Ann Sparrow Williams died on August 27, 2018, in Morristown, Vermont, having lived an “unremarkable but delightful life,” according to an entry in one of her journals. She was 89.
Some might take issue with her dismissive descriptor, noting her successful efforts aimed at helping preserve the Vermont State House as well as her athletic prowess on the tennis court and deft touch with a watercolor paintbrush. As elegant as she was self-effacing, Ann opted for the diminutive role in social circles to her husband of 54 years, H. Sewall Williams, who predeceased her by 13 years. When a stroke debilitated Sewall at age 76, Ann assumed the mantle of matriarch as well as Sewall’s primary care provider until his death at age 80.
Ann was born in New Bedford, Massachusetts, in 1929, a child of the Great Depression. Her father, Alfred Kendrick Sparrow, was a direct descendant of Governor William Bradford. The Sparrow family migrated to this country in 1590 from Ipswich, England, and settled in Plymouth, Massachusetts. Her father, a graduate of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, was raised in Mattapoisett, Massachusetts. True to her roots, Ann was a lifelong Anglophile, relishing and reveling in all things English. Her mother, born Marjorie Pigman, grew up in Savannah, Georgia, attended Wheelock College in Boston, and opened a preschool. Ann attended the Dwight School for Girls in Englewood, New Jersey, where she was raised and, later, Lasell Junior College in Auburndale, Massachusetts, where she studied art, a passion she would revisit later in life. After college, she worked in Manhattan as a medical assistant at an outpatient clinic of then-Presbyterian Hospital.
She met Sewall in 1950 on a ski trip to the Mad River Valley in Vermont, where he owned and ran Ulla Lodge after serving in the 10th Mountain Division’s ski troops during WWII. The first time she laid eyes – and ears – on him, he was crooning jazz standards in the lodge’s living room as she was checking in for the weekend.
She remembered thinking, “This is fun.” A year later, Sewall pulled over on New York City's West Side Drive and proposed. Ann was “stunned” but said, “Yes." Meeting her parents to ask their permission for Ann’s hand in marriage, Sewall walked through their door and said, “Hi Mom and Dad.” Things like that always took me by surprise,” she said. “I wasn’t used to somebody who was so outspoken."
She and Sewall lived an idyllic life, traveling often around New England to seaside or lakeside resorts and soaking up the natural peace and beauty of nature on their annual pilgrimages to Maine for kayaking on Rangeley Lake in Oquossoc and sailing in Small Point at Sewall’s family summer home.
“It’s a gorgeous Maine morning with beautiful clouds and all the familiar landmarks in the harbor are still there. A great sense of peace,” she penned in her journal one summer day in 1993. Ann, Sewall and their three children moved in 1961 to Rome, Italy, where she learned to speak the native language and he studied sculpture. They returned a year later to settle in a house they had built in 1959 at the base of Mount Ellen in the Mad River Valley – less than a mile from Ulla Lodge – a mountain that would soon become Glen Ellen ski area and, later, purchased by Sugarbush Resort.
There, they raised two boys and two girls along with ponies, horses, chickens, ducks and more than a few cats and dogs at Windy Meadows, a ranch house and barn on 17 acres of pastures, meadows, birch stands and a brook running through it.
After having volunteered for various groups, Ann was recruited in the 1990s to work as an assistant to the board of the Friends of the Vermont State House, a nonprofit organization founded in 1980 devoted to the restoration and conservation of the building along with its collection of art, furniture and artifacts.
In 1992, when American Flatbread launched its flagship restaurant at Lareau Farm in Waitsfield, Vermont, Ann’s daughter, Camilla Williams Behn, enlisted her mother's help. Ann's signature “grandmother’s brownies,” which she baked in panfuls on weekends, became a staple at the restaurant.
Ann had a competitive side that she hid well, except on the tennis court. In the 1980s, she rose through the ranks at the local tennis club in the Mad River Valley to be crowned women’s singles champion. Having developed later in life a great curiosity about other cultures and an eagerness to learn about the world, Ann read about the places she couldn’t go and traveled to the places she could.
The daughter of an engineer and a southern gentlewoman, Ann was a woman of manners with an appreciation for etiquette; she had little tolerance for the rude, crude and crass of the world. Friends often would describe Ann as a “lady” who was “kind and gentle” and a confidant to many. Some family and friends had confided to Ann’s children that she served as the surrogate mother in whom they would seek comfort during rough patches and other times of need.
She is predeceased by her parents, her husband and her brother, Frank Sparrow. She leaves a sister, Sarah Sparrow Horton; four children, Mark Williams of Westport Island, Maine, Kaiulani Wharton of Putney, Vermont, Christopher Williams of Portland, Maine, and Camilla Behn of Warren, Vermont; as well as six grandchildren; four great-grandchildren; and many nieces and nephews.
Services will be held on a date and time to be announced. For those who wish, memorial gifts would be appreciated to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital (www.stjude.org) or to the ASPCA (www.aspca.org). Assisting the family is the Perkins-Parker Funeral Home and Cremation Service in Waterbury VT. To send online condolences visit www.perkinsparker.com.