“She was always trying to find the best in everybody in every situation. We’re always fighting uphill battles in ag, and it can get frustrating and negative pretty easily. She was always good at staying positive and encouraging.” Kathy Hadley, farmer.
“Her writings always left you feeling positive about things. Some things leave you feeling depressed after you read them. It’s easy for people to get caught in a bit of a negative loop, and it’s not very attractive to the outside. If you want people from outside of ag looking at what we do and getting an appreciation for ag and being positive towards ag, you have to make them want to read about it, and feel good about reading about it, and feel interested in it. If it’s not something they feel good about reading, then they’re not going to come back.” Helle Ruddenklau, farmer.
“Even facing the darkest moments of health in her life, she was always able to find that nugget of positivity. She was a real source of encouragement for people who were going through other things, even in the midst of her own challenges. Not everyone can do that or will do that.” – Dave Dillon, president of FoodNW
In writing about Anne Marie Moss, it’s hard to get around the fact that she was taken too early from her community and colleagues. Her untimely death from cancer in 2022 means that she cannot be here to accept the Ag Connection award that Oregon Aglink is presenting her with in 2023. It also means that Oregon agriculture will be missing out on future years that Moss could have lent her talents in communication and connection between humans within, around, and beyond the farming and ranching communities in our state.
Fortunately, her work and many friendships have left a legacy from which future generations can learn. We are left with an abundance of impressions–people are happy to speak about her– and a consistent theme of Moss’ positivity. The quotes above echo each other and reinforce a sense of her positive attitude, but they also hint at another common theme: the generosity with which Moss approached the world.
We might think of generosity as demonstrated through money and things. Generosity can be a donation, a gift, or showing up to a neighbor’s house with home-cooked food during hard times.
With Anne Marie Moss, her generosity showed up in less tangible ways that still made obvious impacts on the lives around her. As she began her job as Communications Director at Oregon Farm Bureau in 2004, the traditional world of press releases and statements was expanding into a much wider array of technologies and engagement across social media. She tackled it head-on and became in the words of Dave Dillon, “a both/and, not an either/or.” Dillon was the executive Director of Oregon Farm Bureau at the time. As he recalls, “we didn’t have a bunch of new resources– we didn’t have a social media specialist in addition to a communications director.”
Even beyond those roles, Moss was always willing to try something new or do a little extra if the need arose. Kathy Hadley had met Moss soon after she took the position with Oregon Farm Bureau and came out to tour the farm near Rickreall. When Hadley was researching something for her county farm bureau or Young Farmers and Ranchers, she knew that she could call Moss with a question: “she was always somebody that, if I needed something, I could call her and she’d look something up even if it wasn’t her ‘department’.”
Helle Ruddenklau has a similar memory of Moss. After Ruddenklau met Moss during the inaugural class of REAL Oregon in late 2016, her eldest Lore worked for Moss as an intern at the Capital. One night Lore was working late and hadn’t realized the doors of the building would lock in anyone without a key. Although Moss was off-site working in Pendleton, she made as many phone calls as it took to find someone still working in the building who could let Lore back out.
To be generous with your time and attention is already more abstract than most examples we might imagine, though we can probably think of other instances where we’ve experienced someone generous in that way. Another story from Ruddenklau, where Anne Marie Moss demonstrated how to edit, write captions, and add music to a short video on Facebook during a quick bus ride shows a similar sort of generosity. In the farmer’s words, it was an “effortless competence” that nevertheless cared more about sharing skills than showing off.
Technical skills were just the bonus for Moss’ true core competence of working with people and the stories that connected them. As the former communications director at Oregon Farm Bureau, Dave Dillon knew the world of press releases and statements, but the rapid expansion to websites, email, and then social media meant the Oregon Farm Bureau needed to be visible in entirely new and unpredictable ways. “She came in and had to navigate the presence on different platforms,” he continues, “but the world was changing too. The way people received information was changing.”
The social media where so much modern “communication” happens can be a decidedly un-generous place. People are quick to judge and quick to argue, rarely seeing beyond their own perspective and the need to win a debate. It takes a particular kind of generosity to be flexible enough to listen, stay calm, and even re-examine your own ideas or approaches. Moss was willing to do that, like the time she called Kathy Hadley to ask her opinion about a post. “‘Do you think that’s a problem?’” Hadley remembers Moss asking, “‘Should I take that down?’” The post had upset another member, and Moss wanted a second opinion to better understand what might have gone wrong and what she could do differently.
“Sometimes you’re just so personally engaged with something, it’s hard to get outside of the fight part of it” says Dave Dillon of Moss. “She could raise her eyes above that level and think ‘okay, I see why people are heated about it, but what actually needs to be done here?’”
Far from being clinical and detached, though
, Moss threaded the needle between the broader perspective and the real people and consequences in every story.
“She could feel the struggles and triumphs of members,” remembers Dillon. “She cared deeply. People can sometimes get tied to the statistics and the math, those parts of the issues, but she could always relate to people on an individual basis, in a humanized way. It wasn’t just arguments and winning arguments, it was ‘Here’s a member, here’s what they care about.’”
The acts of speaking and writing might seem like tangible gifts offered to the world by a communications professional like Moss. What made her excellent at her job, though, was taking the time to listen to peoples’ stories and work through complicated and even controversial topics. Those skills of listening and story-telling came not just from her education and training, but her life-long love of travel and meeting new people.
Whether she had just come back from an international trip or a farm tour here in Oregon, Moss was more interested in hearing or sharing other peoples’ stories than carrying on about her own. “She was always highlighting other people and promoting other people,” says Helle Ruddenklau, “never bragging about herself.” The world-traveler never made someone else feel small. Instead, the fact that she still cared about the stories of individual Oregonian farmers and ranchers after meeting so many people around the world made her attention feel even more special.
If you browse through the hundred-plus videos available on the Oregon Farm Bureau channel on Youtube, agricultural producers of every demographic and from every region of Oregon have the chance to share what they do and what they care about. Even if Moss is rarely on the screen, her influence is visible in all of the videos.
It would be impossible to recreate the kind of magic that Anne Marie Moss seemed to share with her colleagues and friends, but her legacy is there to model what works. While people may remember your positivity and how you made them feel special–and knowing your way around technical skills or statistics can lend you credibility–the greatest asset of a communicator is the generosity with which you listen to other stories and engage the world.
Sometimes it might seem like agriculture just needs more cheerleaders or research to win supporters. Moss showed that the best communication is about building human connections.
By Allison Cloo