On the 2nd of June 2022, Anna Elizabeth MacWilliams Neville died after 98 years of a life well lived. She was at the home she grew up in, with her daughter, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and other family members- all spending time together, just how she wanted it.
Born in St. Albans, Vermont on July 22,1924, she was the first child of Pearl Ann (Grant) MacWilliams and Ralph Caldwell MacWilliams. Anna graduated from BFA St. Albans, Middlebury College, and Columbia University Teachers College. She served in the US Navy during WWII as one of the WAVES, and even after leaving the Navy she retained much of the sailor’s vocabulary she had acquired and applied it in conversation as circumstances warranted.
As a social worker and later as district director for SRS (now DCF), she oversaw the busiest office in the state. From her earliest days in the department, Anna was clear that the needs of the child came first- bureaucratic rules were always second to the welfare of her “kids”. She was ahead of her time in her role, seeing the value in every individual no matter their background. Anna maintained an encyclopedic knowledge of her foster kids and their family connections, believing that they deserved to know their history and the truth of their own stories. Her best and most interesting work was her kids, and she was proud of all they achieved.
In a time when many others were reluctant to question authority or to confront medical providers, she took it upon herself to educate physicians about what they needed to know and to stubbornly advocate for her kids. Upon her retirement, a special room at the Franklin County District courthouse was designated the Anna Neville Children’s room- a safe place for children and families waiting in the courthouse.
She was a co-founder of Franklin-Grand Isle Mental Health (now NCSS), and she was dedicated to the community, serving on many boards including Franklin County Home Health, whose caring staff provided her with support in her last days.
After finishing at SRS, Anna served as the Director of the St. Albans Museum and worked hard to build the volunteer base. She always said that the success of the museum was in the volunteers.
Starting just after WWII, Anna began to participate in cultural exchange programs that brought the world to Franklin County and Franklin County to the world. From Dutch and Norwegian farmers who came to learn from her father, to her husband’s international business associates, to her second career as an exchange student coordinator, Anna loved cultivating relationships with interesting people from all around the world.
Anna was a passionate gardener, with a knowledge of plants that was comprehensive and inclusive – there were very few plants that she didn’t like and thought almost all of them deserved a chance to grow. A dedicated believer in the value of preserving Vermont’s natural landscape for future generations to enjoy, she donated 35 acres of land along the Mill River and the shores of Lake Champlain to the Vermont Land Trust.
Anna was an inimitable figure who leaves an indelible mark on Franklin County and beyond. She will be remembered for her fierce and generous spirit, her stubbornness, and her mischievous sense of humor. Anna loved the long light of the late afternoon, a well tilled garden, a good cup of tea, and a job to do. We loved her and will miss her always.
Anna was predeceased by her mother, her father, her husband, David Neville, and her beloved sister, Margaret Kline. She is survived by Jennifer Bright, Bryant Reynolds, Caroline Winanna Bright (Joel), William Bright (Dominique), Ian Bright, Elizabeth Winanna Bright, Tobias Bright, Betsy Dorminey (Blair), Kathy Eakins, Rowan, Richard Cowperthwait, Robin McManus, the Pierces, Hannah Taylor, and hundreds more of her “kids”. Whether they became hers through chance, choice, or biology, they remain her best legacy and greatest achievement.
Instead of a traditional funeral, the family invites those who wish to remember Anna to join them for cookies, tea, and remembrances at a garden reception memorial hosted by Anna’s daughter and family at The Old Mill River Place (6206 Georgia Shore Road, St. Albans 05478) on Saturday, June 11, from 2pm – 5pm. Attendees are invited to bring their favorite cookies, flowers from their garden, or their favorite memories of Anna to share.
The family asks that contributions in Anna’s honor be sent to Anna’s Kids, Inc., a non-profit established to honor Anna’s legacy by providing support to Franklin County foster children and youth. Checks can be mailed to Anna’s Kids at PO Box 862, St. Albans VT 05478, and donations can be made online by visiting www.annaskids.org.