Friends of Anne McNaughton Farley weren’t surprised that she risked her life to save someone from drowning.
They were devastated, however, that such a kind, creative and upbeat woman died as a result.
“What she did was so much in character with who she was,” said Beth Murphy of Scarborough, a longtime friend who is a library researcher for The Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram, where Farley was a library assistant from 1980 to 1995.
“She was one of those people who, if you needed help, you could call her and she would always be there for you,” Murphy said. “It just doesn’t seem possible that she’s gone.”
Farley, 57, died Wednesday morning after saving her granddaughter from a strong current off Old Orchard Beach on Tuesday afternoon, said Deputy Police Chief Keith Babin.
Farley, who lived in Westbrook, was the librarian and media specialist at Bonny Eagle Middle School in Buxton.
She was pulled from the ocean near the border of Old Orchard Beach and Saco around 2:30 p.m. Tuesday, along with several others who had been caught in the current from the outflow of Goosefare Brook, Babin said.
Witnesses told police that Farley jumped in after her granddaughter fell into the water, Babin said. Farley got her granddaughter out of the water but was unable to escape the current herself.
She was unconscious when lifeguards pulled her from the water, so they began CPR on the shore, Babin said. She was taken by ambulance to Southern Maine Medical Center in Biddeford, then transferred to Maine Medical Center in Portland, where she died early Wednesday.
All of the other swimmers caught in the current were unharmed, including Farley’s granddaughter, Babin said.
Her friends described Farley as a dedicated educator, a loving family member and a self-effacing storyteller who maintained a young person’s love of life.
“She never became cynical or jaded, as so many of us do when we reach middle age,” said Jon Halvorsen of South Portland, a former Telegram editor who knew Farley for 30 years. “She never spoke harshly about anyone. If you were in her company, you felt her warmth, her complete attention to you in conversation. You felt good just being around her.”
Farley grew up in Portland, the daughter of Donald and Evangeline McNaughton. She graduated from Deering High School and received a bachelor’s degree in elementary education from the University of Southern Maine.
Married in 1996, she and her husband, John, had no children together, but she was close to his two children from a previous marriage and his five grandchildren.
“She loved his children and grandchildren like they were her own,” said Susan Butler of Scarborough, a former library researcher at the Press Herald who last saw Farley on Monday, when she attended Butler’s birthday party.
After leaving the Press Herald, Farley worked at Scarborough High School, then decided she wanted to be a school librarian, Butler said. She went back to school and earned a master’s degree in library science.
She relished her job at Bonny Eagle Middle School, where she led fundraising efforts to help victims of Hurricane Katrina and this year’s earthquake in Haiti. She got to know individual students’ interests so she could recommend books they’d want to read, Murphy said.
She also researched and decorated the library with authentic tartan plaid banners representing the 18 Scottish “clans” that divide the middle school into learning groups.
“Anne was a wonderful addition to our staff and will be sadly missed by everyone who knew and worked with her,” Suzanne Lukas, superintendent of the Bonny Eagle School District, wrote in an e-mail to staff members Wednesday.
Farley’s creativity extended to her gift for writing and telling stories. She occasionally wrote Maine Observer guest columns for the Maine Sunday Telegram. Her latest, about the beauty of the four seasons in Maine, ran June 27.
In it, she remembered childhood trips to Old Orchard Beach:
“A trip to Old Orchard Beach was also a special treat,” she wrote. “Noah’s Ark, the merry-go-round and little boats that went round and round in the water were my favorites.”
When she worked at the Press Herald, her co-workers looked forward to her Monday morning tales about her weekend adventures.
Murphy remembered one story that Farley told, after she attended a wedding reception. A person at the reception asked her to mind a guide dog for a moment, but the dog got away from her.
Farley described how she followed the dog across the reception hall, calling “Champagne! Champagne!,” which was the dog’s name, only to draw the attention of curious waiters and people who thought she was offering them a drink.
“She seemed to be a magnet for situations like that,” Murphy said. “She was able to tell those stories and laugh at herself.”
Farley had varied interests and gathered friends from every facet of her life. She traveled widely, played golf every Monday, sang in the Portland Community Chorus and the folk group at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Portland, tended a beautiful flower garden and was active in Democratic politics.
“She kept all her friends throughout her life,” said Carole Madsen Smith of Portland, a friend since junior high school. “She sent out a million Christmas cards every year and always remembered your birthday. She had an incredible sense of loyalty.”
Staff Writer Edward D. Murphy contributed to this report.
Staff Writer Kelley Bouchard can be contacted at 791-6328 or at: [email protected]