Anne Achilles O’Brien passed on August 12 as she had hoped, at home in Chatham surrounded by her four children. In addition to daughters Katrina (Avi) of Banning, Calif., and Marian (Trevor) of Matunuck, R.I., and sons Burges (Cindy) of St. Helena, Calif., and Matthew (Lori Ann) of Sebastopol, Calif., Anne is survived by her siblings Ted, Daphne and Steve (Gary) Achilles, and grandchildren Emilyn, Truitt, Theo, Isabelle and Aidan Smith. She was predeceased by her husband, Bob O’Brien.
Marian Strong Achilles was born on June 15, 1934, to Marian Field and the Hon. Theodore Carter Achilles. She grew up in Rome, London (during and after the war), Brussels and Naples where her father held diplomatic posts and negotiated peace treaties, and in Washington, DC. She attended St. George's School in Ascot, England, and Miss Porter’s School, graduating Smith College with a BA in art and architecture.
Anne’s childhood and teen years were filled with adventure. She discovered nature with her grandmother at Fountain Oaks in Morgan Hill, California, climbed Mount Vesuvius and wandered Pompeii, skippered off Maine, skied in Zermatt, scaled the heights of the Matterhorn, and went out on the town to the Moulin Rouge and Edith Piaf in Paris.
Anne’s zeal for life was not tempered by the Foreign Service postings of her first husband, Walter Smith. She mastered the language wherever she lived, the better to make friends from all walks of life. In Poland she embraced summers in the country where the family dacha had neither electricity nor running water. She bought her beloved Wacek to teach her children to ride horseback and explore nearby villages.
Two years in the Soviet Union inspired Anne further; she was caught photographing radar installations during a commercial flight, drove a Soviet general on into the night (away from listening devices) to discuss life in America, and supported and collected non-sanctioned artists even as they were being exiled by the Communists. Her parties were legendary; she eschewed commissary groceries, serving instead the like of Russian brown bear, Black Sea beluga sturgeon, handpicked wild bilberries and Belarusian beet borscht—for her, the rarest of goods and personal root cellars were always available.
The early seventies found the family stationed in Israel. Anne cooked and knit for soldiers during the Yom Kippur War, ushered her family to traditional Bedouin feasts in Negev Desert tents and to orthodox Jewish Passover Seders in Jerusalem apartments. Ever the explorer, she led the family endlessly onward, to Thanksgiving in the Sinai Desert, snorkeling in the Red Sea, skiing in the Golan Heights and shopping in Jerusalem souqs. Indefatigable, she also visited Cyprus, Turkey, Egypt, Jordan and Lebanon. As Anne continued her travels in later life—Reykjavik, Chernobyl, Machu Picchu, Galapagos, Dublin, Leningrad (becoming St. Petersburg as the USSR crumbled at that very moment), her friends marveled at her grace in all environs and abiding interest in all peoples.
Anne found true home when she and Bob moved to North Chatham in 1995. The first community board member of the Cape Cod Fishermen’s Association, Anne applied herself to the cause for 10 years. She helped inaugurate the annual Hookers’ Ball, opened her kitchen to all fishermen, preparing salt cod brandad for hundreds of guests and lobster salad for their families, and spelled fiendishly to raise funds. She also dedicated herself to Chatham’s Friends of Trees, Garden Club, Monday knitting group, and St. Christopher’s altar guild and prayer shawl group (and, as Chathamites knew well, to young Afghan protégées). These friends and these allegiances lifted her spirit every single day, and in return she imparted her appreciation and imagination to all.
Memories of Anne will always evoke her irrepressible artistry and passion. Through her garden masterpieces, culinary exploits, gingerbread constructions, dècoupage eggs, holiday decorations, seashell creations, knitted garments, and floral arrangements, Anne will continue to weave a priceless fabric of beauty and love around her family and friends.
A service to celebrate Anne will be held at 10:00 a.m. on Saturday, September 17, at St. Christopher’s Episcopal Church in Chatham, with a reception immediately following in Parish Hall.
A tree will be planted in Anne’s memory at the fishermen’s Cpt. Harding House headquarters. Donations for her tree (and her fishermen) may be made by check, with “Anne O’Brien” in the memo line, and mailed to the Fishermen’s Alliance, 1566 Main St., Chatham, MA 02633; or online, with “Anne O’Brien” in the comment box, via capecodfishermen.org/donate.