Annabelle Wade Shepherd, longtime civic leader in Concord, dies at 99
Annabelle Wade Shepherd already had run a business before she came to Greater Boston, but what she found upon arriving prompted her to expand her expertise into new realms.
“I moved to Concord in 1969 and I was amazed at the strange government,” she recalled in a Concord Oral History Program interview in 2000. “I had never lived close to a capital before, where the politics are sort of in your face every day in the newspaper. I thought, ‘I’ve got to learn about this,’ and so immediately I thought the League of Women Voters must be the place to go.”
The organization turned out to be only one of many she added to her resume as she helped shape the town over the next half-century.
Mrs. Shepherd, who was 99 when she died Wednesday in her Concord home, was elected to the Board of Selectmen and chaired it for four years — finishing her master’s in business administration, at 63, while in elective office.
She also served stints on the town’s Finance Committee and Board of Assessors. In numerous ways, Mrs. Shepherd was responsible for launching Concord’s Visitor Center. And while serving on the Concord Free Public Library’s board, she was a leader in renovating the Fowler Branch in West Concord.
“She didn’t stop until she absolutely couldn’t keep going,” said her daughter Dr. Marianne Jackson of Madison, N.H., who added with a laugh: “And even then she directed from the chair quite a bit.”
While chairing the Board of Selectmen, Mrs. Shepherd led planning for the 350th anniversary celebration of when Concord was founded in 1635.
At the same time, she began championing a proposed visitor center. Land was available, but voter support was lacking. At a Town Meeting, “we got the majority of the vote, but we needed two-thirds of the vote,” she recalled in another oral history interview, in 2002.
Years later, her son Bill Jackson was president of the Concord Business Partnership and began building support for a visitor center. In a 1996 Town Meeting vote, the plan was approved “quite handily,” he recalled in the 2002 oral history interview.
A financial obstacle remained, though. Fund-raising was shy of the amount needed, so Mrs. Shepherd took care of the rest. “She pulled out the checkbook and wrote a $100,000 check to put us over the finish line,” Bill, who lives in Lexington, said in an interview with the Globe. “At the end of the day, she saved the day.”
She cut the ribbon when the center finally opened, her family said.
“If Annabelle Shepherd had not stepped forward this could not have happened,” Mary Johnson, a former president of the Concord Chamber of Commerce, said for the 2002 oral history interviews about the Visitor Center. “We owe this lady a tremendous vote of thanks.”
Annabelle Wade was born in Akron, Ohio, and grew up in the nearby suburb of Silver Lake, where she loved to swim in the summers and ice skate during the winters. She was the youngest of four children whose parents were Harry Wade and the former Ella Brown.
“She grew up as a banker’s daughter,” Marianne said.
Harry was president of the Akron Dime Bank during the Great Depression, “and my mother was very aware of how hard he worked and that he loved what he did,” Marianne added.
After finishing high school, Mrs. Shepherd graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Ohio Wesleyan University in Delaware, Ohio, with a bachelor’s degree.
While at the university, she was the yearbook’s women’s editor and met John Jackson, the men’s editor. They married in 1940. While he was in the military during World War II, she returned home with their first child and began working at a bank. It was a time when women filled many jobs that had been held by the men who were off to war.
“She loved working in the bank. Thereafter, she was a very knowledgeable, matter-of-fact business person,” her daughter said. “Had she been born 30 years later, there’s no question in my mind that she would have been the vice president or president of a major bank.”
The Jacksons settled in New Canaan, Conn., where along with raising her children, Mrs. Shepherd ran Fairfield Mailing Service. In 1965, her husband died in a commercial airline crash.
Four years later, she married James Shepherd and moved to Concord. Her arrival coincided with the annual Patriots Day celebration, in which her husband always participated, dressed in Minuteman garb. Mrs. Shepherd took part, too.
“At the end of her honeymoon in 1969, she came back from South Carolina to dress up as a frumpy Colonial woman while he was in his Minuteman uniform,” her daughter said. “That began her life in Concord.”
Soon after becoming involved with the League of Women Voters, Mrs. Shepherd was asked to serve on the organization’s fiscal policy committee. Among her many duties, she worked on proposals to change state tax laws to make funding schools more equitable.
“We were relying much too much on property tax to raise money and it made unequal educational opportunities when you’re contrasting poorer municipal older cities with the wealthier suburbs,” she recalled in the 2000 oral history interview, which was conducted during the year that was the 80th anniversary of ratifying the 19th Amendment, which granted women the right to vote.
By 1980, she was the top vote-getter for a seat on the Board of Selectmen, on which she served until 1986 — as chairwoman the last four years. She graduated from Babson College with an MBA while on the board.
Mrs. Shepherd served during a less contentious political era. “It was a civil time and she was a very civil selectman and person,” Bill said.
Over the years, she ran a capital fund-raising campaign for Emerson Hospital in Concord, led the library’s Board of Trustees, and was a regular at 51 Walden, the performing arts center.
In 1998, Mrs. Shepherd and her husband, John, were named Honored Citizens of Concord. He died in 2000.
“She believed very much in doing what you need to do locally, where you are,” Mrs. Shepherd’s daughter said. “She wasn’t trying to run the state. She knew she could make a difference and make a statement, and that was significant.”
In addition to her daughter Marianne and son Bill, Mrs. Shepherd leaves two other children, John Jackson of Ann Arbor, Mich., and Carol Jackson Riddle of Dallas; 15 grandchildren; and 27 great-grandchildren.
The family is planning a private service to be held at a later date, and will welcome friends at 4 p.m. Oct. 18 in Concord Funeral Home.
Marianne said her mother “was hard to keep up with,” participating in local activities such as square dancing and remaining a devoted member of West Concord Union Church for more than 45 years.
“She also believed in a very balanced life,” Marianne said.
“When I was off in college, her letters would come once a week,” she added. “There would be a paragraph about the family, a paragraph about the town, a paragraph about the church, a paragraph about her tennis, a paragraph about her friends. It was, every week, a balanced life.”