Listening and Helping
On Ann Brady’s desk was a backpack confiscated from a troubled fifth-grader, and in that backpack was a loaded gun he’d stolen from a neighbor’s truck. It was only her second day at her first job in school administration as the principal of an elementary school in Colorado’s Front Range. “This was 1975, before any of those school shootings, or anything like that,” says Brady.
She couldn’t reach his parents and the boy knew he was in trouble. He bolted for the door, but Brady swept him up in her long, strong arms. She held him in a bear hug. “He was so scared, and I was scared for him. I thought: ‘We need to care for this boy.’”
That’s just what she did, turning him over to juvenile services so he could receive counseling and help. Ultimately, everything turned out okay. And for Brady, it was just the first example of what would be a lifetime of swooping in and resolving situations. Brady would use this same combination of strength and a soft touch as she embraced several institutions, turning around a financially strapped Telluride school district and an acrimonious Telluride Town Council, among other entities. Her helping hands are everywhere—she also serves on boards for Wilkinson Public Library, Chamber Music Festival and Palm Arts, and on several committees. She even gets sent out by the Committee on Ministry for the Presbytery to work with other congregations in the region that have challenges or issues. But she is modest about her efforts. “I don’t solve the problem, I help others see the solutions. I am a facilitator. Helping people recognize their skills in solving the issues, that’s what I do,” she says. “I guess it’s in my genes.”
Athletics are also in her genes, and the outdoor sports in Colorado probably helped lure her here to study, even though she had already been accepted at Cornell University. She flourished in such an active, fit environment and stayed at University of Colorado in Boulder to earn her master’s degree and her doctorate in education. Brady also stayed outdoors—when she is not on skis or her road bike, she is walking all over town. She is statuesque, beautiful and has a healthy tan, which offsets her twinkling blue eyes, and she is in incredible shape for a woman of any age. “A PhD is just persistence,” she shrugs. “I finally caught on in college. I wasn’t a good student…I was a good athlete. I realize now that I probably had a deficiency of some kind, with processing. I trained myself to be good at that.”
As a teacher, she could empathize with children who had obvious abilities yet struggled in school; she surmises that might have ignited her interest in education. As a superintendent, she was able to overhaul the school system in Telluride, and the award-winning district we have today is her legacy. When she started, the students here were not performing well and the schools were struggling economically. She hired budget whiz Dawn Ibis to get the finances in order and she tackled the education issues herself. “We always had great kids and great teachers, but the system wasn’t well-established. The curriculum didn’t flow from grade to grade and the big picture wasn’t as clear as it could have been.”
Brady retired after the death of her first husband but went on to a second distinguished career as a civil servant. Almost all of her work, though, is behind the scenes, which suits her humble, genteel nature. Running for town council was different; suddenly she was not backstage, but in the public eye. So, even though she knew she could help, she was uncomfortable with the attention of being a candidate. “I returned all my donations before election day and quietly gave up the contest. Much to my surprise, I narrowly slipped in a victory. I have since discovered how much I enjoy the work on the council—how’s that for irony?”