Ann Dure joined Saint Stephen’s at our start thanks to friends in the parish and to a favorable reaction by her then 13 year old son, Beau, on their first visit.[1]  We quickly became friends and did our best to support each other.  At one very low point in her life she said to me, ‘I was born upper class.  I’ve lived upper middle class.  And now I’m just middle class.’  In a rare moment of quick thinking I responded, ‘Ann, you are class.’  That cheered her up considerably.  And it was true.

Ann was from Berlin, Maryland, on the Eastern Shore.  Her family lived in a house called Burley Manor.  The property had been in the family, I believe, since colonial times, though the Georgian house was very early 19th century.  In fact ‘Berlin’ was named, not for the Prussian or German capital, but for the manor house, ‘Berlin’ being a contraction of ‘Burley Inn’. Ann’s curriculum vitae included college at Sweet Briar, a collegiate badminton championship, days as an early Delta stewardess, writing for various University of Georgia and other publications, volunteer work with community groups and as a docent at the Georgia Museum of Art, and marriage to Leon Sebring Dure, III, a professor of plant genetics.  Leon was a decade older but from a similar background:  son of a good family near Charlottesville, Virginia, the U.S. Marine Corps, a solid education, and a professorship and lab at UGA.

Ann was in her 40s when we first met, and her appearance when I knew her was always much the same.  Her looks were in fact quite unremarkable.  In photographs as a young woman, however, she was strikingly beautiful.  The change had a medical cause, discovered years after we first met when I drove her to Atlanta to see an eye doctor in Atlanta.  Ann had for years told doctors and jewelers and others that her ring size and hands had grown.  Nobody paid attention until one day the eye doctor did.  He sent her for testing and a thyroid disease called acromegaly was diagnosed.  Acromegaly causes the extremities to grow and the features to coarsen long after the end of normal growth.  The disease was treated, but earlier growth could not, of course, be reversed.

About such medical information Ann could be very, even disconcertingly, direct and forthcoming.  Other information from her on most subjects was not easy to come by:  not because she was secretive or evasive, and certainly not because she was reticent, but rather because her modes of thinking and speaking were extremely discursive.  Ann made no concessions to the initial ignorance of her interlocutors.  And she was a very bright and very clever talker and writer, who loved word play and puns, which sometimes left her hearers a step or two behind.  Talking with Ann often was rather like reading the more obscure Faulkner novels:  one was plunged into the middle of the story and only gradually began to figure out who the characters were and what their significance was.  Beau and Leon and Yumpy and Old Folks and Ann Marie and Janie and Punch and Mr. Dure and Jeané and Milton and The Scourge and Pete and Repeat and the various Atlanta Powells:  figure ’em out and try to remember because, while there wouldn’t be a written test, there would be other conversations featuring the same cast.

Ann was pals with James Reap, and in the parish’s early days in the bank community room it was a good thing that James usually served at the altar so that they did not sit together.  This improved behavior.  They were liable to be tickled by such things as the Coverdale Psalter’s use of ‘tush’ as an exclamation.  One Sunday, Ann and James did sit together in the back and more or less simultaneously noticed Erwin Surrency’s method of approaching holy communion.  There was no altar rail at the bank, and there only were two or three steps from the front row of chairs where the Surrencys invariably sat to the place for communion.  Erwin could not be bothered to stand up from his kneeling posture, advance two steps, and kneel again.  Instead, in his three-piece suit and with his serious demeanor, Erwin simply shuffled forward on his kneels to the right spot.  James whispered that this looked like a campensino approaching the shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe, and that did tickle Ann.

After the bank we were in the chapel of Bernstein’s Funeral Home for almost four years.  Once in those days Ann and I took a ramble down to Madison, Georgia.  We visited the old Presbyterian church and then the little Episcopal church whose members included a couple of Prayer Book Society members and contributors to our parish.  We also saw the memorial to those who died in the battle ‘to repel Unconstitutional Aggression’ in the unpleasantness of the 1860s.  As we walked around the square to a lunch place, Ann spied a funeral home.  She pointed to it and said one word:  ‘Outreach!’

Ann enjoyed entertaining, often in impulsive or unconventional ways.  One Sunday after Mass she had six or seven people over.  Her refrigerator seemed to have little in it beyond a few eggs and a half empty pickle jar, but somehow a very adequate lunch appeared on the table.  In the conversation afterwards the company remained about the table, probably dissecting the service.  James and I watched as Ann, while talking, carefully gathered all the crumbs first from around her own place, next from further afield on the table, and swept them into her hand at the edge of the table.  Then she very firmly and very startlingly and without pausing in her talk at all flung the accumulation onto the floor.  On another occasion, after Ann had been to China in the relatively early days of American tourism there, she had a Chinese theme dinner.  Her unsuspecting guests found that they were responsible for cooking the meal, though she had done the shopping and some of the chopping.  I did the eggrolls, which I have never done before or since.  They weren’t bad.  Afterwards we had some appalling Chinese sweets, which Ann had bought at a local Oriental grocery.  These sweets were called ‘Tourist Plums’, and they looked and tasted like congealed motor oil.  Ann was particularly proud of the goldfish-decorated toilet paper that she had liberated from a Communist hotel.  Everyone was sent to the bathroom to view that.  On another occasion there was an Indian dinner, which was less exotic but did feature her friends Gordhan and Jinx Patel:  he from India via Mozambique, she from West Virginia.

Most often Ann and I saw each other for lunch perhaps once a month.  Later in life, after she and Leon moved into the splendid house Leon designed on Riverbend Parkway, I had more dinners with them together.  Dinner at the Dures’ was usually good and entertaining.  Leon enjoyed grilling, and Ann was a very good cook.  Leon also enjoyed vigorous conversation, and would happily take any side of an argument – and sometimes all sides at once – in order to be sure things weren’t too harmonious.  Despite many meals there, however, and heavy hints about enjoying curry, I never did get to use for its proper purpose the amazing and vast silver curry set that filled half the sideboard.  Often at the end of Dure dinners the liqueurs would come forth.  These included standard items – Cointreau, Drambuie, ports – but also very unusual bottles brought to Leon by foreign graduate students and scholars and colleagues.  Most of these bottles were interesting to see but contained absolutely vile, unpotable, and possibly dangerous liquids.

In my first seven years in Athens I lived in a two bedroom apartment on Hill Street in Cobbham.  With very little consultation Ann decided I needed a cleaning lady.  In fact she decided I needed her cleaning lady, the remarkable Obie Hemphill.  Obie (‘I’ve got a man’s name!’) was just as interesting and remarkable as Ann, but much better dressed.  Obie worked for many fine Athenian ladies, who would pass on to her their elegant but outgrown or slightly worn clothes.  These fine threads, in turn, Obie wore to work and looked better than most of her employers.  She did clean and iron, but mostly she improved the tone of my apartment.  Tyus Butler stopped by once, met Obie, and found that he knew Obie’s husband, James, which led to a long and involved conversation about mutual acquaintances and their doings.  Obie was her preacher’s favorite, by all accounts, and this led to some jealousy from the other church ladies, which I would hear about – I being a preacher too.  Also on occasion I would be told that their preacher had put a tax on them all because they weren’t being generous enough.  This was not an expedient we had considered at Saint Stephen’s.

Ann and I often compared Obie notes.  Obie told Ann but not me about a Roman Catholic friend who had died.  Obie’s late friend’s husband was a Baptist, and he buried his wife with Baptist rites.  Obie disapproved of that very much.  ‘Now I’m a Baptist,’ she said, ‘And Baptists are the best.  But you should get buried the way you are.  He should have buried her Catlick.  But I like ALL churches, except them Seven Day Adventurists!’  When Obie came to retirement, she recommended to me her younger friend, Minnie, who has worked for me now for over 25 years.  So Ann was responsible for my housekeepers for my whole life in Athens.  She knew better than I did that I would want, if not necessarily need, help, and with Obie and Minnie I have had two very fine helpers indeed.

Ann loved the parish very deeply.  When we took our building plans to a first contractor for estimates, his numbers were vastly beyond our means.  Ann, when I reported this, broke into tears.  Fortunately we found a way forward and into our beautiful church, which she enjoyed for years.  The Saint George window is given in memory of her parents, and Leon gave a pew in memory of his.

Before I knew her Ann did write professionally, but her unpublished stories about family, friends, and travel were better.  In fact they are really very good.  They also were often too racy or personal to consider publishing, at least while the author and most of her subjects were still living.  Nonetheless, the stories are vastly amusing to read, and Ann let me see them all when I showed strong appreciation.  One story was titled ‘ oom  y day and  eek y  ates’.  A local motel had a sign out front with missing letters advertising rooms by the day or with weekly rates.  Beau, at age three, asked his mother from his car seat what ‘ oom  y day and  eek y  ates’ meant, and thereby revealed his precocious, and entirely autodidactical, literacy.  Another story, about a vacuum cleaner salesman and Ann Marie Leathers, is titled ‘It Sucks, Ma’am’.  A story about the parish’s early days is called ‘St. Stephen’s Stoned’:  it involves no drug use but by our agreement needed to await the demise of at least some of the parish founders before being circulated.  A story about an attempted adultery is called ‘The Rat Story’.  Most of these stories display Ann’s assumption that the reader knows her world and its characters, but the discipline of writing helped control and focus this tendency better than free conversation.  The best of her stories are as good as any I know.

Ann was very concerned that Beau should get most of her jewelry to give someday to a wife.  Once when she and Leon were preparing to fly somewhere together, she gave me an envelope with one or two diamond rings which she described as ugly but valuable.  She said if the plane blew up, she wanted me to give the envelope to Beau.  When the Dures came back safely, I brought Ann the envelope.  She said on reflection that I should just hold on to it somewhere safe with the same instructions:  to give the jewelry to Beau if something happened to her.  I put the envelope on a bookshelf behind a row of books and thought no more about it.  Several years later Ann asked for the envelope.  I went home and looked behind the books.  No envelope.  I pulled out all the books.  No envelope.  I checked the shelves above and below, in case I had mistaken which shelf hid the envelope.  Nothing.  I had to tell Ann that I simply could not find the envelope.  I was, of course, very embarrassed.  Ann was wonderful and told me not to worry about it.  Years later, after Ann had died, I came upon the envelope when I pulled a book off the shelf in question.  I was sure I had checked the whole bookcase thoroughly more than once.  In any case, I passed along the envelope to Leon and explained the story.  After Leon’s death, I wanted to be sure that Beau had indeed gotten what his mother intended for him and that the diamonds had not gone to someone else.  Beau had gotten them.

Ann and Leon both were heavy smokers, and Ann at a relatively young age developed cancer, which eventually spread to her brain.  When Ann became sick but was still able to go out with a driver, we continued our regular lunches.  A number of her favorite places were very kind to her then.  I particularly recall Walt Light, who over the years had several restaurants Ann enjoyed, refusing to take any money from me when Ann and I came in.  I think he just wanted to do something kind to a favorite customer and friend.

Ann and Leon had had their marital ups and downs, as do many couples, but when his wife became ill, Leon was an absolute prince.  He brought Ann to church faithfully, where he also enjoyed the music and, I think, the people.  Leon’s own religious views were pantheistic, not Christian,[2] but I believe he valued the Church as a civilizational and aesthetic influence.  He loved Anglican hymnody and, as befitted a Virginian, he loved the ‘Old Scottish Chant’ setting of the Gloria in excelsis.

As cancer began to limit Ann’s mental and physical capacities, Leon cared for her devotedly at home.  Ann developed a rather happy kind of confusion near the end.  I came one day to visit her and she said:  ‘Isn’t it wonderful!  Leon’s moved us to Paris!’  I said, ‘Yes; and all your friends and your furniture are with you.  It’s great.’  That made her happier still.

I visited the day Ann died.  At that point she was largely unresponsive.  After sitting with her a bit, Leon and I went out onto the front porch to talk.  Leon said, referring to Ann’s lifelong struggle with depression, ‘Ann was dealt a poor hand in life, but she played it well.’  When we went back inside a little later, Ann had died, peacefully and in her own house and with love around her.  As Leon and I assured ourselves that she had in fact died – a point often not immediately apparent when the step between ebbing life and death is so slight – a cold caller telephoned Leon to try to sell him some stock.  Leon and I were disgusted.  Ann would have been amused and then worked hard to find a good title.  Perhaps ‘Death Comes with a Salesman’.

At Ann’s requiem her husband and son and brother and two stepsons and stepdaughter – Leon and Beau and Yumpy, Punch and Janie and Edward – were all together.  So was Obie, now retired.  And so was the lovely practical nurse who tended Ann her last few weeks.  When Leon had called the nurse to tell her that Ann had died, she responded, ‘Praise God!’  And to Ann’s requiem she came dressed in white.

Leon had a reception afterwards at his house.  Punch, grown and married and a physician, was there.  We were talking about his stepmother and our beliefs about life and death.  He said, ‘My wife said to me, “You talk about Miss Ann as if you expect to see her again.”  I said, “Yes; I suppose I do.”’

As do I.

[1] See ‘I just laaahhhve young people!’ for that story.

[2] Leon was raised Roman Catholic, but stopped receiving the sacraments as a young man.  His mother was very devout.  He told me that she happily attended in Washington for some period what was then the notable Anglo-Catholic parish of Ascension & St. Agnes.  Mrs. Dure found its music, liturgy, and friendliness vastly superior to that of other parishes.  One day at a party Mrs. Dure was telling the Roman bishop – her bishop – how very much she enjoyed his lovely little parish that she had discovered.  She and the bishop, for differing reasons, were not happy to learn that she had been frequenting a non-union shop.  Leon himself as a Marine recruit did declare himself Roman Catholic for utilitarian reasons:  he and his fellow Romanists figured amongst themselves that at least at Mass they would get some respite from boot camp rigors.  Instead those who had disclosed their papalism found that on Sunday mornings they were screamed up 30 minutes before the Protestants, trotted a considerable distance to Mass, and then treated to a long harangue by a priest in a crewcut who told them just how very worthless they were and how extremely fortunate, indeed blessed, they were to have fallen into the helpful and improving hands of the United States Marine Corps.

One thought on “Ann Hammond Dure

  1. I am so glad that you are writing these wonderful histories of early parish members. Since I was there from the beginning, it is a trip down memory lane, with snippets I did not know and many I don’t even remember. That’s part of the reason why what you are writing is so important. Thank you.

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