What do you say about a woman who lived 91 years and never let an idle day go by in her life? That woman was Anne Powis. I met her at my previous employment when she was a volunteer and I was wet behind the ears. She never dwelled on her remarkable past because there was so much living to do in the present.
I remember being open-eyed as she related the story when she was a young woman working at a hotel in Vienna, 1938. The Anschluss occurred and overnight swastikas were everywhere. Anne and one other girl were chosen to wear traditional Austrian dress and stand on the hotel balcony when Hitler entered the city. The irony was that she and the girl were the only two Jews working at the hotel but they were the most “Germanic” looking on staff. Anne recalls the open sedan transporting Der Furher down the strasse. Soon thereafter, SS men came to the hotel to inquire if any of the staff had problems with Anne and the other Jewish worker. No one did.
Anne’s father saw the writing on the wall and packed off his family to England and then finally to the United States. Always grateful for what this country did for her family, Anne wanted to give back and that she did.
Two years ago I nominated Anne for Outstanding Federal Volunteer for the Greater Boston Area. She was a finalist. I think she should have won, but obviously, I’m biased. Below is a portion of the nomination letter I wrote (with grateful input from my supervisor) on Anne’s behalf. Anne has so proud of her nomination and made tons of copies of the letter to give to family and friends. Hopefully, it will give you an idea of what sort of person she was:
A natualized citizen from Austria who has lived in the Boston area for decades, Anne has a special affinity for the tourist who’s English is, at best, hesitant. Fluent in English, French, German and Italian, Anne has made these visitors feel at home, providing knowledgable information as only a local can convey. Because of Anne, the visitor leaves […] not only with a map and brochure but they have met a representative of the opportunities America offers to those who build a new life here.
When asked why she has given so freely of her time for so many years, Anne, who with her parents, fled Austria before World War II, replied, “This country saved our lives and I wouldn’t be here today…I feel good that I am repaying in a small measure what the United States did for me and my family.” Arriving as a young woman in her twenties, Anne married, raised a family and lived the American Dream. […]
On the rare occasions that Anne can not come into work, her presence is sorely missed. Working […] without Anne’s assistance is like being stumped on a nationally telecast quiz show without a lifeline.
The last 6-8 months of Anne’s life were difficult. A series of health problems curtailed her mobility and she started to withdraw from her family and friends. The last time I spoke her, Anne cut the conversation short. At the time I didn’t understand why but perhaps Anne was preparing us for what she knew was coming.
On November 30, Anne left us bodily but her spirit and legacy will remain to all she met. At the funeral, Anne left instructions for this poem to be read:
When I come to the end of the road
And the sun has set for me,
I want no rites in a gloom-filled room,
Why cry for a soul set free!
Miss me a little – but not for long
And not with your head bowed low.
Remember the love that we once shared,
Miss me, but let me go.
For this journey that we all must take
And each must go alone;
It’s all a part of the Master’s plan
A step on the road to home.
When you are lonely and sick at heart
Go to the friends we know,
And bury your sorrows in doing good deeds.
Miss me, but let me go.
– Edgar Albert Guest
I will miss you, Anne.