Anna Lawson

Anna Logan was born May 10, 1943, the middle child and only daughter of Frances McNulty Logan and Joseph D. Logan, Jr.  Anna’s parents settled in Salem in 1941 in the house where Mr. Logan had grown up, joining his mother and his sister, Miss Nancy Logan.  Along with Anna they had Joe III, born in 1940, and George in 1945.   Anna’s father, with a partner from his tobacco-buying days, started Martha Washington Candies, later Old Dominion Candies in Roanoke.  A decade later, in 1944, they started Frigid Freeze Foods, an innovation in food storage and distribution.  In 1950, Mr. Logan died and Anna’s mother–trained as a philosopher, violinist, and English teacher–went to work in the business.  Eventually the company expanded to become a distributor of a complete range of frozen and canned foods—from meats to desserts, juice to vegetables—and, by the 1980’s–fresh produce. In 1959 Frances Logan remarried to JMB Lewis, Jr. a Norfolk Western lawyer.  The Logan siblings instantly gained stepbrother Minor Lewis and Anna was delighted to have a wonderful big sister Stuart Lewis Smith.   Through 1986, Anna’s brothers ran the company and Joe, Anna, George, and their mother all served on the board—Joe as board chair, Anna as corporate secretary, and George as CEO.  George ran the company until 1986, when it merged with the Sara Lee Corporation.

Anna began her education at North Cross School, then located on Union Street in Salem for grades K-3.  She attended Broad Street School (now Salem City Hall) for grades 4-7, was a student at Andrew Lewis for grades 8-10, and finished her high school education at St. Anne’s, a boarding school in Charlottesville.  Her first official employment was in 1959 when, at 16, she held a part time summer job filing at the old Lindsey-Robinson Feed Company.

She earned a B. A. in English at Hollins in 1965 and received an M. A. in English and Creative Writing in 1970, also from Hollins.  As an undergraduate, she was associate editor of the student newspaper, and worked in student government as a class officer and served as a member of the college’s student legislative body, creating and interpreting regulations governing student life.

As with many young women in the 1960s, Anna’s aspirations were not clear cut.  “I think I was more interested in causes than in a career,” she says now. She notes, she “wanted to avoid confrontations and was willing to make compromises by looking into how the system could be adjusted.”  Certainly, the years at Hollins were a time when the system was being questioned on several fronts, among them, civil rights (classmates and faculty were involved in sit-ins and marches in Roanoke), and women’s rights (required reading one summer was Betty Freidan’s “The Feminine Mystique.”).

Upon receiving her undergraduate degree, Anna set out for New York and a job at the publisher William Morrow, where the work was “mostly low-level secretarial, but with a bit of opportunity to read unsolicited manuscripts.” She returned to Roanoke after a year and married Thomas Lawson, whom she’d met while she was at Hollins, and he was in law school at the University of Virginia.  A graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Tom served in the U. S. Navy 1960-62, and joined Woods Rogers, Muse, & Walker (now Woods Rogers) in 1965 where he was a trial lawyer until leaving the firm in 1992.  In 2008, Tom’s book, Carl Jung, Darwin of the Mind  (2008) about the Swiss psychoanalyst, came out from the London publishing house, Karnac, and he has received acclaim and developed a steady market for his abstract paintings.

After their marriage, Anna went to work (part time) for the Roanoke Historical Society as its first executive director, under the guidance of George Kegley, and the late Jean Showalter and Louise Goodwin.  From 1967 to 1970, Anna was employed as News Director at Hollins, writing press releases covering exciting times at the college, while at the same time working on her master’s degree in English.  Her years at Hollins under the tutelage of forward-thinking faculty and administration shaped her mission for questioning “the system” and began her career as a social entrepreneur. And in the Publications and Information Office she found a mentor in her boss, Virginia Carter.  Active in the arts, all things literary, but especially politics, Ginny urged Anna to become involved in Common Cause, the national non-partisan group founded by John Gardner in 1970, advocating open, honest, and accountable government.  Common Cause captured her attention and talent because if its focus on the system—it was not about a particular political issue; it was the process of creating and refining the process of making and administering the rules and regulations governing a civil society.

Anna and Tom had two children: Thomas Towles, Jr., born in 1971, Frances Blair, in 1973.  Towles, who earned a joint degree in art history and philosophy at UVA, is an inventor who holds patents that address such engineering areas as turbo-lag and zero turn radius.  Blair, in New York after obtaining a B. A. from Stanford and a MBA from Northwestern, is a vice president at Louis Vuitton, the Paris-based leather goods and fashion firm.  Anna and Tom have 4 grandchildren, two in Charlottesville and two in New York. 

It was the birth of their children that led Anna onto another pioneering path.  With research, peer support from other new parents, and instinct, Anna embraced “prepared” or “natural” childbirth, a movement to help women better understand and have a role in the process of childbearing.  In 1971, Anna and Tom were one of the early couples in the Roanoke area to have natural childbirth in a Roanoke hospital; the staff were a bit tentative—some even reluctant–about the process.  And nursing the baby—having him only on breast milk– was a struggle.  However, by 1973, when Blair was born, the medical staff was fully behind natural childbirth, and the hospital encouraged “rooming in,” having the baby with its mother for “on-demand” feeding.  A “system” had adjusted!

In 1976 Anna returned to Hollins as editor of the college alumnae magazine, and co-editor of the college’s admission catalog.  She stayed in this job until 1982, serving as interim director of the annual fund for a 6-month period.  In 1983-84 she returned to campus as assistant to President Paula Brownlee, at the same time working part-time between l982-86 as newsletter editor and publications planner for the Kettering Foundation in Dayton, Ohio.

A long-held interest in archaeology and anthropology led Anna back to school in 1986, when she enrolled in the doctoral program at UVA.  Going part-time was not an option for graduate students in the anthropology department at the University, so she took a full load for three years, living in Charlottesville 2 nights a week.  Tom, meanwhile, and the children, beginning when they were 13 and 15, took care of things at home, generously assisted by her sisters-in-law; her mother, Frances; a longtime housekeeper, Jean Wiley; and wonderful boxed dinners provided by Bridget Meagher from Alexander’s.  Anna received her PhD in Anthropology in 1995, her dissertation entitled – “The Other Half”: Making African American History at Colonial Williamsburg.  While writing her dissertation, Anna taught anthropology for a semester at Hollins, and, in line with her research topic, she was a consultant in 1997-98 with the National Park Service on the Booker T. Washington National Monument, helping rewrite its general management plan. 

Two publications by Anna have tackled her concerns about how systems work and make them more responsive to the constituents.  In 1985 she prepared A New Age for University Research for the American Council on Education at the University of Georgia.  Again in 1992 she wrote, with two anthropologist colleagues, “On the Uses of Relativism: Fact, Conjecture, and Black and White Histories at Colonial Williamsburg” for American Ethnologist.   And there was writing “for fun.”  For several years in the 1970s she was a regular reviewer for the Roanoke Times Sunday Book Page, edited by Paxton Davis, and published book reviews in various anthropology journals.

As a director Frigid Freeze Foods in the mid-1970s -1980s she learned about spread sheets, net interest margin, facility depreciation, marketing and sales, and staff management.   In 1994, as Roanoke’s locally owned financial institutions were being absorbed by banks in Charlotte and Atlanta, she helped found, under the leadership of her brother George, Valley Bank, to serve our region as a locally owned and operated community institution. She continues as a director, today sitting on the Audit Committee and heading the Human Resources Committee.  The understanding of “systems” is a theme that continues.  

“Compassion and curiosity” coupled with an attempt to understand and adjust (when necessary) the social, economic, and political systems that govern our lives, are what drive Anna.  Those qualities have led to her leadership roles with Hollins (board chair, 2000-2003), TAP (chair 1999-2001), and The Nature Conservancy-Virginia Chapter (chair 2005-2009).  In addition, she is currently active with the Virginia Environmental Endowment, Virginia Land Conservation Foundation (appointment by Gov. Kaine), and the Virginia Historical Society.    She has been an advocate of education and the arts, as evidenced by a sampling of the boards she has served: Taubman Museum, Hollins College Alumnae Association, North Cross School, Science Museum of Western Virginia, Virginia Foundation for the Humanities (chair 2007-09), Family Service, Virginia League of Conservation Voters.

“If I have a legacy, she says, “I hope it is about making systems effective, efficient, and accessible.”  Perhaps the non-profits of which she’s most proud are her involvement as a director and volunteer fund-raiser with Planned Parenthood, TAP (Total Action Against Poverty), the Nature Conservancy, and Hollins University.

She and Tom have supported Planned Parenthood from its beginning in The Roanoke Valley in the 1960s.  Between 1975-85 she was a board member, and in the late 1990s she and Warner Dalhouse served as co-chair of Planned Parenthood’s capital campaign for construction of its new headquarters, dedicated in 2000.

Anna’s work with The Nature Conservancy is again about changing culture in how we approach the environment. Thinking globally about our natural resources has direct consequences for the physical and economic health of our world. Complementing this work, Anna is involved with the Virginia Environmental Endowment which is a foundation that grants funds to small projects that can make a difference.

Hollins helped Anna hone thinking and analytic skills and learn how to apply them toward making organizations and institutions, and perhaps even society, function better. Working in development and administration, she found out “on the ground,” as they say, something about two interesting “systems”—fundraising, mostly with volunteers, and institutional management, with employees.  In addition to a total of 11 years, off and on, as an employee, Anna served 15 years as a Hollins trustee.  In her three years as board chair, a president left the institution, and the country experienced the horror of 9/11. “What inspired me most in that period was the leadership of interim president Walter Rugaber, drafted into the job from his then recent retirement as publisher of The Roanoke Times.  Anna also remembers relying as well on the leadership of Hollins student government president Beth Burgin, now an attorney at Woods Rogers. 

The importance of role models in Anna’s life have been profound in the choices she made from watching her widowed mother tackle the world of work, to living with the aunt who was a dedicated civil servant all her life, to working alongside former college President Paula Brownlee who supported her entering the PhD program.  President Brownlee, while advising that taking on the PhD program might involve getting rid of unwanted responsibilities, noted that there would things Anna loved doing that she would have to sacrifice.  A cellist with the symphony in upstate New York, where she was taking up the post of dean at Union College, Dr. Brownlee said, “I put the cello in the closet—there just wasn’t going to be time.”  Barbara Lemon, community leader and volunteer with whom Anna serves on the Valley Bank board, has been consistently influential with her question, always: “What have we learned?” When an outcome is positive, be sure how we got there; and when it’s negative, be sure to analyze our mistakes.

Asked about a motto, Anna responds, “The Platinum Rule: Do unto others as they would have you do unto THEM.” In other words, try to figure out what the other person wants or needs, what his or her culture is, its values, and then try to respond in a respectful, compassionate manner.  In a way, it’s the flip side, or complement, to her belief in the importance of “curiosity and compassion.”  “It’s not always pleasant, or easy,” she continues. “Often, I’m dead wrong about what’s going on with a person or a situation, but usually something good comes out of the effort.  It takes curiosity, the mind, to determine what drives someone, and compassion, the heart, to understand it.”

Anna Lawson was inducted into the Southwest Virginia Business Hall of Fame in 2010.

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