What does being an American mean to you?
That’s the question Ann Rutherford asked her son David to ponder as he was shipping out to Afghanistan just after Sept. 11. She handed him a small notebook and asked him to write down his thoughts on the subject while serving with his Navy SEAL platoon.
David did that and more. He passed the notebook around to his fellow SEALs. As they worked together day by day, tracking Osama bin Laden and his followers through the mountains and caves of Afghanistan, the SEALs wrote about being American, and defending America. Fresh memories of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon fueled their writing.
When David came home and returned the notebook to his mom, she felt compelled to share the handwritten personal essays inside. She published them, along with 26 of her own photographs showing Old Glory flying proudly, in a book called Flags of Freedom: A Pictorial Salute to American Soldiers.
“I have taken thousands of photos in my life,” says Rutherford, who lives in Boca Raton’s Royal Palm Yacht & Country Club. “And when I looked at my collection, I noticed there were a lot of American flags. Over a period of 35, 40 years, I took flag pictures, and everywhere we went on vacation I searched for a cemetery or someplace where I could find a flag to photograph.”
Why did she focus on the Stars and Stripes?
“I guess because I’m a patriot,” she says. “And I didn’t realize how strongly I felt about our country until I started working on the book.”
Rutherford, 67, describes herself as a “doer.” She was a tennis champion growing up in Michigan, winning a statewide tournament at age 13 and later playing throughout the Midwest in the Wightman Cup junior program.
A car accident at 22 changed her life in an instant, and became the impetus for moving to Florida. It happened when her husband, Charlie, was in law school at Wayne State University.
“We were on our way home from Detroit for Christmas,” she says, “It was icy, and we spun around and hit a cement overpass. I was sitting in the back seat holding our firstborn son, Eric, and the front seat broke loose and crushed my leg. I had a cast on for nine months, trying to take care of a 1-year-old. It was a traumatic experience in our life, so we decided, no more Michigan.”
The Rutherfords arrived in Pompano Beach in 1971, moving to Boca Raton in 1973, when Charlie opened a law practice there.
They had a second child, David, and became involved in community and charitable organizations.
Ann started a career as a real estate agent in her 40s and continues to work as a Realtor for Coldwell Banker Residential Real Estate in Boca Raton. She still excels at tennis, despite lingering nerve damage from the accident.
As we mark another Independence Day, Rutherford wants Americans to give more credit to the men and women of the U.S. armed forces.
“Whatever you are, Republican or Democrat, it doesn’t matter… If we didn’t have our service people, we wouldn’t have the freedoms we have. I mean, these troops are giving their lives for us,” she says.
— Paula Detwiller
Q. Where did you grow up and go to school?
A. I grew up in Muskegon, Mich. I graduated from the University of Michigan, where I met my husband, Charlie.
Q. What are some highlights of your life?
A. Sports have played a huge part of my life, tennis in particular. Winning some state junior tennis championships in Michigan was very exciting. My family and I are event-oriented, so watching my sons in their sports championships and theatrical performances was thrilling. Sharing our family’s successes couldn’t be more rewarding for a mother.
I also have been very involved in the charity community in Boca for a long time. I am a founder of the Boca Bacchanal Wine Festival for the Boca Raton Historical Society, which is in its 10th year. And, of course, this book, Flags of Freedom, is a very special endeavor for me.
Q. What is your favorite part about living in Boca Raton?
A. Charlie and I have made lifelong friendships and participated with these same friends in helping to shape Boca Raton into one of the most civic-minded communities in the country.
We have participated in charitable events at Florida Atlantic University, Lynn University, the Boca Raton Regional Hospital, Boca Bacchanal Wine Festival, Saint Andrew’s School, Festival of the Arts, and my favorite charity, Spirit of Giving, of which I am a board member.
Q. What do you consider your greatest accomplishment in life?
A. Being married to Charlie for 44 years, and raising two sons, Eric and David. They are now young adults and have the same compassion for life as my husband and I do.
Q. What did you learn about yourself from writing Flags of Freedom?
A. The more I worked on the book, the more I came to realize how much the book and its subject — our soldiers, and the freedom they have given Americans to live life as we do — affected me emotionally. My patriotism and the pride I have for my son David for whom the book was created, is unmatched.
The words written by his SEAL teammates have touched many people with family members who have served their country. I am donating part of the profits from the book to the Navy SEAL Foundation.
Q. Do you have plans to do another book? If so, what would be the topic?
A. I want to do a book on the veterans who have re-entered civilian life after serving their country. Through my photography and character studies, I want to show the struggle they have in this process. Hopefully we Americans will come to realize how important it is to help these veterans reclaim their lives.
Q. If someone made a movie of your life, who would you like to play you and why?
A. I am not worthy of such an idea, but I would probably pick Anne Hathaway, an up-and- coming movie actress who continually lights up the screen in her understated way. My maiden name is Ann Hathaway.
Q. Do you have a favorite quote that inspires your decisions?
A. This is probably unusual, but I like the Nike quote, “Just do it.” That slogan exemplifies my attitude about life — which is to approach life and, in turn, problem-solving as if there is no excuse not to succeed if you give it your best effort.
Q. What was your most humbling moment?
A. When I was 44, I started my real estate career at Arvida Realty, which was comprised of all top producers, and I was a novice.
I would get stomach pains every day when I walked into the office. It took months before I felt I could handle the pressure and could fit in with the group of accomplished Realtors.
Q. Who or what makes you laugh?
A. I am a member of an investment club named Blush, composed of eight good friends. If the monthly meetings were taped it would be very embarrassing because we laugh more than we invest!
To purchase a copy of Flags of Freedom: A Pictorial Salute to American Soldiers, visit http://navysealtributebook.blogspot.com/2011/09/911-anniversary-boo....