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Greenport remembers UN secretary-general as an unassuming neighbor

The former Greenport Village home of Kofi Annan

The former Greenport Village home of Kofi Annan on Bay Avenue, seen here on Sunday. Credit: Dave Kapell

Before he became secretary-general of the United Nations, Kofi Annan spent low-key summers at the 19th century home he owned in Greenport Village.

The only indication that a man of Annan’s status lived at the two-story Greek Revival-style home on Bay Avenue were the diplomatic license plates on the gray compact car parked outside the house, former Greenport Mayor Dave Kapell said Sunday.

Annan, a native of Ghana who became the first black man to lead the UN, purchased the home in 1989 and lived part time in the village for the next seven years, attending dinner parties, strolling along the harborfront streets and shopping locally, those who knew him said. Annan served two terms as secretary-general from 1997 to 2006. He died Saturday.

“He came out here to live quietly, unpretentiously, and pretty much anonymously,” said Kapell, a real estate agent who handled the home’s 1996 sale from Annan to comedy writer Tom Leopold.

The $230,000 sale to Leopold occurred in December, just a few weeks before Annan assumed his post as secretary-general in January 1997. He was late to the closing because of an uprising in Libya, Leopold said.

Annan kept a meditation room in the home, a sea captain’s house built sometime in the 1830s or 1840s, Leopold said, with a small tent where he would sit and reflect. Leopold used it as a playroom for his daughters.

Annan called Leopold two weeks after the sale to ask how he enjoyed living on the property. Leopold on Sunday said he thought it was a prank call from his friend, the actor and voice-over artist Harry Shearer, best known for his work on "The Simpsons."

“I hear this voice, ‘Hello, Tom how are you?’” said Leopold, who has written for comedy series such as "Seinfeld" and "Cheers." “I was going to do a bit.”

Several years later Leopold sat with Annan on a plane from New York to Los Angeles and Annan asked about Bruce’s cheese shop and Aldo’s coffee shop, both of which still operate in the village.

“He was so excited to talk about Greenport,” Leopold said.

Those who knew the career diplomat socially said his presence was unassuming and unpretentious.

Frank McIntosh, a longtime Greenport resident who worked in the home design industry, recalled having Annan and his wife Nane over for Champagne cocktails one summer. The couple showed great interest in McIntosh’s 17th century home, which was once owned by a descendant of William Floyd, a signer of the Declaration of Independence. They toured the house from room to room asking about McIntosh’s art collection and the home’s historic details.

“I liked him very much,” McIntosh said. “He was a very sophisticated gentleman.”

Annan became a regular at Alice’s Fish Market where he would pop in for a neighborly discussion, said owner and village trustee Mary Bess Phillips.

“He was always interested in you as a person and he was very observant about things going on around town,” she said. “He fit into the community as if he had been born and raised here.”

He didn’t forget those who helped him after he left the village. Several years after the sale of the Greenport home, Kapell applied to a master’s degree program at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government and asked Annan for a recommendation letter. Annan agreed and Kapell was admitted, he said, receiving a master’s in public administration in 2003.  

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