Monday, April 25, 2016

Anne Shirk

My friend Anne died yesterday. She was a lady of the old school, proud and upright in the face of illness, generous and kind, and forthright in bearing and opinion.

I met Anne some fifteen years ago. Like many women of her time, she smoked like a chimney back then. She liked to refer to herself as a “tough old broad,” and had a laugh that went from cackle to guffaw.  She smiled a lot.

Anne was the last director of IVS, the International Volunteer Services, an NGO that sent young men and women to developing countries to assist locals in largely agricultural and irrigation projects. IVS was the model for the Peace Corps. Anne was an indefatigable promoter of her organization, which was largely apolitical though there were heated moments among volunteers during the Vietnam War.

Three years ago she decided she wanted to have a book written about the people with whom she had served. She asked me if I’d be interested in writing it and I anticipated a three-month assignment. Dozens of former volunteers sent in their recollections, and I spent more than two years editing these and stitching them together under her tutelage and that of three other former IVSers. I called them The Gang of Four, which she knew from the first and found somewhat accurate and amusing.

The initial plan was for a brief book with some photos, to be self-published and distributed from one of the Gang’s basement. The end result was The Fortunate Few, IVS Volunteers from Asia to the Andes, 370 pages put out by NCNM Press and available on Amazon. It’s a good book that will be around for a while and commemorates the work of people who should not be forgotten.

While the book was being put together, Anne and I would go to lunch once or twice a month. As she became frailer, she would grab my arm and lean on me, fearful of missteps, and carping a bit but never too much about growing physical limitations. She was a student of history who had served overseas with her husband and family, and we exchanged travel stories.. She almost always picked up the check. “I like to help impoverished writers,” she’d say, and I learned in time that she really did mean that.

Up until the very end, she drove her Toyota, sometimes haphazardly, and met the dangerous challenge of backing out of my driveway.  Sometimes I closed my eyes as she did so, persuaded the end was imminent.

Anne was widowed many years ago and lived alone in a large house not far from my home. She was incredibly proud of her children and their accomplishments. She thought her kids were the smartest and most talented in the world and was never embarrassed to say so. The family was center and nexus of her life.

I’ll miss her. She was among the last of a fast-disappearing generation forged by World War II and strengthened by adversity, and she was my friend. Thank you Anne, and rest in peace.


No comments:

Post a Comment