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Anyone who has closely followed the Alexandria City Council or local Alexandria elections over the past 15 years has seen or heard Annabelle Fisher speak out on a variety of topics. She was an advocate for Alexandria renters, public safety personnel; fiscal responsibility in government spending; and, in recent years, changes to local, state and federal mental health systems. Annabelle was fierce, feisty, moody, difficult and friendly. She was also my friend. Annabelle died on Jan. 25, and, as a friend of mine observed, “The world will be a less interesting place without her.”

Annabelle moved to Alexandria in 1999 and except for a year in Raleigh, North Carolina, she lived here until her death. I first met her during the 2000 City Council and School Board elections, which I covered. From that time through the 2015 local elections, Annabelle attended candidate forums and was engaged in the City’s political life. She even worked with a group to organize candidate forums in Alexandria’s West End where she lived and which was a part of the City she felt was neglected by elected and appointed officials.

She was a frequent critic of City Council and the Alexandria School Board and often spoke at City Council public hearings. Often, after speaking on a particular topic at a Saturday public hearing, Annabelle would call me to ask how she did. “Did I sound coherent? Did I make sense? Did they pay attention,” she would ask.

Editors of the local newspapers are familiar with Annabelle’s lengthy often random missives. She was always proud when she got something published and shared those letters with all of her friends. Annabelle and I often disagreed but those disagreements were nearly always civil.

Annabelle prepares to write a message on the Pink fire truck during a Pink Heals visit to her apartment in July, 2017 (courtesy photo)

As a young woman, Annabelle was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder, a fact she began to discuss somewhat openly in the past five years or so. “I’m afraid and I’m not sure I want to tell everyone about my mental illness. I can’t deal with the stigma of being labeled with a psychiatric disorder because people will treat me differently if they know,” she told me. However, for the past couple of years, she attended some mental health lobbying days on Capital Hill because of her concern that laws related to mental health must change.

She struggled with often debilitating depression, which made it hard for her to work full time in her later years and even to leave her apartment at times. Her perseverance, however, saw her earn a bachelor’s degree as an older student and a master’s degree in social work. “I was a late bloomer,” she said.

Her work in the field of social work and her own involvement in the mental health system gave her a keen understanding of her illness, making her a knowledgeable and difficult patient. When, last spring, she was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer, she became an even more difficult patient. “I don’t want to die,” she said, “but if I don’t have a choice, I’m going to do it as much my way as I can.”

Over the past several years, Annabelle spent many Thanksgivings and Christmases with my family. My children fondly remember her quirky gifts of coupons, cookies and a toy Ferrari for my teenage son who was agitating for a vehicle of his own. This past Christmas, she was unable to come to dinner so my husband and I took her food. When she called to thank me, she said she particularly liked the spinach “because you must have put some booze in it.” (My husband steamed it with Vermouth.)

Annabelle’s message (courtesy photo)

My husband and I saw Annabelle for the last time on Jan. 15. She had asked that we come to say goodbye to her. She knew us and communicated with us in a very basic way.

Others showed their care for her as well. After her diagnosis, Councilman Willie Bailey, Alexandria Police Chief Mike Brown and Sheriff Dana Lawhorne arranged for the Pink Heals truck to stop by her apartment last summer. She was thrilled and surprised by their attention. Mayor Allison Silberberg also stayed in touch with her and visited her shortly before her death.
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