Over the years Tom Dignam worked with us on the renovation of the Hermitage buildings. He supplied a never-ending stream of free construction material, labor, and furnishings. He came to the rescue when artists locked themselves out, when the electricity went off and when snakes got into studios. I even caught him cleaning the refrigerator and re-arranging furniture. Renowned Playwright Craig Lucas thought Tom was the handyman and was astonished that we named a building after him.
When we first started saving the Hermitage buildings as an artist retreat, Tom’s father, George Dignam had just died. He had long been a civic leader in Englewood and we thought it would have been apropos to link the Dignam name with these historic buildings. That finally happened several years later when we named the “Tom Dignam Beach Cottage”.
The Dignams were destined to be connected to the Hermitage. My co-founder, Syd Adler and I asked David Dignam, also a civic leader and a rising star in Englewood to donate time and money to our cause. David said he would give us the best gift we could get: His dad, Tom.
While Tom knew construction, George’s granddaughter Leslie knew fund raising events. She started our highly successful and much loved lobster bake. More than once writers edited a few choice words to downgrade their R-rated scripts to G for George Dignam’s great granddaughter, Taylor who was often the only child at readings. When Brandon Dignam wanted to get married at the Hermitage, how could we say anything but “Yes.”
Annette and Tom attend nearly every beach reading, every volunteer meeting and every fundraiser. Tom became a popular historic home tour docent, spinning tales that became better each time. Annette always showed her appreciation for the art and the artists, especially the writers. She reads their books and loves to talk to the authors. She sits in the first row at every Friends meeting and reading.
That’s why it was easy to surprise her a few weeks ago when we honored Annette with the The Annette Dignam Hermitage/State College of Florida Residency in Literature. At the surprise announcement party Annette, in the front row, didn’t see her whole family gather in the rows behind. Her face glowed with emotion as the residency was announced. Love and appreciation flowed generously as folks from the Hermitage, SCF, and the Gulf Coast Community Foundation let Annette know how much she has meant to them. She served on the SCF Foundation for many years. This endowed residency helps two organizations that Annette has helped nurture.
And in the audience was the 5th generation Dignam, baby Garrett who may someday be mentored in writing by a holder of the Annette Dignam Hermitage/SCF residency in Literature.