“My name is Ann Ramsay and my mother was the most wonderful mother in the whole world, Elizabeth McCabe,” says the recent donor of a $1.8 million gift to the University of Wyoming Extension office in Teton County.
Elizabeth McCabe was a vibrant, enthusiastic, and much-loved member of the Jackson Hole community. Of her many passions and interests, 4-H topped the list.
“From my earliest memories as an extension agent, she was at every county fair,” recalls Mary Martin, who began working with UW Extension in 1975.
Small in stature and big in heart, McCabe faithfully photographed the Teton County Fair every year. Cheerfully loaded down with camera gear, she documented more than four decades of 4-H events. From sewing competitions to livestock shows, McCabe was there for it all.
“What she did for people in taking pictures and then making the pictures available to the kids was a huge gift,” especially in the days when most families did not own cameras, Martin comments.
McCabe’s photographs were tucked into hundreds, if not thousands, of 4-H record books. Co-owner of the Jackson Hole News & Guide, she also saw to it that county fair photos were featured in the local newspaper every year.
McCabe photographed her last county fair at age 100.
Honoring her mother
Like her mother, Ann Ramsay is passionate about the 4-H mission and its role in serving youth and their communities.
“Ann sees the value of the extension service and the 4-H program to keeping this place a community,” says Martin. “4-H kids grow up with a skill set that’s enviable. She’s making sure that continues.”
In December 2020, Ramsay donated a property in Teton County to support UW Extension in her mother’s honor. The $1.8 million generated by the sale of the property supplements the salaries of Teton County Extension employees and created an endowment to support their needs.
As an excellence fund, the criteria for the endowment’s use is open-ended, but the intention is to enable extension employees, including 4-H educators, to continue living in the community they serve.
Living costs in the Jackson Hole area are much higher than in other counties, but extension employees’ salaries are state-based and do not reflect these expenses. Ramsay says the purpose of her generous donation is simple: to make sure the Teton County 4-H program survives.
In recognition of her generosity, the UW College of Agriculture, Life Sciences and Natural Resources named Ramsay, in honor of Elizabeth McCabe, recipient of the 2022 Legacy Award. The award will be presented during Ag Appreciation weekend, which begins September 29.
It’s fitting that the award recognizes both women. The pair shared a special bond, a close friendship that extended beyond the average mother-daughter relationship.
A positive attitude
In McCabe’s world, the metaphorical glass was always half full.
“She was an optimist of the greatest order,” Ramsay comments. “She just loved people. She really loved people, saw the good in people.” Ramsay challenges herself to do the same.
Joy is a choice, Martin says, and it was one that Elizabeth McCabe made every day. “She chose to see everything as a blessing and opportunity to be grateful. She saw opportunities where some of us would see obstacles.”
When McCabe visited the Teton County 4-H office, it was like a whirlwind came through the door, a swirl of positive energy and excitement.
“She was one of those personalities that you were just thrilled and honored to visit with. Everyone she met was the most special person in the universe,” Martin shares.
The bottom line? She was fun, says Ramsay—so much fun.
An accomplished businesswoman
As Mary Martin puts it, Elizabeth McCabe was a businesswoman before women were in business. She grew up in an era where women weren’t encouraged to pursue careers, let alone become leaders in the business world.
After raising four children, she bucked the trend at age 59, moving to Jackson Hole and starting a decades-long career in the news industry. She was already a skilled photographer, and after marrying Fred McCabe, who owned the Jackson Hole Guide, she became heavily involved in the business. She later became co-owner of the Jackson Hole News & Guide.
McCabe also drove a hard bargain. One of her favorite parts of the annual Teton County Fair was the livestock auction. Her children speculated that she’d buy every animal at the fair if she could, just to support the 4-H kids.
When she turned 100, then-governor Matt Mead declared March 20, 2011, Elizabeth McCabe Day. In an official proclamation, he stated that she represented the best of Wyoming, well known for bringing people of different backgrounds together. But, he added, she was not the person to get in a bidding war with (a lesson his family learned at the livestock auction).
To celebrate the day proclaimed hers, McCabe asked Wyomingites to gather together with family and friends to share stories, laughter, and perhaps a bottle of wine.
Never a dull moment
Keep busy, keep interested in life. That’s one of the many lessons Ann Ramsay learned from her mother.
McCabe set a high standard. She was an avid fly fisherwoman. She loved photography, cooking, entertaining, and good stories. She loved horses and searching for shells.
She was always busy, but never too busy to listen.
“The leadership lesson that I personally learned from Elizabeth McCabe was that a true leader listens. When you were speaking to her, you knew she was listening and she was empathizing with what you were saying and she was present in the minute,” says Martin.
The gift of encouragement
Both McCabe and Ramsay possess what Martin calls the gift of encouragement: “a tremendous capacity for encouraging and caring about young people.”
Ramsay attended the Teton County Fair with her mother every year. She’d travel from California to accompany McCabe on her photographic adventures. Tagging along with her mother, Ramsay says she enjoyed getting to know the families and watching their kids grow up.
Like her mother, she is passionate about helping Teton County youth achieve their dreams, not only through financial contributions but also by consistently showing up as their cheerleader.
“Ann has the listening skills that her mother had, the empathy that her mother had,” Martin reflects. “She, like her mother, watches the kids grow up and she remembers.”
The importance of stories
In the Teton County extension office, there’s an entryway filled with photos. They were taken by Elizabeth McCabe.
She had an amazing eye, Ramsay says. “Even in her 90s, she’d spot animals. It’d be like finding a diamond. Those are the best memories, of her tenacity—she’d look for it until she got it.”
Whether it was a moose in her swimming pool (one of Martin’s personal favorites) or a 4-H student proudly displaying an award, McCabe was always there to capture the occasion.
With words, photos, and actions, she made it a life’s work to share stories and connect people. “She knew the merit of a story and she helped us put a face to a story,” says Martin. “She knew how important stories are in our lives.”
Elizabeth McCabe died in 2012 at age 101. But her stories remain—in memories, in photos, in 4-H record books, and in the joy, laughter, and lessons she shared so freely.
Ramsay’s generous donation both honors her mother’s story and helps ensure that future generations of Teton County 4-H’ers can make their own stories.