Growing a legacy
Local woman has rubbed elbows with presidents, been a produce pioneer

Editor's Note: In recognition of National Women's History Month, throughout March the Citizen will profile local women who have impacted the community in a positive way. Though many of these women's accomplishments may be mostly unsung, they have each, in their own way, made their mark on history.

COVINGTON - Ann Brewer has accomplished a lot of firsts in her life.

She helped found the first organic farmers' market in the country.

She was the first executive director for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation.

She lives in one of the first homes built in the county.

And, though it can't be proven, it's a good bet she's the first Newton resident to shake hands with seven U.S. presidents.

Brewer is a can-do kind of person. She admits she's not really one to sit still.

"I can't say no. But I don't like to say I can do things unless I can do them," she said.

Apparently, there's not much Brewer can't do.

While living in Philadelphia in the 1950s, she became the first employee of the newly-formed Cystic Fibrosis Foundation.

She served as executive director of the Philadelphia Chapter and then took on a national position. As part of her fundraising efforts for the foundation, Brewer came up with the idea to select an annual poster child in hopes of drawing attention to the cause.

That's how she would wind up rubbing elbows with all those presidents. She visited the White House for 18 consecutive years, meeting Dwight D. Eisenhower; John F. Kennedy; Lyndon B. Johnson; Richard Nixon; Gerald Ford; Jimmy Carter; Ronald Reagan and then vice- president George H.W. Bush.

Brewer worked for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation for 35 years.

During that time, in 1972, she and her husband, Oby, moved to Newton County, into the historic Mt. Pleasant home in the Brick Store community.

The home is possibly the oldest in the county. Records indicate the current house was built around 1830, though a previous structure may have been built as early as 1818, Brewer said.

In 1989, newly widowed and retired, Brewer found herself looking for a way to occupy her time.

She found her opportunity when famed chef Nathalie Dupree, then living in Newton, asked Brewer to scout locations that could be photographed to illustrate her new cookbook.

While working on that project, Brewer met Cynthia Hizer, who recruited her to manage the Georgia Grown Cooperative, a farmer-owned co-op that sold locally-grown organic food to Atlanta restaurants and natural food stores.

Hizer had started the co-op out of an herb garden at the old Atlanta Waterworks site.

Though she insists that at the time, "I didn't know a radish from a raspberry," under Brewer's leadership, the co-op thrived, with sales reaching $300,000 by 2006, its final year.

In 1995, Hizer and Brewer formed the Morningside Farmers' Market.

"We were the only totally organic market in the country," Brewer said.

Located on North Highland Avenue in Atlanta, the market has become a favorite Saturday morning shopping spot for locals to get fresh produce and flowers and to see demonstrations by area chefs.

Brewer is still working there, 13 years later.

"I just can't imagine just sitting around not doing anything," she said.

Brewer currently serves on the board of directors for Newton County Senior Services and provides coffee for congregants at The Church of the Good Shepherd "52 weeks a year," she said.

She is the past president of the Covington Garden Club; has served on the steering committee for Georgia Perimeter College; and has volunteered with Newton Medical Center's Auxiliary.

Longtime friend Ann Parker said Brewer is a natural born leader.

"Ann is very gifted at organization. She knows how to go about organizing people. She's really very talented in that way, outstandingly so, I'd say," Parker said.

"I've known her since she's been here, and I've been amazed by her stamina," said another friend, Kay Turner.

Brewer's energy is even more impressive given that just six years ago, doctors said she wouldn't live following a car accident that left her in the hospital for two months.

Doctors also told her she wouldn't walk again, but she does.

Brewer attributes her miraculous recovery to the power of prayers sent up by family and friends.

"I'm grateful to be here," she said.

It's that gratitude that keeps her giving.

"You have to give back what you get," she said.

When asked what she hopes her legacy will be, Brewer at first said she doesn't know, that she just expects to be remembered by those who knew her best.

But later, reading from the obituary of Henrietta Graves, wife of the original owner of Mount Pleasant, Brewer sums up her wishes.

Graves died "after a colorful life of eventful usefulness."

"That's all I want," Brewer said.

Crystal Tatum can be reached at crystal.tatum@ newtoncitizen.com.