I’ve known League stalwart Ann Hellmuth since the 1970s when she was covering Florida for the Associated Press (the first woman to cover a state news organization for AP). There she was, ensconced in a tiny office at the top of a long staircase in the Orlando Sentinel building where, at the time, I was a reporter covering the Orlando area entertainment scene. The cheery woman with the chipper English accent always offered a friendly hello, and, oftentimes, she had her baby daughter, Claudine, in tow.
Fast forward to 1986 when Ann joined the Sentinel staff, and we became colleagues. Seems we couldn’t get rid of each other because, then, we both joined the League of Women Voters Orange County when we retired from the newspaper, colleagues once more – and friends now for almost 50 years.
Through all that, I never knew the origin story about how Ann began her journalism career. “I was 16 when I started a trade in England,” she said when we chatted a few weeks ago. She was an intern (“more of an indentured servant,” she said) in the news business in Shropshire in England’s West Midlands, not far from Wales. It might have been a humble beginning, but Ann went on to cover royal tours, riots, presidential conventions and campaigns, courts, hurricanes, plane crashes, sea disasters and the anti-apartheid protests in South Africa in a career that saw her living in London, Canada and the U.S. as well as South Africa, where she had been declared a prohibited immigrant due to political activities.
Whew, what an accomplished life! But she wasn’t done when she left journalism (she was a Sentinel deputy managing editor when she retired). It was on to the LWVOC and two stints as president, 2009-10 and 2011-13. Ann said Deirdre Macnab, former LWV Orange County president and state president, inspired her to enlist after she heard a speech by Deirdre.
At the same time, Ann joined Andrea Kobrin in producing LWVOC’s most successful program, Hot Topics, which, besides its timely discussions, is a major money-maker for the League. It was when she and Andrea led H.T. that I again worked with Ann, assisting Andrea and her with program logistics – a big job, involving gobs of phone calls, working on lunch menus, coordinating speakers, writing questions and more.
Ann said that while Hot Topics was/is a lot of work, it was/is great for keeping in touch with our many members and for schmoozing with the politicians who attend.
What is she proudest of? “I survived being president!” she joked, adding that she is happy that membership rolls were boosted and that veteran League members have been good at training newbies. As with many League members, Ann is happy with all the new friends she has met.
“The League sets priorities and focuses on matters of great importance,” she said. “The League of Women Voters is respected.”
So, we might add, is she.