Obituary: Mary Anne Guitar, former Redding First Selectman, 95

Mary Anne Guitar, a former First Selectman and founder of the Redding Land Trust, died peacefully at her home on July 18 with friends and family by her side and with her cherished garden in sight.

In her 60 years as a Redding resident, Guitar was one of the town’s most dedicated and visionary public servants. She was not only First Selectman of Redding for 12 years, she also helped to establish the Redding Land Trust and was an influential member of the League of Women Voters, the Democratic Town Committee and the Board of Finance.

After graduating from her beloved Smith College in 1943, she moved to New York City where she had a successful career as an editor and freelance writer. She wrote for magazines and newspapers including Look, Redbook, Ladies Home Journal, and The New York Times, and was the author of several books.

Guitar purchased her home in Redding in 1956. Her service to the town began in 1967 when she worked with the original group of land savers to form the Redding Land Trust, an organization that that has since protected over 1,700 acres in Redding and Bethel.

Guitar and four others formed the trust in 1965 and she said, in a video at this year’s annual meeting, “I can say it’s the best 50 years of my life.” Guitar often said that her love of nature and drive to maintain open space was instilled by the time she spent at the Corby Grove nature preserve, next to her childhood home in St. Joseph, Mo.

Over the next 50 years, she fought tirelessly as a land-saving activist and encouraged groups that fought development projects seen as detrimental to the character of the town. These actions included the early 1970’s fight that eventually stopped Super 7 and a power line through Redding. In 1972, her book “Property Power” served as a guide to citizen groups seeking constructive alternatives to intensive development and as a handbook on how to protect the unique beauty and value of a community.

In 1969, Guitar’s activism took a turn when she saw “the opportunity to use politics to advance the environmental agenda.” She was the first woman to be elected as a Redding selectman, serving until 1975. Soon after, Gov. Ella Grasso appointed her Chairman of the Connecticut Siting Council — an entity that has legal jurisdiction over the siting of public utility facilities such as power lines, hazardous waste facilities and telecommunications towers.

In 1977, Guitar ran again and won as the first Democrat elected First Selectman in Redding in 44 years and the first woman elected to that post in Fairfield County. She was re-elected consecutively for five more terms. After taking office, one of her first actions was to buy a tape measure which, she said, “drove the developers crazy. I was always out measuring setbacks.”

Asked to what she attributed her long run in office, Guitar said she thought it was because her platform was not focused on a political party but always on issues that were important to the people of Redding. “You could always attract people, regardless of their politics, if you had an agenda on issues for which that everyone could agree: clean environment, lots of space, good schools, a rural atmosphere and slow growth,” she said.

After leaving her post as First Selectman in 1989, Guitar was appointed to the Redding Board of Finance, and was elected to the Board for three terms until her resignation in 2004.

Her garden was one of her greatest joys and she spent 50 years perfecting it, enjoying the view in the changing seasons even when she could no longer walk in it. She served for 20 years as a founding board member of New Pond Farm Education Center — a protected Redding Land Trust property.  There, she had a well-tended plot at the Community Garden for decades where she grew legendary tomatoes — notably Mortgage Lifter — which, with her talent as a wordsmith extraordinaire known for coining pithy phrases, held a special appeal for her.

Mary Anne had a gift for friendship, keeping her Smith friends throughout her life as well as making dozens of new ones of all ages. She served as a role model and mentor to those who will never forget her joie de vivre.

Mary Anne Guitar is survived by many close friends and colleagues, as well as family members from the midwest and the northeast. She was especially proud of her family’s roots in both Colonial America and Missouri as well as around Agen (as she liked to point out, the prune capital of France), and often recalled their eccentricities. Most important was the participation of her forebears in the causes of freedom and justice.

In lieu of flowers, contributions in her name can be sent to the Mary Anne Guitar Education Fund, in care of the Redding Land Trust, or to one of the boards she sat on and held dear: the League of Women Voters, New Pond Farm, The Redding Land Trust and the Mark Twain Library.

A public memorial gathering to celebrate the life of Guitar will be held on Saturday, Aug.12, at 4:30 p.m. at the Redding Historical Society, 43 Lonetown Road, near the Community Garden. Parking will be at the Redding Community Center at 37 Lonetown Road and along Route 107. Seniors and those with mobility concerns can pull into the Historical Society driveway (just after the house) to be dropped off directly at the tent, with parking nearby. Police will be on site to direct traffic.The large tent, with hundreds of chairs, will be at the top of the hill, approached via the white gravel driveway off Lonetown Rd/Route 107 (just north of the left turn to the Community Center).

After the program, everyone is invited to celebrate together with a champagne toast and light refreshments and share their anecdotes about and memories of Guitar. This will be at the barn behind Lonetown Manor and Redding Historical Society Headquarters.

 

Mary Anne Guitar, vice president of the Redding Land Trust, dies

Mary Anne Guitar, vice president of the Redding Land Trust, dies

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