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Profile: Ann Castle

Tue, January 28, 2014 12:39 PM | Laura Parshall
Every year, NEDRA presents the Ann Castle award to someone who has displayed "outstanding effort or achievement in the field of development research." I've watched the presentations at the annual conference, and I've even nominated someone for the award, but until recently, I really didn't know much about who Ann Castle was. Being a researcher, I of course had to learn.

Ann Castle Profile
By Laura Parshall

As someone who came to the development research field after Ann Castle's death, I, like many of you, knew her only from descriptions of her impressive career, and the contributions she made to our profession. I knew about her creation of the Women in Philanthropy website, and the Slate 60 philanthropy rankings. I knew that she had inspired many people. Still, I didn't know much about her as a person. I didn't know what, exactly, people found so inspirational about her. So, I decided to reach out to some of the folks who knew her well, and ask them to share their stories and memories of the woman for whom the Ann Castle award was named. Needless to say, they responded with enthusiasm.

Helen Brown of the Helen Brown Group describes Ann as "surprisingly humble and genuine, considering her stature in the prospect research community. I don't think Ann appreciated what she had done to elevate the status of prospect research for all of us."

Paul Dakin at Mount Sinai Health System met Ann when he was a temporary employee at Harvard. He remembers her as "exceptionally generous and kind with her time and her knowledge. " He says that while she was at Harvard, "many, many visitors from other development shops would come to Ann seeking advice, benchmarking, and mentorship." Helen confirms this, saying that in the early days of prospect research's growth, many development shops gauged what they did by what Harvard did, looking to the university as a model. She says that the respect that Ann received from her colleagues there "lifted prospect research as a profession. I think that is Ann's most powerful legacy."

Like so many of us in this profession, Ann did not get her start in prospect research. Her previous career was a very different one: she started out as a trauma nurse. Valerie Anastasio at Boston Children's Hospital said that Ann felt her previous job "made you feel alive," but that she eventually decided to leave that extremely high-pressure environment to go to the Harvard Divinity School, where she earned her masters degree. That was where her relationship with Harvard began, and she eventually came to development research by way of academia.

Valerie says that Ann quickly realized that development research as a profession "attracted people who are idealistic and a little nerdy." Valerie describes Ann herself as reserved, but warm, friendly, and thoughtful once people got to know her. "She was a fun person, sometimes an unexpected person," Valerie says, mentioning that Ann loved touring the country by motorcycle with her husband, a fact that seemed to stand in sharp contrast to her professional persona. "She had a sense of adventure that stayed with her through her whole life." Valerie guesses that this sense of adventure is one reason why Ann was always on the cutting edge in terms of new ideas, techniques, and resources in her professional life.

Helen, Paul, and Valerie all credit Ann with providing them with encouragement and advice in their careers, as do many in the research community.

"When Ann died," Helen Brown remembers, "Valerie Anastasio and I immediately called each other to express our shock and sadness. Valerie said something that has always stuck with me: 'It's up to all of us now to step up and fill Ann's shoes.' The notion that we all need to step up every day is a very powerful one for me."


It's been nearly 14 years since her death, but Ann Castle continues to affect her fellow researchers through the many people she inspired: through the people who step up every day to help the research community, and to promote our profession.


  • Wed, January 29, 2014 3:51 PM | Deleted user
    Really nice profile, Laura. I had no idea Ann was a nurse in her early life. Great reporting!
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