was curious about everything and could talk on any topic with intelligence and enthusiasm. Ann enjoyed social media and her “Lake Log” of stunning Lake Champlain sunsets, sailboats (which she called “moths”), perpetual flower arrangements and beautiful perennial gardens were appreciated by all. A proud night person driven by insatiable curiosity, she was delighted to live in the time when smartphones were created — she could look up anything she wanted to know! (Although, most electronics and computers acted strangely in her presence).

“Mor Mor,” as she was known to her grandchildren, loved being a grandmother to Justin Royal, Louis David, William Robert, Alexandra Roseann, Winslow John and Blake Hayden-Ann. They were the light of her life; she scrupulously followed everything they did, making sure she never missed an opportunity to celebrate them on holidays or birthdays and creating special memories in the annual “cousins’ week.” Her vacation planning was legendary; she always found unique adventures, locations and experiences. Later in life, she welcomed the emergence of a bonus relational family: the Kibbels (Bill, Dianna, William and Julie) of Pennsylvania. She considered every person she met a lifelong friend. She made everyone feel like she was proud of them — and she was. Of all her brilliant and varied skills, being a loving, fun, energetic and supportive mom to Billie and Beth was perhaps her greatest achievement. Her children still feel her unconditional, fearless love.

Ann was not afraid of death. In the past year, she often said, "I can't believe I made it this far!" When she learned that she had advanced cancer just a short time ago, she was firm that she did not want aggressive treatment. She was curious about what the next “adventure” would bring and was only sorry that she wouldn't be able to share what happens when we die, because she loved to tell a good story.

Additionally, Ann leaves her brothers and their spouses, Fred Sr. and Bette-Jo, and Jake and Nanse; their children, Fred Jr., Emily and Andy; their spouses and children; Ann’s husband John’s children; Richard, Priscilla and Tom and their spouses and children; extended family members; Ingrid and Vanessa Fox; Jessica Dean; many dear friendships; and social media connections she cultivated and nurtured with her “cheering on” of their lives.

A memorial service and celebration of life will be announced to friends and family in the coming weeks. In lieu of flowers, please consider a donation in her name to any of the activist causes dear to Ann's heart. And, in her honor, speak up for injustice, take the long way, plan an adventure, reach out and make friends with every person you meet, love unconditionally, and always, always stop to watch the sunset.

Arrangements are in care of the Cremation Society of Chittenden County. To send online condolences to her family, please visit cremationsocietycc.com.

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