Ann Blackmarr

By Mary Minor Davis and Donna Kreutz

Patron of the Arts

In April, Tucson lost a beloved and devoted patron of the Tucson arts community – Gladys “Ann” Blackmarr – when she was tragically killed while crossing the street in a pedestrian crosswalk in east Tucson. 

If you are involved in the arts at any level, you likely knew Blackmarr. She and her husband, Neal, who predeceased her in 2011, valued the arts in the Tucson community at every level. Whether providing scholarships for students to study abroad, or serving on the boards of the University of Arizona College of Fine Arts and Tucson Symphony Orchestra as well as the UA Presents Advisory Committee, she was always on the front line of supporting what she valued as an essential part of the community experience. At the time of her untimely death, friends say she had committed to a new mission to support more local arts organizations and small theater groups.

“There will never, ever be another Ann Blackmarr,” said Steve Rosenberg, publisher of BizTucson. “My aunt lived life to the fullest and was an avid world traveler, a voracious reader of books, spectator and champion of the arts…a true Renaissance woman. A pioneer in business, she broke the ‘glass ceiling,’ climbing the corporate ladder as the first high-level woman executive with Kelly Services, a national temporary services company. Later she owned and operated Kelly Services franchises with the love of her life, my late Uncle Neal. 

“My aunt poured her heart and soul into her family, the arts community and her career, which translated to great success in business. She was a mentor and loyal friend to many – and was a determined, self-confident, talented, creative, organized, competitive, intelligent, ethical, thoughtful and very opinionated woman,” he said.

“Ann was a force of nature,” said Norma Gentry, who met Ann at a fundraiser for the Tucson Girls Chorus eight years ago. “She was my hero. She had a big life.” 

Longtime friend Barbara Farmilant said, “Ann enjoyed traveling almost as much as she enjoyed the arts. Not only was she interesting, she was curious, outgoing and generous. In her last months, Ann took lessons on writing short stories. I loved it – my friend taking up writing at age 86. I will miss so much about her. She makes me want to do and be more than I am.”

Maurice Sevigny, former dean of the UA College of Fine Arts, described Ann as a “force to reckon with – in a fun way. She was a character and a wonderful voice and advocate for the arts – especially for the students. She and her husband supported at least two students a summer to study abroad, or have internships to expand their education. By the time I left, she had followed over 120 students into their careers.”

Mark Kenneth Channel first met Ann while working at the UA Foundation. He said she taught him a lot about how to cultivate relationships. “Somehow she knew when new people moved into the community and she would take them to dinner, tell them she was going to take them to a performance and convince them to support the arts,” Channel said. “I’ll never forget her.”

“Ann was a true patron of the arts,” said Lisa Comella, senior director in the UA College of Fine Arts. “Her heart was with our students and faculty. She didn’t care where you were from or whether or not you had means – she cared about helping our students and she cared about promoting the arts. I’ll always remember her kindness, her optimism and her candor,” she said. “Ann was an original.”

Born in 1933 in Brooklyn, New York, Ann moved to Washington, D.C., in the 1950s. She married young and had two daughters, Mona and Carla. She did publicity for the League of Women Voters in Montgomery County, Maryland and for a small theater in Rockville, Maryland. In 1964, Ann took a job with a temporary employment agency and within her first week was promoted to manager. Now a single parent, it was here that she took the name Ann Reynolds. In 1977, she returned to head the public relations office for Kelly Services in Detroit, where she met Neal Blackmarr who owned the Kellly franchises in Connecticut. 

Ann joined Neal in running the Connecticut offices before retiring in the 1980s, then moving to Tucson in 1992, where they immediately got involved with the Boys and Girls Club of Tucson in addition to their passion for the arts. 

Ann established the G. Ann Blackmarr Endowment in Theatre Technology in UA School of Theatre, Film & Television. Contributions in her memory can be made at

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