'She just gets it done and she doesn't complain': Remembering Franklin County leader Ann Hamilton
Ann Hamilton, who led the Franklin County Chamber of Commerce for 32 years, died Monday after a 7-year battle with ALS — just 10 days before her 83rd birthday.
We spoke with two of Hamilton’s longtime friends and colleagues about her contributions.
Jim Olsen, president, Signature Sounds: I consider Ann, really, the founder of the [Green River] festival. It was her idea to start a hot air balloon festival in Franklin County. She was inspired by the big hot air balloon festival that happens in Quechee, Vermont. She decided that's something that Franklin County needed. So in 1986, she started a hot air balloon festival that has slowly, over the years, morphed into a music festival and became Green River Fest.
Ann was just always fearless. The festival, particularly in the early days, had a lot of obstacles to overcome. We had a couple really horrible weather events in the mid-'9os. Those two festivals were wipeouts, but Ann always believed in the festival and stuck with it even when it wasn't really making a whole lot of financial sense. She really had a commitment to making this festival work for Franklin County and year after year green green-lighted it, and we kept it going.
Lisa Davol, marketing director, Franklin County Chamber of Commerce: I started working with Ann when I was at River Culture. She was part of the steering committee and she came and helped bring a regional recognition to Turners Falls and River Culture and all the great stuff we were doing. And then, ultimately, I had the opportunity to join the chamber.
Monte Belmonte, NEPM: It's called the Franklin County Chamber of Commerce, but it seems like a lot of what she focused on was bringing the arts to commerce. Is this rare in the world of chambers of commerces?
Lisa Davol: Well, I think we're in a unique position because we are also a tourism bureau, and not every chamber is a tourism bureau.
Jim Olsen: I think she was a visionary in connecting the dots between arts and culture and the economy. We sort of take that connection for granted now, but I feel like a couple of decades ago that wasn't the case.
Ann had that vision that it didn't just have to be a local event, that we could draw visitors from all over the place. And then that's what it became.
Lisa, another big event that Ann was instrumental in helping to continue was Cider Days. Can you talk about the impact that Ann had on that festival?
Lisa Davol: Yeah, Cider Days had started a few years before the chamber got involved, but it was a small festival and they needed some more resources to help grow it and make it bigger. And Ann got involved and got the chamber involved and brought in partners. And it really grew to be one of the best cider festivals in the country, the longest running, definitely.
Now people come from Europe and all over the country, and not only has it made a local impact and put Franklin County on the map for craft beverage, but a lot of the commercial cider makers across the country got their start here.
She was also fun. I mean, people talk about how like what an impact she's had, but she was fun, too, you know, like she dressed up as Elvis and [was] quirky. She just was, like, a real person. It is an end of an era.
Jim Olsen: My lasting impression of Ann will be on the golf cart with a cigarette in one hand and a glass of something in the other hand. Of course, the festival was supposedly dry at that point. But — unflappable.
Lisa Davol: She never complained, ever. So whenever I start to complain about something, I'm like, ‘Well, what would Ann do?’ The sheer obstacles that were in her way for so many things — funding-wise, personally health-wise, she just was like this classic New Englander. She just gets it done and she doesn't complain. I definitely will miss that.