Monday, January 11, 2016

Ann Dearsley-Vernon: Saying Good Bye to a Legend

Ann Vernon
On December 13, 2015, Ann Dearsley-Vernon, a fixture in the local arts community died of a stroke after a night at the symphony.  Due to the holidays and family members living out of the country, her memorial service was postponed until tonight at the Chrysler Museum in Norfolk where she worked for 28 years after being hired by Walter Chrysler himself.   The arts and equality were two constants in Ann's life.  I first met her in the summer of 2006, when I first got involved in Equality Virginia's Legends Gala committee - a committee I served on for a number of years and co-chaired in 2008 (meetings used to be held in my Norfolk law office conference room). Ann was the first Legends honoree and was always an inspiration and a true lady in the most positive sense of the word.   At  the memorial service tonight, at Ann's request, any donations received were to be divided between Equality Virginia, the Chrysler Museum and Hope House, a local charity that aids individuals with disabilities to enable them to live independently to the maximum extent possible. A piece from WVEC-TV 13 looked at Ann's early ground breaking efforts in promoting equality and civil rights.  Here are highlights:

In 1960, when America was embroiled in the Civil Rights movement, Ann and a couple of friends from Greensboro Women's College walked into a Woolworth store in Greensboro, North Carolina up to the lunch counter to eat.  Ann was a graduate student in fine arts.

They noticed African-American students were not being served. Ann and her friends gave up their seats to African-American students.

This incident went down in the history books as helping to launch the sit-in movement -- a series of non-violent protests at other eateries across the South that refused to serve African-Americans. It rejuvenated Civil Rights efforts led by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

"We had no idea it would be so important,"Ann said. "We thought it was the right thing to do."

Ann and her friends were yelled at and were threatened by people who were angry at what they did. Ann says someone even pressed a knife against her back. . . . She and her friends were escorted out of Woolworth by a group of African-American student-athletes from the NC A&T football team, who linked arms to protect them.

Doing what is right can be scary and can put one at risk.  Ann never seemed to show fear and she was as ardent in her support for LGBT equality as she was for civil rights in the 1960's.  I feel blessed to have known her and been counted among her friends.   The husband and I last saw her at a fund raiser event on the first Saturday in December and enjoyed her always charming company.  May I always be as fearless in doing what is right as Ann was daily.

Ann at left in 1960

Sunset at the doors of the Chrysler Museum tonight

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