Terry Brannigan’s mother Ann died peacefully this week, surrounded by loved ones. She lived in Westport with her husband Robert for nearly 60 years. Terry writes:
Many people kn0w Ann as a mother of 3 and grandmother to 9 Westporters, or for her selfless contributions to the town.
Few know the story of Ann’s wonderful career in dance, musical theater and television. In an era of reality TV fame and extreme divas, her modesty is rare.
She was born in Pittsburgh during the Depression. It was devastating to everyone and every city, but none suffered more than a single mother in a steel town. Times were hard, but Ann was gifted. At 15 she graduated from high school and moved to New York City, along with her mother and grandmother, to pursue an extraordinary career in dance, theater and the newly emerging media called television.
For more than 15 years Ann did not miss a day of work on Broadway. Her credits include Annie Get Your Gun, Brigadoon, High Button Shoes and countless others — including an early stint as a Rockette.
Along the way she fell in love with a handsome stagehand named Bobby Brannigan, while working together on the Broadway production of Two on the Aisle. He was a World War II submariner who left Pittsburgh at 17, and came from a long line of stagehands. Ann and Bob were married at Mahachy’s Actor’s Chapel, between the matinee and evening performances of the shows they were working on.
In the 1950s, Westport was famous for its arts community, culture and proximity to New York. Eager to start a family but not ready to slow down, the time was right for the young couple to move here.
Another connection to the theatre led Ann to her beloved Old Mill cottage. Working together on a show, Ann, Robert, Darren McGavin and another cast member all discovered the peaceful cove, and bought their houses at the same time. Ann described Westport — and Old Mill Cove in particular — as “heaven.”
Bob commuted to New York to work backstage, and Ann performed for years. Bob’s career included senior roles at Lincoln Center and City Center. Ann transitioned to television, and for many years was part of the regular casts of pioneering shows like “Your Show of Shows,” “Jimmy Durante” and “Danny Thomas.” She finally retired from the stage to raise her 3 children, then cherished her role as grandmother.
Ann turned her focus to her husband, children, grandchildren and community. She never missed a game, performance or chance to be part of her family’s activities. Ann took great pleasure in helping choreograph school performances from Hillspoint Elementary through Staples. But in her unassuming fashion she shunned any reference to her contribution.
What was most striking about Ann’s accomplishments is that she never spoke of them — even when asked. For example, one day she was appalled by the poor health of Kenny Montgomery, owner of the Old Mill Market (now Elvira’s). The former ballerina tended to his medical needs, and volunteered behind the counter until he died.
The performing arts did not pay what it does today. To help put her children through school, Ann worked for years in administrative roles. She served others who had absolutely no idea of the stages she had danced on, or the talent she collaborated with. She was never one to brag.
Westport is full of treasures, some more conspicuous than others. In a town rightfully proud of the famous people who live here or pass through, I am sure many will read this post and say, “Ann Brannigan, from Loretta Court? Ann, who always talked about her grandkids? Wow! Who knew?”
Maybe that says it all.
A memorial service for Ann Brannigan will be held this Saturday (October 4, 10 a.m.) at Assumption Church on Riverside Avenue. A reception will follow.