The first phone call I received as editor of Atlanta INtown back in 2002 was from Ann Taylor Boutwell. I had, literally, been at my desk for an hour when she rang to introduce herself and to ask if I planned to keep publishing her monthly history column called “A Look Back.” I assured her that “A Look Back” would stay put, although I planned to change everything else about the look and tone of the magazine. After I told her I was an Atlanta native and history buff, we became fast friends.
That friendship endured until Ann passed away on Aug. 13 at the age of 81 after a long battle with cancer. When her son called to tell me the news, I tried to be stoic and keep the stiff upper lip passed on to me by British ancestors, but I couldn’t help but shed tears.
Although Ann had retired her column after INtown’s 20th anniversary and eventually left Atlanta to return to her hometown of Fairhope, Alabama, we stayed in contact through email and phone calls. I spoke to her about two weeks before she died, and she was as witty, cheerful and curious as ever about what was happening in Atlanta. “It’s always good to talk to you,” she said. “Love you.”
And I loved her.
Everyone who met Ann fell in love with her. She was a longtime docent at the Margaret Mitchell House in Midtown and appeared in the GPB documentary “American Rebel” about the “Gone With the Wind” author. Her knowledge and insight about Mitchell and the “big book” were unparalleled. Ann was also a tour guide for the city, regularly taking busloads of tourists and special guests to historic sites like Oakland Cemetery and the Cyclorama when it was in Grant Park. She could have a dry, sarcastic sense of humor and she did not believe in sugarcoating history, about Mitchell or her beloved adopted city. You never knew what Ann might say next, and that made her even more delightful.
Ann and I had a great working relationship, but we also became good friends away from the office. We had many Saturday lunches at The Colonnade (she loved the fried chicken), saw “Gone With the Wind” at The Fox, and took a couple of road trips to Athens and down where I grew up in Fayetteville. Margaret Mitchell helped found the library there and her family is buried in the city cemetery. Ann was, as you might guess, thrilled to extend her knowledge of the author.
When Ann decided to move back to Alabama, I went and helped clean out her Midtown apartment. She gifted me a stack of books about “Gone With the Wind” and the city’s history, which I will always cherish.
To paraphrase a line from the film “Fried Green Tomatoes,” Ann was a great lady, and a lady always knows when to leave. She fought the cancer until the very end, enjoyed her life and surrounded herself with friends and family. I am grateful to have been her colleague and friend.