The Remembrance Project: Anne Wojtkowski

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Anne Everest Wojtkowski died October 13, 2014, in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, the town where she was born. She was 79, and had fought through the biases of her day to lead a life of almost indescribable momentum. Her accomplishments filled five single-spaced pages of an official obituary.

In 1956, Anne was the first female aeronautical engineer to graduate from Boston University. In the school's engineering shop, which was located at Logan Airport, even finding a women’s restroom was a challenge. Afterwards, she went to work for Arthur D Little, the consulting firm. A photo from one conference shows her demonstrating an instrument for thermal protection at extreme temperatures. She's smiling with the lips of a starlet, draped with ropes of jewels around her neck.

She could have stayed in Boston, but Pittsfield remained in her heart. After marrying, she moved back to raise her children, and to live in her childhood house. Anne wasn’t tall, but all of her inches were scrappy. She became a math and engineering professor in Pittsfield, and eventually brought a suit against her college for salary and promotion bias. It inspired a national movement for pay equality.

Then she began her next career, as Pittsfield’s first woman mayor, serving under a network of severely doubting male city councilors. “She thought she could fix a lot of problems,” her brother said simply. And she did.

When she took office, Pittsfield had lost its primary employer, General Electric, and thousands of jobs. It was a city in danger of dying. Anne co-sponsored a funding program: small entrepreneurs presented their hopeful dreams, and over time, more than 850 businesses rose in the former one-industry town. When she left office, her hometown had a budget surplus.

In retirement — which was not at all the right word for it — she cooked and baked with mathematical precision, devoted herself to her grandchildren as she had to her children, reviewed and wrote budget plans for community development projects. She authored one book about the local grand theater renovation she had led, another on porcelain china shoe collections, and started a third about embroidered linens from Medeira Island. “She bore into her subjects,” her brother said. While the regular world dozed its eight hours each night, she listened to rousing classical music — not a saintly Bach, but a pounding Carmina Burana — and finally rested between 4 and 8 a.m.

On the day of her funeral, traffic lights along Pittsfield’s main street were stopped while police escorted the procession to the cemetery. 26 years earlier, Mayor Wojtkowski had made it one of her missions to provide every member of the under-protected department with up-to-date guns and vests. She had solved their problem, and they had not forgotten.

Did you know Anne Wojtkowski? Share your memories in the comments section.


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