A Lesson in Kindness

When Bob Stosser was asked whether he was open to having a piece written in memory of his wife, Ann, who died last summer, he said, “It depends.”

He wanted to know how a story about Ann might help other people. “That’s what Ann would have wanted to know,” he said. “How would it help? Everything Ann did in life was to help others.”

We agreed that sharing a piece about Ann’s kindness, and how it steered her life, would be a benefit to anyone who might read about her. It could be a quiet reminder that being of service to others is one of life’s greatest gifts—one that we all have the capacity to offer.

Bob and Ann met at Fordham University on March 16, 1963 at a St. Patrick’s Day party. Less than two months later, after a whirlwind courtship, they were engaged. They married that same year on December 28 in a magnificent church in Brooklyn. When Ann died from the progression of Alzheimer’s Disease in 2020 at age 84, the couple had been together for 57 years, the parents of three children and grandparents of nine. “We were true partners,” says Bob.

It was Ann’s nature to want to help. After the couple moved from New Jersey to Bethel in 1971, Ann continued her long commitment to volunteer work. At Danbury Hospital she delivered magazines and books to patients in their rooms. From there, she felt drawn to add beauty to the town where she and Bob were raising their daughters. She joined the Bethel Garden Club, eventually becoming president and spent time planting window boxes and small downtown plots for the benefit of the community.

Ann also became a charter member of the Bethel Red Hat Society, an international society dedicated to impacting the way women are viewed in today’s culture. Ann and her other Red Hat friends would spend time together over lunch, sharing ideas and supporting one another. Their signature statement was wearing a red hat, typically fun and showy ones decorated with bright flowers and feathers.

By far, Ann’s greatest role as a giver was to her three daughters. “Ann loved being a mother,” says Bob. “She was great at it. She loved seeing the girls grow and do well in school.” It was at their daughters’ school—St. Mary’s in Bethel—that Ann continued her long history of helping others. She served as chairperson of St. Mary Church Bereavement Hospitality Group and vice president of the St. Mary Home School Association. Along with Bob, Ann also had a role in the start of the popular St. Mary’s Carnival, which is now in its 45th year.

When their girls graduated high school and began leaving for college, Ann decided to complete the degree she had never finished at Fordham. She enrolled in the social work program at Western Connecticut State University, graduating Magna Cum Laude with a Bachelor of Science in Social Work. Even after she completed her degree, though, Ann continued to spend her time volunteering. She assisted in the Bethel Library and regularly worked the polls during elections.

Ann was also a consistent support to Bob. “In addition to being a wonderful mother, she was a great wife and a great corporate wife, too.” Throughout Bob’s career, Ann was at his side. “She was a grammar and punctuation expert,” he says. “She would always proof my briefs and reports. She always made me look good,” he laughs. She was also loved by Bob’s corporate family. “Ann was so easy to relate to, and she was intelligent and very funny.”

When Bob retired early in 1995 at age 55, Ann asked, “You’re not going to ask me what’s for lunch every day, are you?” Bob’s retirement ended up being brief; he took a consulting job that required doing business across the country. For 12 years, he and Ann travelled together for Bob’s new line of work to cities such as Seattle, Vancouver, and Montreal.

In 2006, Bob recognized a change in Ann’s memory. “Every evening, she and I would sit together and talk. I noticed she was starting to repeat herself about conversations we had already had.” Two years later, Ann was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease. At this time, Bob had retired permanently, and he began caring for Ann in their home. The couple’s three daughters, Kathleen, Mary Beth and Geralyn, visited regularly, always showing unconditional love and support to their mother.

In 2015, when Ann showed signs of needing more comprehensive care, Bob moved her to Maplewood at Stony Hill in Bethel. Bob says, “I’d arrive first thing in the morning before she woke up and I’d leave at night. She thought we were living there together in a new apartment because I was always around.” Ann’s kindness rubbed off on their daughters. They were a huge support to Ann and Bob through it all. And they looked forward to their daily updates from Bob. Living nearby in New York, Mary Beth, was able to visit weekly and Geralyn in Pennsylvania and Kathleen in Massachusetts were at her side often.

The care that Ann received at Maplewood, and later from Regional Hospice gave Bob and his daughters peace of mind. Ann also had a personal caregiver who stayed with her in her room. “Abby,” says Bob, “was my partner in caring for Ann. She was wonderful.” For all the years that Ann had cared for others, Abby returned love and compassion in the same measure back to Ann.

Bob recalls one of the last conversations Ann had with their youngest daughter, Geralyn. She told her, “I hope your father gives a donation to St. Mary’s.”

“There she was at the end of her life,” says Bob, “still generous, still thinking about how to help others.”