Ann Lesser Margetson died peacefully in her lifelong home on Easter Sunday, April 20, 2014. She was 82.
Ann was born on Dec. 28, 1931 in New York city, the only child of two anthropologists, Alexander Lesser and Gene Weltfish. Both of them were affiliated with the anthropology department of Columbia University. Ann grew up a few blocks from the Columbia campus in Morningside Heights, a neighborhood of contrasts and intellectual and political ferment. She would stay in that neighborhood for her entire life and was a fierce defender of the diversity and culture of the area.
Ann liked to say she already decided to be a painter by the age of five. She followed through with that decision and attended The High School of Music and Art and Sarah Lawrence College. Though she never graduated, starting her own family at age 19, Ann loved Sarah Lawrence. While there she was a student of the sculptor David Smith, who became a great influence on commitment and vision as an artist.
In 1950, Ann met Desmond Margetson at an amateur theatre group in Harlem, where she was painting sets and he was acting. It was love at first sight, and they were never again separated for long. They were married in 1951 and took up residence in Ann’s family apartment. Their first child, Neil, was born the following year and another son, Evan, was born three years later.
In addition to being an artist, Ann was always an activist, never satisfied to let others do all the work for causes of social justice. This was a family tradition, as her mother, Gene Weltfish, was a tireless advocate for civil rights in the 1940s and 50s, ultimately blacklisted for defying the McCarthy committee. In addition to her work for civil rights and against the war In Viet Nam, Ann was deeply involved in the movement to decentralize the New York city public schools and instrumental in defeating Columbia University’s reckless plan to build a nuclear reactor in Morningside Heights.
She was also well known on Martha’s Vineyard as a fierce, tireless advocate for careful and responsible development. Ann discovered Martha’s Vineyard on a bicycle trip in high school and loved it. In the summer of 1956, she brought her family back, where they shared a rented cottage in Oak Bluffs. Two years later, they bought the modest house on Wamsutta avenue, across from the Oak Bluffs tennis courts, and never missed a summer from that time on. Ann worked on that house tirelessly for more than 50 years and her warmth and taste are everywhere in it. During the 1970s the house was winterized and Ann began to spend more and more time there. Throughout the 1980s and 90s she was a year-round resident, active in local causes and well known for her artwork.
After Desmond passed away in 2008, Ann moved back to their apartment in New York city. While her family was surprised, it felt right to her. At around the same time, her son Neil had become the minister of a small Protestant church in Sunnyside Queens. When his “Jewish mom” began faithfully attending Christian worship there, he was blown away! It was not a passing thing, however. She did not feel any incongruity, and her involvement in the church fellowship brought great pleasure to her last years.
Ann faced huge health challenges all her life, although one might never have known it. She suffered from severe chronic asthma and had severe food allergies that made eating out an adventure. Even a tiny amount of fish could send her into shock, and during the last 15 years of her life she battled Parkinson’s disease. None of it held her back from embracing and loving life, always ready to tell stories, argue, and above all — to laugh! Her grandchildren were the light of her life, and she enjoyed sharing stories of their growing pains and adventures.
Ann is survived by her two sons, Neil and Evan, and three grandchildren: Arlen, Rose and Joachim. Ann is also survived by two half-siblings from her father’s second marriage, Mrs. Katherine Pierce of Portland, Me., and Mr. Steven Lesser of Long Island, N.Y.
There will be memorial services in New York on June 28 at 3 p.m., at the Reformed Church of Sunnyside, New York, 48-03 Skillman avenue, Long Island City, New York. There will also be a service on Martha’s Vineyard some time in August.