Remembering Ann Brannigan

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.

Act 1:

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.

Ann Brannigan

Ann Brannigan

Act 2:

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.

Robert and Ann Brannigan.

Robert and Ann Brannigan.

Act 3:

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.”

Ann Brannigan from Roth Magazine, in 1952.

Ann Brannigan from Roth Magazine, in 1952.

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.

Act 4:

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.

A recent photo of Ann Brannigan.

A recent photo of Ann Brannigan.

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.

15 responses to “Remembering Ann Brannigan

  1. Loretta Santella Hallock

    Beautiful lady.

  2. Sending condolences and warm thoughts to the Brannigan family. Having read this, I am sorry to have never met this interesting and talented lady.

  3. What a beautiful testament offered by a son to his mother. Our condolences to you and your family, Terry. God’s Blessings to you all.

  4. Terry this was lovely and how appropriate to have broken it down into acts to pay tribute to an exciting career many only dreamed about. i knew about Broadway but i didn’t know about the Rockette. I didn’t have the opportunity to know Ann, but I feel like i have, through Kathleen. I know first hand how, and dutifulness, quiet-Westport profile and just solid goodness, has been passed down through her kids. You are so very lucky to have had your mom to hold close all these years and I so very sorry for your loss. One thing I know is the Brannigans are good people.

  5. Terry,
    This was perfect. Aunt Ann lived for her family near and far. I know she is looking down on all of you and us here in Pittsburgh smiling. Love you all!

  6. Beautiful Terry. Thanks so much for sharing. Thinking of you and your family.

  7. Having been friends with both Terry and Kathleen since high school, I came to know Mrs. Brannigan as a kind, warm-hearted and unassuming woman who was unquestionably supportive of her children; but I never knew about her incredible life and many ways she quietly lent a hand. She certainly wasn’t the sort to begin a sentence “Back when I was on Broadway . . . “ or “As a volunteer with the school theatrical productions I can tell you that . . .” I’m sorry to only learn much later what an amazing life she led.

    I am very sorry Mr. Brannigan has lost his caring wife, Terry and Kathleen their supportive and loving mother, and the next generation of Brannigans their sweet grandmother. For Terry and Kathleen, I can say with certainty that your mother will always be with you – and nothing, not even death, separates you from your mother.

  8. What an incredibly beautiful tribute to your mother. I knew something about her “famous” career, and you’re right about her modesty, because I didn’t learn about it from her. Nor did I know just how accomplished she truly was!
    I often ran into her around town and at the Gaelic American Club, and she always took the time to stop and ask about my family and me. In fact I recently saw her at the Gaelic American Club and chatted with her a bit. She was always so kind, and though I didn’t really know her all that well, she always made me feel like we were old friends.
    I’m so sorry to hear about her passing.

  9. Christina (Tina Constantikes) Lawrence

    This is just beautiful Terry… Your Mom was all of this and more. She was an example to us… We learned, laughed and loved with her for many years. She was really funny and even more understanding. Quick and witty! Forever in our hearts, minds and souls, may her memory live on in us, her prodigies: look at how you and the boys play instruments, sing and dance (and at such a young ages)! No stage fright with those Brannigan boys! ! Take comfort in knowing that Your Mom is a big part of you and she will be with you every “soft-shoe” step of the way. TJ, Eamon and Seamus and I’m sure their kids someday, included…. Please give your Kathleen and your Dad a big hug for me.

  10. Hi Terry

    Thanks for sharing this beautiful tribute too your mom.

    Parents always appear bigger than big to their young kids. But recounting the stories of parents’ lives, struggles, love of family and accomplishments make them even larger than life to all of us grownups!

    May the memories of your mom always be a blessing to you and the family.

  11. I didn’t know Ann, but I wish I did. Terry’s tribute says everythig about a son’s love for his mother.

  12. Thank you so much for writing this Dan!

  13. A lovely lady and a very best friend.

    She was such a special legend.

    How lucky I was to have known her so long.

    Wish I could be present to sing a sweet song.

    But my heart will be there

    And in the air — my love will be truly present.

    We’ll meet someday in Heaven’s lands

    And once again, we will hold hands.

    God Bless a wonderful woman.

  14. Terry –
    This is a beautiful tribute. It’s true that you have many of your mother’s talents and fine qualities. Thank you for sharing this wonderful story. I am so sorry for your loss and sending you love and courage.

  15. Dave Stalling

    A wonderful tribute to a remarkable person. She was a beautiful in every possible way.

    She had a positive influence on my life. I loved her. I will miss her. My thoughts are with Robert, Terry, Kathleen and the rest of the Brannigan family. She lives on in all of you.