Women Voters Member, F.C.’s Ann McCleary Dies


Ann Burridge McCleary, whose boundless curiosity, lively intelligence, deep compassion and memorable laugh delighted her friends and family, died Dec. 4, 2020. She was 90. A Falls Church resident since 2012, she was active in the League of Women Voters, continuing education classes at the Falls Church Community Center, and other organizations. A former social worker, Ann never failed to write a thank-you note or note of encouragement, bring dinner, visit the sick, or comfort a friend, and she never lost her sense of wonder and joy. 

Ann grew up in Hinsdale, Illinois, the youngest of four children of Janet and Howard Burridge and the only girl. Her parents were deeply devoted to each other and to their children, and Ann had many happy memories of the house on Lincoln Ave., marred only by occasional pangs when one of her older brothers would whine, “Oh, do we have to bring her?” when their mother asked the boys to watch out for her. She shared a close relationship with her brothers and their children. 

Psychedelic guru Timothy Leary wooed Ann during a transatlantic crossing when she was 18. (The romance ended when the ship landed, and before prof. Leary began to “turn on, tune in, and drop out.”) Ann attended Goucher College in Maryland, graduating with a BA in 1952. Post-college she worked in adoption placement and child welfare as a social worker, before meeting and marrying Thomas R. McCleary, Jr. They met at a ski club meeting in Cincinnati, although neither of them ever skied. Ann was dating the president of the ski club, and Tom came to the meeting with his housemates who promised there would be girls and beer. While the president ran the meeting, Tom chatted up Ann. They were married April 19, 1958. Their marriage lasted 53 years, until Tom’s death in 2011. 

Ann lived in Grosse Pointe Farms, Michigan, for 40 years, where she was active in the League of Women Voters, the Detroit Historical Society, and many, many other community organizations. In the 1970s she founded CHOICES and taught assertiveness training to women and men in all walks of life. She also volunteered with hospice. 

Ann approached her life after Tom’s death with courage and determination, and moved to Falls Church in 2012 to be near her daughter. There she ran classes in the Great Courses at the Community Center, took courses in drama from a retired Yale professor in Arlington, joined several book clubs, and volunteered to practice English with non-native English speakers. She founded a social network for women in her condo building (The Spectrum), who met twice a month for friendship and conversation. She voted in every election, including 2020.

Ann had a wonderful eye for design and color and harmony, and her house was always a place where everyone felt at home, filled with the small treasures she had collected on trips — a bronze sculpture of a sleeping fawn she found in San Francisco, framed paintings on papyrus she picked up in Egypt, a miniature lacquer box from Russia. The dinners she and Tom hosted for family and friends were always filled with good, simple food, good Scotch, great conversation, and much laughter. 

A lifelong reader, Ann devoured books, magazines, and newspapers until the end of her life. Willa Cather and W.H. Hudson were favorite authors, and she returned to My Antonia again and again. She taught her daughter, Kathy, to read when Kathy was just four, instilling that same passion for literature — something Ann’s granddaughters inherited as well. 

One of Ann’s greatest gifts was the ability to make whoever she was with feel interesting, worthwhile, and cared for. She was a terrific listener, and laughed often. 

Her quiet, warm spirit touched all who knew her, but that spirit lives on in her children and grandchildren. She is survived by her son, Tom (Jill) of Oakland, California, and her daughter Kathleen (Paul Benninghoff) of Falls Church as well as granddaughters Grace and Emma Benninghoff and Meredith and Ally McCleary.