Anna Maria Tocci, a musician, healer and former owner of the North Star Music Café in Portland, died Sunday from an aggressive type of brain cancer. She was 43.

Tocci was remembered this week as a devoted mother who radiated love and light and touched many lives.

Anna Maria Tocci. Photos courtesy of her family

Her husband, Justin Andre, announced her passing in a heartfelt message on Facebook, saying she filled him and their girls, Juna, 10, and Anya, 8, with love every day.

“She lived her life creating community, making people feel loved and safe,” Andre wrote. “It has been amazing to see and feel that community radiate that love back to us. She was the kindest person I have ever known. She accepted people as they were and helped us glimpse and seek our best selves.”

She grew up in Orleans, Vermont, a daughter of Greg and Emily Tocci. She graduated Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania with a degree in peace and conflict studies.

Tocci spoke Spanish and traveled extensively throughout Central America. Following college, she considered a career in law and moved to Minneapolis, where she worked as a paralegal aid for migrant farm workers. Soon after, she realized she needed a change.

Anna Maria Tocci moved to Portland created the North Star Music Café in 2007.

Around 2004, Tocci traveled to Portland to visit family for a Fourth of July weekend. She stayed with her cousin Peter Bloom and his wife, Heidi Kendrick, on Munjoy Hill. Kendrick said Tocci used to sit on their roof and sing and play the guitar. She fell in love with the city and created North Star Music Café in 2007.

Tocci was a gifted musician and North Star was one of Portland’s liveliest performing arts venues. The cafe hosted music shows, poetry slams, open mic nights, dance parties and discussion groups. It became a gathering spot for musicians and artists to perform and showcase their work.

Musicians from across the country performed at North Star, including Tocci, who sang and played guitar in the band Ramblin Red. For many, North Star was a place people came to feel loved, accepted and a sense of belonging.

“Anna was the person everyone wanted to be around because she made you feel so good,” said her sister, Helen Tocci of Portland. “She had so much allowance for people. She really allowed people to show up exactly as they were and treated them with love.”

Tocci left the café prior to its closing in 2010. For the past five years, she and her husband operated Greenlight Studio in Portland. Their mission was to provide kids a safe place to play and explore and offer parents a chance to relax and connect with each other. The space featured a café, a climbing wall, train room, an arts space, a costume trunk and a stage. The business closed in May because of COVID-19.

Kendrick and Bloom helped Tocci design and build the spaces for North Star and Greenlight. Kendrick said people went there for more than a cup of coffee. They went for essential oils and to be healed in various ways. Kendrick said she regularly stopped by for a dose of “Anna Love.”

Anna Maria Tocci with her daughters, Juna and Anya

“Anna had an amazing ability to see, listen, respond without judgment,” Kendrick said. “She was one of those people who were so diplomatic and didn’t hold judgments at all. She really believed in the idea of what else is possible. … I’ll miss her smile, her hugs and grounding. She was a person who always kept me grounded. She would entertain all my zany ideas and anchor it.”

In June, Tocci posted a heartfelt message on Greenlight’s Facebook page, thanking the community for five years of laughter, play, great food and wonderful conversations.

“I have such gratitude for you and your amazing families,” Tocci wrote. “I look forward to a time when we can gather freely together. Adore you all.”

Tocci lived on Collins Pond in Windham with her husband and two daughters. They met at a cousin’s wedding when Tocci caught the bouquet. They were married more than 10 years.

Justin Andre wrote about their meeting in his Facebook post.

“The first night we met I told her I thought she was adorable and would love the opportunity to take her on a date. I still adore her. She has filled our lives with joy and intention, songs and laughter, and so much love,” he wrote.

Anna Maria Tocci and her husband, Justin Andre

Her sister said they had a deep love and beautiful relationship.

“They were very different, but they really understood each other,” her sister said. “His devotion to Anna … man, they loved each other with such a deep love. The way he showed up for her … he was so there for her. The kind of love he has for her is inspiring. It feels almost unreal.”

Tocci was diagnosed in January with glioblastoma, an aggressive type of brain cancer. Family and friends organized a benefit concert for Tocci that drew more than 20 musicians from across the county.

Musicians shared stories and sang to celebrate Tocci’s life and her impact on the community she loved. The final performance was Tocci, who sang her original song, “North Star” on March 10. She was accompanied by her sister and longtime friend Monique Barrett on backing vocals, and Sorcha Cribben-Merrill on acoustic guitar.

Tocci’s emotional tribute was set to a montage of pictures of her family. As of 8 p.m. Tuesday, the concert had raised more than $63,595 with support from 730 donors. To make a donation to support her family, go to gofundme.com/f/contribute-to-anna-maria-tocci.

In the days before her death, Tocci was home surrounded by her family and closest friends. Her sister expressed gratitude for the support and care Tocci received during her final days.

“I’m so happy for Anna that she had this beautiful passing and that she had everything she wanted,” her sister said, reflecting on the magnitude of her loss. “She was my best friend. It’s hard to talk about right now. She was my person. I believe we traveled together through many lifetimes. We were really, really close.”

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