Omega Phi Alpha lost one of its shining lights on May 19, 2013, when our dear sister Ann DeMatteo (Beta) passed away from breast cancer at age 56.
Ann was the living ideal of what OPA’s lifetime membership should be like in the years after leaving the college environment. She joined OPA in 1974 as a freshman. She served on the national executive board for many years as publications editor (which later became the VP communications role), secretary (which evolved into the director of administration role) and national president. She provided support to her beloved (OPA founding) Beta Chapter at the University of Bridgeport in many ways, including advising the active chapter, storing chapter materials at her house, and hosting numerous workshops and retreats at her home. Even after the chapter went inactive, Ann stayed in touch with her fellow alumnae of Beta Chapter, sharing memories and keeping the spirit of OPA alive in Connecticut. In particular, she convinced fellow Beta sister, Thea Moritz, to first run for national office in 1986.
Ann was a staple at OPA’s national convention for at least 20 years, both while she was serving as a national office and when she wasn’t. She was adamant about teaching younger members the national songs and ceremonies, and about incorporating new songs and traditions into the sisterhood experience. She was proud to hold the distinction of being the only OPA sister to receive the Susan Terzian Award twice. She was part of Beta Chapter when they won the award in 1978 for turning their chapter around, and she won it again in 1994 for years of contributing her time and talents to strengthen the national organization in several leadership roles.
Sisters who met Ann remember her as a larger-than-life personality. When she was singing sorority songs, she poured every ounce of her energy into it. You’d think it was opening night on Broadway! And yes, it’s true that she regularly fell asleep (and even snored!) in convention business meetings but not because she was bored. No, she was intensely interested! She fell asleep because she stayed up half the night every single night of convention sitting on the hallway floor talking with her sisters. Although her interest in the business agenda was sincere, her desire to get to know her sisters across the country was much stronger.
Ann had a passion for sharing her experiences, both the good and the bad. As a professional journalist, she was completely candid about her challenges, including her health challenges, sharing what she learned about cancer, chemotherapy, radiation, and complications from implants with anyone. She had a gift for painting a scene with the written word. Nothing was off limits. She won awards for her candor and sensitivity by sharing her cancer journey in her weekly news column in the New Haven Register. Ann still has a legion of admirers who have never even met her.
She loved to sing and she loved performing, both skills that she put to good use in skits and songfests for national and local OPA events. She convinced Ginger McGarity (Nu), former VP Lifetime Membership, to appear with her in a recurring skit about two sisters who grow old together and reminisce about OPA from their rocking chairs at the fictional Shady Oaks Retirement Home. She loved to sing karaoke and volunteered for years with the Miss Connecticut Scholarship program, helping the contestants perfect their stage presence. So Ann was a natural choice when OPA was looking for someone to develop a new ceremony to honor alumnae who had reached milestone anniversaries of their activation date. In collaboration with Sheila Beazley Bush Driller (Epsilon), Ann created OPA’s alumnae society induction ceremony—even writing a new verse for the song “A Tribute To O-Phi-A.” By 2013, 49 sisters have been welcomed into this elite group of alumnae and more will be inducted at future conventions and alumnae reunion events.
“I hope to rekindle friendships and to roll out a great alumnae society ceremony. I hope to guide delegates and new alums to new heights of friendship, leadership, and service,” Ann said as an alumnae delegate at Convention 2005.
“As Ann moves into this next phase of her life, I picture her making a grand theatrical entrance in a sparkling evening gown, outrageous tiara, and billowing feather boa. I will miss her at the Shady Oaks Retirement Home for aging OPA sisters, but she’ll live in my heart forever. And every time I envision her belting out a show tune on stage, I’ll smile a secret little smile and be grateful that our lives intersected for a little while. I am a better person for having known and loved my sister Ann DeMatteo,” said Ginger in her message to OPA alumnae.
At Convention 2013 in Pittsburgh, the highest alumnae award was renamed the Ann DeMatteo Alumnae Service Award.