It all began in St. Joe in 1922. I lived there until I was seventeen and went off to Smith College to find freedom, hope and opportunity. My father said I had a very happy childhood. My Aunt Clara said it was perfectly horrible. Somewhere in-between lies the truth.
We lived next to Corby Grove, my first experience with open space. I went out with my dog, Spotty, every day prowling around, catching tadpoles, baking mud balls for neighborhood fights, carrying my beebee gun, having a totally free and unfettered childhood.
Starting in high school, I knew what I wanted to do—have a literary career. I remember someone saying to me, oh, maybe you can be Ernest Hemingway’s secretary and I said, no, I want to be Ernest Hemingway. I knew I could make a living at it and I did. I was a freelance writer and I was good at it.
The magazine business was a lot like college in one way because it was all contacts, all connections, all networking, all having lunch with an editor and trying to sell a story. It was a totally entrepreneurial life and it suited me. People who like certitude shouldn’t be freelancers and they shouldn’t be politicians.
I feel I was lucky that the thing that was the perfect fit for me also turned out to be the timely, trendy thing of the 70’s, which was the environment. When I located myself on that spectrum I was home.
Betty Friedan and I used to sit around and have lunch and talk about how we could become celebrities without actually doing anything. Well, we both worked very hard to achieve something, and I found that through Redding. If I hadn’t come to Redding, of course, I wouldn’t have had the canvas to work on. I had no idea that Redding would turn into a career.
The title for my political playbook is Bipartisan Coalition for Clean & Green. You could always attract people, regardless of their politics, if you had an agenda on an issue that everybody could agree on-- and that was clean environment, lots of open space, good schools and a rural atmosphere and slow growth.
Things like the power line come back. It’s like woodchucks in your garden. It’s nice to know that you have defeated so-called progress, and I’m proud of it.
I was the first woman First Selectman. Nobody is really trained for this. That’s what’s great about politics. It is the ideal place for a generalist.
It’s always exhilarating to be in public life if you’re on the side of the angels. You have to be, in fact. Somebody in town once said to me, you must have skin of a crocodile. I said, “Well, you develop it.” It must be some masochistic trait but I think it goes back to the old general up there, I mean there was just something about the pleasure of doing them in. Nothing beats it.
You have to be able to look out a little bit –to be able to anticipate and have some foresight. I don’t see how people are going to operate without knowing how it’s going to work out ––having 360 degree vision—you have to see around corners and see who’s coming.
In political life, it was really hard to have to tolerate so many suggestions from people. I didn’t want anybody to tell me what to do. That’s why my cat and I are so much alike. And yet you develop that ability. If the goal is important enough and your motivation is strong enough and you want to get there enough, you grin and bear it and listen and then just go do the opposite.
One of my old political cronies gave me a T-shirt, which said: “I may have my faults but being wrong isn’t one of them.”
My cat Marguerite, known as Shorty because the vet said, “Hey Shorty, hold still,” is determined to be a person, and succeeding. Cats are more like freelance people. They’re on their own. This cat has a power over other people that I admire.
They always say there’s a Guitar gardening gene and I certainly got it. I love all these wild colors in the garden. Whenever I go back to Smith, I go to the botanic garden and say to myself, why didn’t you take that instead of Physics?
People garden according to their temperaments and the way they see life, and the satisfaction they get out of it or don’t get out of it. So it’s all learning about what’s living in a garden. Living a composted life. Just keep replenishing it with people and gardens and issues.
*Drawn from the 2002 Oral History: Tina Miller interview with Mary Anne Guitar
Here's to the girl from Corby Grove who made --and did--good. Her foresight, leadership, intelligence and friendship have improved the lives of those around her, and many more to come. She had the vision and determination to keep our Town a nice place to live. Kudos, with love and gratitude to Mary Anne --the mentor who truly led by example.