Living united, living free
Published 8:49 am Saturday, January 17, 2015
United Way executive director retires after years of memories
The last day of work, as it often is, was a little anti-climatic after the build up.
“It pretty much went as it normally does,” said Anne Bryant, who retired as United Way executive director on Friday, Jan 16. “Everything went just fine.”
But that’s just on the outside, on the inside coping was a little tougher. That day, Bryant attended her last board meeting, along with her successor Trish Edwards.
“We had our last board meeting there at Fred’s, and that went just fine,” she said. “We had a little celebration at the end, celebrating the end of my term. Nobody cried, though it was close.”
Then, Bryant and Edwards returned to the Main Street United Way office to wrap up the final details.
“I gave her the key, and I said, ‘Now I don’t have a key, I’m leaving it in your capable hands,’” Bryant said. “I was gone by 10:30 [a.m.].”
It wasn’t easy to leave, but not long afterward, a different feeling set in.
“Of course, it was bittersweet — there have been a lot of good times there,” she said. “But, now that I have been away from the office for a few hours, it’s kind of freeing knowing I don’t have to be back on Monday.”
The main thing she wants to do in retirement is travel. She and her husband, H.B., love to go out West, but Bryant also wants to visit Tennessee, particularly Graceland, Memphis and Nashville.
But at first with her newfound freedom, Bryant said, she is going to try to “chill” for a few months. Though she admitted that “chilling” would include continuing to volunteer for Book Mouse at S.P. Morton Elementary School, and of course the Sedley Woman’s Club and the Southampton County Historical Society.
She also doesn’t plan to stop living united, either, as Bryant always enjoys United Way’s ‘Pictures with Santa’ event.
“Watching the kids, taking their pictures and hearing what they want, it’s just fun,” she said, adding that in the future she might figure out some new ways to volunteer with United Way or one of its affiliates.
The journey to United Way began almost nine years ago, in the spring of 2006.
After leaving the paper mill in 2000, Bryant had worked various odd jobs and began looking for something that was part time, but was also a little more steady.
“I had heard about it, and it looked like something I would be interested in doing,” she said simply. “I was involved in volunteer efforts in the community, so it seemed like a good fit. And, it was.”
Thankfully, Bryant said, the board had patience with her in the beginning, as she had not had a lot of fundraising experience.
“Before I got the job, I knew how to run a Bingo game and formulate a plan, but I had not run a major fundraising campaign,” she said. “But I did a lot of reading and taking classes over the summer to pick it up.”
And when Bryant really got rolling with it, she fell in love with the job.
“It has really been great,” Bryant said. “I have learned a lot about our community organizations, and it is amazing what they are able to do. It’s also amazing in a not so good way out how much need there is out there.
“But that’s the great thing about this community — it’s very supportive.”
During her time, United Way has grown so that it is not just a fundraising organization, as they also have events, such as ‘Pictures with Santa.’ Bryant has also been heavily involved with Western Tidewater Smart Beginnings.
Through that, they’ve given away hundreds of children’s books at Fall Festival. And then, this past summer, they worked with the area libraries to give away 400-500 books to make sure children continue to read.
“We want our children healthy and ready to face the future,” Bryant said. “I hope this is something that we continue to do.”
During this time, working with the United Way board has been great.
“They have been very supportive, without micromanaging me,” she said. “They’ve just been a pleasure to work with.”
The different agencies she has served have also been great.
“I’ve made good friends at the agencies,” Bryant said. “Getting a chance to meet the folks at the different agencies who genuinely want to help, and knowing that I could help make that happen for them has been a pleasure.
“I am grateful, personally, to the community for all of the support, and for all of the United Way agencies,” she continued. “They really made this job the great opportunity that it has been.”
One of those UW agencies friends is Veronica Ferguson, director of Franklin Cooperative Ministry. When she started eight years ago, she said she was as green as they come.
“I had never applied for a grant in my life,” Ferguson said. “And she has truly been a resource. I could always go to her and say, ‘Anne, I don’t know how to do this,’ and she’d just be a world of encouragement.”
Bryant, of course, said that now Ferguson is the veteran on the block, and many agencies go to her for help.
“And I was always able to do the same when I needed help,” she said.
Ferguson said she was glad that Bryant was able to do this, especially as her friend, though she also mentioned that it’s a sad moment.
“There’s not an English word to describe how working with Anne has been,” she said. “I’m just going to miss her. She was a friend as well as a coworker.
“At least I’ll get to see her for [Southampton County Historical Society’s] Heritage Day.”