Mrs. Anne Fenton Herdt, 93, passed away Saturday, Sept. 9, 2023, in Onancock.
As a child, Anne was forced to use her right hand in school, but she continued to use her left hand to comb her hair, throw a ball, and ceaselessly sketch her quick, clever male cartoon faces (“Men can be funny, women are supposed to be pretty, that’s not interesting”). She learned at home about injustice, influenced by her father, who worked as a labor organizer, and her mother, a suffragist.
She also became keenly aware herself, as a gifted athlete experiencing the limited resources and access available to girls; they had no uniforms when Anne led her basketball team to the state championship, and her trophy for most valuable player was distinctly smaller than her male counterpart’s. Nevertheless, her spirits were irrepressible; her high school yearbook senior portrait was captioned, “Turns any dull moment into an uproar.”
Anne dedicated much of her life to promoting human rights. In her 50s, in Geneva, Switzerland, she became a volunteer representative for the International Council on Social Welfare, a nongovernmental organization, writing papers and lobbying governments for greater social and cultural justice. She eventually focused particularly on human rights for women in Africa. She rose to president of her organization.
Born June 20, 1930, in Boston, she grew up in Silver Spring, Md., and met her husband while both attended the University of Maryland. “I married adventure,” she once said, as from the age of 24, she lived outside of the United States for a combined 52 years, only returning permanently to the U.S. at age 80, settling in Accomac.
She resided near Geneva, Switzerland, for a total of 42 years, and also lived in Germany, Greece, and Kuwait; she traveled to myriad countries — including to Nairobi and Beijing as a planner for the world forums for the UN Decade of Women.
Among Anne’s proudest accomplishments were nurturing her family in foreign cultures; the valued friends she made along the way (“the jewels in my crown”); and successfully organizing to install a memorial at the Geneva UN, heralding Eleanor Roosevelt’s leadership in drafting the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Anne was also dedicated to spreading joy. She urged more than one friend to consider a beautiful day an opportunity for an outing, forsaking other obligations that structured a 1960s Hausfrau’s routine. She welcomed her children’s friends and parties; her home was full of music and dancing, at which she was a natural.
She played Geneva city league basketball for decades, where “l’Americaine” was appreciated for her elegant skill, her positive team spirit, and her funny accent. She adopted jogging in the 1960s, and her husband and children have her to thank for their own lifelong fitness habit.
She was a lifelong letter writer and a prolific photographer, leaving a rich and inspiring family record. Then she knew how to graciously surrender; nearing her last days, she said, “I have nothing to give you. I can’t make things fun anymore.”
Her impact was enormous on so many fronts. She will be remembered as a woman of astounding good humor, clever wit, natural dignity, and unbounded energy, with a generous heart that wanted no one left out, and a warrior for the vulnerable and voiceless.
Anne is survived by her husband of 71 years, Douglas Merrill Herdt; children, Jeanne Fenton (Todd Weir), of Boothbay, Maine, Christian Herdt (Diane Herdt), of Westborough, Mass., and Helene Herdt, of Geneva, Switzerland; grandchildren, Christina Anne Fields, Simone Herdt Pratt, Patrick Douglas Fields, Sebastian Davis Herdt, and Andreas Christian Herdt; great-grandchildren, Emmeline, Porter, Preston, and Theodore; sisters-in-law, Gloria Adams Fenton and Marjorie Herdt Perl; 11 nieces and 10 nephews; friends and former NGO colleagues all over the world; and dear local friend, Art Poole.
Anne was the daughter of the late Francis Patrick Fenton and the late Christine Tucker Fenton. Her four siblings predeceased her: brothers, John H. Fenton and Gerald T. Fenton; and sisters, Helene Fenton Willoughby and Frances Patricia Fenton Cohill; as well as brothers-in-law, J. Robert Herdt, Martin O. Willoughby, and William Cohill; and sisters-in-law, Janet Fenton and Krista Herdt.
There will be no service.
Contributions in Anne’s memory may be made to the Virginia League for Planned Parenthood at www.plannedparenthood.org
Memory tributes may be shared with the family at
Arrangements are by the Williams-Onancock Funeral Home.