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Anne Brooke, 84; philanthropist helped transform Boston, Concord

Anne Brooke with her husband, Peter, in the Public Garden. The couple were benefactors of institutions including the Boston Symphony Orchestra and the Museum of Fine Arts.
Anne Brooke with her husband, Peter, in the Public Garden. The couple were benefactors of institutions including the Boston Symphony Orchestra and the Museum of Fine Arts.Richard Howard/Boston Foundation

In the late 1980s, Anne Brooke was already helping to reinvigorate the Concord Museum as leader of its board when Mass Audubon asked her to run a significant capital campaign. She agreed, on one condition.

“I pointed out that we were a statewide organization with no physical presence in Boston,” she said in an interview for the Boston Foundation’s 2014 annual report. “I knew we desperately needed a sanctuary for the people in our city — especially the children.”

Thus began the logistical and fund-raising process that led to the creation of the Boston Nature Center and Wildlife Sanctuary in Mattapan, a neighborhood that ordinarily wouldn’t make anyone’s list of places to commune with natural surroundings. Working with the city and state, Mass Audubon converted the former Boston State Hospital grounds into trails and meadows that offer respite from sidewalks and streets.

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Bringing that transformative vision to music and museums, and to the preservation of history and open spaces, Mrs. Brooke helped change the daily experiences of thousands in Greater Boston, whether they live in the city or the suburbs. “She picked really important projects and set inspired examples of how to step into leadership roles for the sole purpose of getting something done,” said Barbara W. Hostetter, who cofounded and chairs the Barr Foundation. “Anne was, for me, very iconic. She was timeless.”

Mrs. Brooke, a philanthropist who also had chaired the board of the Friends of the Public Garden, died of heart disease Oct. 13 in her family’s North Pomfret, Vt., residence. She was 84 and divided her time between Boston and the farm in Vermont.

With her husband, Peter A. Brooke, a pioneer in the venture capital and private equity industry, and a founder of the firms TA Associates and Advent International, Mrs. Brooke was a benefactor of institutions including the Boston Symphony Orchestra and the Museum of Fine Arts, where she was an overseer.

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Those who knew Anne and Peter Brooke through the years marveled at the closeness of their marriage. Forty years out of Harvard College, he mused in a class report entry that while he was tempted to make difficult decisions alone, he always knew: “I had better ask Anne.”

That was no throwaway line. Each was the other’s closest confidant and adviser as they mapped their lives from Boston to Vermont and beyond in long talks at the dinner table that stretched two hours or more. “Our whole lives were based upon dining room conversations. I would try everything out on her that I was doing that I thought made sense, and she’d do the same with me,” he said.

“Our partnership was so enduring,” he added. “We did so much together and we accomplished a lot that was helpful to people, but it was a partnership — two ordinary people without any huge background doing things together. That partnership means more to me than anything.”

In their decades working with the Boston Symphony Orchestra, where she was an overseer and he chaired the Board of Trustees, “it was always ‘Peter and Anne’ — you thought of them as an ensemble,” said Mark Volpe, the BSO’s managing director. “I always admired them and looked to them as an inspiration.” Volpe added that “Peter, to the end, always referred to her as his bride. It’s kind of nice to have a many-decade honeymoon.”

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In Concord, where the Brooke family lived for 42 years, “Anne was such a leader and someone with an extraordinary combination of intelligence and determination and grace,” said Peggy Burke, executive director of the Concord Museum. “She had this ability to work with people, inspire them, speak with authority, and bring out the best in everyone.”

Mrs. Brooke’s husband recalled that “Anne’s skill was to bring everyone on board and to organize people around a project, not by telling them what to do, but by suggesting, ‘Wouldn’t this be a good thing to do?’ She had the capacity to do that and the charm to get her message across.”

Born in Cambridge on Feb. 1, 1932, Anne F. Russell was the younger of two sisters whose parents were George Otis Russell, who was in the insurance business, and the former Olive Johnson.

Growing up in Weston, Mrs. Brooke “had a very, very happy family life,” her husband said. She also “studied art and painted,” he added. “She didn’t sell her paintings, but she could draw exceedingly well, and that became a big part of her life.”

In 1951, she graduated from Bradford Junior College in Haverhill, and through friends she met Peter Brooke. One winter weekend, they both happened to be at the same ski lodge in Franconia, N.H. “We went skiing and that was the last time I had a date with anyone else,” he said. “After that day I said, ‘Would you mind if I called and asked you to dinner?’ And that was it. We fell in love.”

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They married in 1954 and settled in Concord, where Brooke Hall in the Concord Museum is named for Mrs. Brooke. Along with chairing the museum’s board, Mrs. Brooke chaired the Concord Historic Districts Commission and was a leader in preserving Heywood Meadows.

Gary Clayton, president of Mass Audubon, said that when Mrs. Brooke served as vice chair of the board, she firmly believed “that our organization’s work needed to involve everyone in the Commonwealth, whether they live in a rural, suburban, or urban community.”

That philosophy led to what may stand as Mrs. Brooke’s most enduring legacy, creation of the Boston Nature Center. “Anne was adamant about ensuring that there would be a Mass Audubon sanctuary available where people could learn about the environment and connect with the wonders of nature,” said Julie Brandlen, the Anne and Peter Brooke director of the Boston Nature Center. “Anne was really passionate around connecting families that might not otherwise connect with nature, and she did it in an extraordinarily gracious manner.”

“When I think of Anne, I think of elegance and a really active intelligence,” Volpe said. “And such grace, such civility.”

Hostetter said that “it was her combination of beauty and grace and passion and fierceness that made her so iconic and timeless. And don’t forget her brain. She was so smart.”

In addition to her husband, Peter, Mrs. Brooke leaves three sons, Samuel of Arlington, Va., Peter W. of North Pomfret, Vt., and John of South Hamilton; and eight grandchildren.

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A memorial service will at held at 11 a.m. May 19 in First Parish Church in Concord.

“People always commented about her poise, just how lovely she was,” her husband said. “She was a very beautiful woman. She never spent any time being beautiful. That’s just who she was.”

And though her enduring civic legacy can be found in such disparate places as Symphony Hall and Mattapan, “Anne never, never needed acknowledgement,” her husband said. “The job was there and needed to be done: You did it, and then you went on your way. She never needed her name in lights.”


Bryan Marquard can be reached at bryan.marquard@globe.com.