Air Defense Artillery Online December 2010
Mrs. Edith G. FanningThe Air Defense Artillery Branch
and
The Air Defense Artillery Association
Bids Farewell
to the
"Duchess"
On Her Retirement

By Kathleen M. Doyle

          Although Artillerymen look to our patron, Saint Barbara, to watch over us and shield us from harm, for decades there has been a more earthly lady, Mrs. Edith G. Fanning, who has taken air defenders by the hand and steered them in the right direction. Since Saint Barbara is undeniably the First Lady of Air Defense Artillery (ADA) and Ms. Genevieve Swick was unofficially named the second, perhaps a most fitting title for Mrs. Fanning would be the “Duchess” of ADA. Mrs. Fanning, or Edith as she would insist you call her, has devoted her class, grace, experience and knowledge to members of the ADA community for decades.

          Known as the face of the ADA Association, Mrs. Fanning has been the torch bearer of the Association since its inception. By request of Major General CJ LeVan, Edith set up an office in Building 5000, the then home of the Air Defense Artillery Museum at Fort Bliss, Texas, which was managed by the Curator and Director of Museums Mr. Sam Hoyle. Together, Mrs. Fanning and Mr. Hoyle sat down and drafted the new ADA Association's Constitution and By Laws. Mrs. Fanning would be the first to say Mr. Hoyle was the backbone of the Association, but the truth is that he had many fish to fry in his assigned position and the task to see it successfully through fell to Edith.

          Once incorporated on 14 June 1975, the task of selling ADA Association memberships fell squarely and solely on Edith's shoulders – her first stop was General LeVan’s office where she may have stressed that "a leader leads by example" – but, however she presented it, General LeVan ended up with membership number one, followed closely by Colonel Ashby Foote, General LeVan's Chief of Staff and Colonel Bernard Sapp the then Assistant Commandant equivalent. To keep the momentum going she sold membership number four to her own husband Major John (Jack) Fanning who was the Secretary of the General’s Staff and it progressed from there. Edith actively recruited membership for the Association in all the Fort Bliss housing areas, so she literally walked the streets of Fort Bliss selling memberships.

          During our interview the Duchess admitted that there were times she felt much like the “Fuller Brush Man” going door to door, which eventually progressed to from classroom to classroom selling memberships to newly accessed Air Defenders. Simultaneously, she also became Mrs. LeVan’s unofficial aide/personal secretary keeping very busy, but never remiss in her duties as a mother and wife, fulfilling expectations set forth in the “How to be a Proper Officer’s Wife Handbook.” To this day, guests to the Fanning residence are treated with the utmost care and proper decorum. One might find the above reference humorous or even demeaning by today’s standard, but the art of proper entertaining is something every visitor learned in the presence of the Duchess.

          Edith hosted many events and sponsored many ADA Soldiers and their families over the years. Adding to her list of accomplishments and significant contributions to the ADA community were her involvement in Association projects such as fundraisers and exhibits. She was instrumental in raising funds for the new ADA Museum Project, the Annual Gala/Auction, the Children’s Bi-Cultural Living History Program, the Museum Gift Shop and the Order of Saint Barbara/Molly Pitcher Awards Program. She unselfishly attended every retirement, awards and recognition ceremony and gave full participation on behalf of the Association at venues such as conferences, symposiums and class graduations. When one thinks about putting the "right foot forward," the Duchess always represented ADA in the best light.

          Through the years, almost every officer going through the ADA Officer Basic Course, Captain’s Career Course and/or Pre-Command Course has had the opportunity to meet with the Duchess on their way to becoming a bon-a-fide Air Defender and member of the ADA Association. Enlisted and noncommissioned officers benefitted as well, by having a reliable go to source on ADA information, guidance on military customs and courtesy and/or ADA Association related business.

          The Duchess, born Edith Geysen, in Washingtonville, New York, grew up on her father’s farm which coincidentally backed up to the grounds of the United States Military Academy's (USMA's) Camp Buckner training area at West Point, New York.  Annually Mr. Geysen granted the Academy permission to use part of his farm for the ever growing summer camps and mock battle engagements. Edith fondly remembers her Mother taking phone calls for or from the USMA Commandant, while she and her sister Marion, acted as unofficial dispatchers carrying messages by bicycle out to the encampments. A privilege bestowed only to them, while others were forbidden to gain entrance past the guarded check points. There were times when they sat atop a hill and watched the action as if they were onlookers at Gettysburg, only without all the carnage.

          So, is it any wonder that after graduating from Washingtonville Central High School, and the Katharine Gibbs School of New York City, that she would meet and fall in love with a USMA cadet? Miss Edith Geysen and Lieutenant John Fanning were married in 1960. The renowned artist, Don Stivers, even used the Fanning’s wedding photograph as the subject of his painting “Wedding at West Point”.

          Although our Duchess may sound like she lived the life of a socialite, Miss Edith actually had an interesting job prior to her marriage. She was employed by the Central Hudson Gas and Electric Corporation in Poughkeepsie, New York, as the Executive Assistant to the CEO. Today almost anyone working with or around the military knows about the need for security clearances, but imagine if you will, that in the 1950s Miss Edith was required to have a Secret clearance sanctioned by the Atomic Energy Commission even though she had no military/government affiliation.  However, during her tenure there, she also had the opportunity to have lunch at Paramount Studios with Sophia Loren and Elvis Presley.  Add to that, with her nonexistent spare time, Edith was also very active in the Junior League of Newburgh, New York.

          While the Fannings were on active duty, Edith was very involved in Officer Wives' Club functions having served as Publicity Chairman, Member at Large, and President of the Club at Fort Hamilton, New York.
 She volunteered with the Red Cross Volunteer while at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, and in 1984 received the Commanding General’s Award for her “exceptional orchestration of the Fort Leonard Wood Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony and Reception”. The Duchess was extremely proud when their daughter, Jacqui, was selected as the 1978 Fort Bliss Sun Princess.

          Edith worked with the Association from its inception until Jack was reassigned to a new duty station in 1980. Upon their return to Fort Bliss in 1985, Edith volunteered in the ADA Association Gift Shop and soon became the Secretary of the ADA Association, a position which she held until her recent retirement due to the Base Realignment and Closure, moving the Air Defense Artillery School and along with it the ADA Association to Fort Sill, Oklahoma. Mrs. Fanning concluded this interview by saying, "No one has ever had a better 30 some years of serving the best Soldiers in the Army." The Duchess and Colonel (Retired) Fanning will continue to represent ADA in the El Paso community.

          Although the Duchess felt privileged to serve Air Defenders, the honor was all ours. We will always carry Mrs. Fanning (the face of the ADA Association), in our hearts wherever we go, as she has always held us in hers. Thank you, Edith Fanning for representing us with such tremendous grace, elegance and heart. You have inspired a generation of Air Defenders, both military and civilian.


The Duchess & Prime Minister
Mrs. Edith G. Fanning shakes hands with Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher,
while Major General Stanley E. Green looks on at Fort Bliss, Texas

 
 Kathleen Doyle is the Editor-in-Chief of Air Defense Artillery Online. Ms. Doyle has been with the Air Defense Artillery community as a writer, editor and branch marketing representative with the Office, Chief of ADA, Air Defense Artillery School, at both Fort Bliss, Texas, for more than 27 years.