I don’t want to write this.
Anne Armour, formerly of Spooner, Wis., and longtime and beloved East County Observer columnist, died Feb. 20, 2012. She was 68 years old.
Survivors include her husband, Paul; son Sam, of St. Paul, Minn.; and sister Linda McDonald, of Bradenton.
For more than a decade, Anne wrote her popular column, “Livin’ East and Lovin’ It,” from her perch in the office of Lakewood Ranch’s American Mini Self Storage, the business she and Paul managed.
Legend has it that Anne, in 2000, had approached our former editor and bluntly told him we needed some chitchat in the paper, a more personal touch. We were a good upstart, for sure, but we weren’t complete.
And boy, was she right.
In hindsight, the addition was genius. As the manager for the only storage facility in Lakewood, Anne met nearly every newcomer. She stocked her column with welcome-to-the-neighborhoods, atta boys and birthday wishes. She waxed poetic about her beloved pets — including the wild ones. (Who can forget her sandhill family, parents Tyrone and Bahbee and babies Brewster, Ole and Lena, or her spider friend, Jesus?) And she did it all with a love that permeated every facet of her life.
I never will forget the first time I met Anne. It was shortly after I was hired as a staff writer in September 2000. At that time, Anne did not have access to email, so she’d type her columns and print them. I was charged with picking them up and retyping them into our system.
The day we met, Anne looked me up and down and grilled me with dozens of questions. I thought I already had completed my interview with The Observer, but Anne had her own criteria: She wanted to know whether I was good enough for Lakewood Ranch and the paper.
At that time: probably not. Sure, I came to the paper with that coveted University of Missouri journalism degree and experience working at two daily newspapers. But until I met Anne, I didn’t know community journalism. True community journalism.
Under Anne’s wing, I learned how to report with the passion and care no J-school professor could teach. Later, as Anne’s editor, I learned the delicate process of crafting her columns to adhere to Associated Press style without losing her beautiful voice. And if I ever messed up, boy, I’d hear about it.
Those weekly meetings to pick up Anne’s column grew longer over the years as we became close. We shared family anecdotes, celebrations and heartaches. After just a few years, she started referring to herself as my “Ma,” and she remains the only person I met after moving to Florida to call me “Mikey” — the nickname I carried from birth through college.
Eventually, Anne did get email access, and our weekly meetings were no longer necessary. But, if I let too much time pass without stopping by, she’d pile on the guilt as only a mother can. I’d drive over to the storage place, tail tucked between my legs. Then, after a healthy dose of brow-beating, she’d hug and kiss me, and everything was OK.
On some weeks, along with her column, Anne would send along a little note just for me. “Be a good boy: Santa’s coming, you know,” she wrote at the top of her 2004 Christmas column. In 2008, she signed an email, “Kisses on your head, Ma.”
After Paul and Anne sold their business, Anne had to stop writing. Her last column appeared Feb. 26, 2009. Since then, our visits became less frequent, and as my life grew more hectic with one child and then a second, I did not make enough time to see my beloved Ma. Like with my birth parents, I took for granted she’d always be there.
And for that, I am so, so sorry.
Anne: I never told you any of this, but my life is forever changed because of you. Your dedication to and love for your family and friends is an example we all should follow — and one I will carry on with our children.
They will know all about you.
Last week, I had the privilege of meeting your son and daughter-in-law. Sam told me you wanted a Mardi Gras parade around the funeral home. We couldn’t quite do that, but there was plenty of polka music permeating throughout the building. And there was laughter. And love.
So much love.