Celeste Fripp, a woman who could do it all
This has been a sad time for the Best Friends family as we come to terms with the passing of another one of our founders.
Celeste Fripp was my first boss when I signed on as employee #17 at the Sanctuary in the mid-1990s. I didn’t have a set job or job description; very few of the other 16 staff did. Every day, I would report to Celeste for daily work assignments: Dogtown one day, installing an irrigation system the next, leading a tour the next.
Celeste was at the nexus of Sanctuary operations and her kindly (but very British) demeanor brought a sense of correctness and stability to the seat-of-the-pants reality of Best Friends in those days. She took me under her protective wing and helped me find my way in the new world I had entered after abruptly departing my University of Virginia law school career path for this organization and its entirely eccentric founders. Celeste was always introducing me to the parts of her world that she loved, like watching the Blues Brothers and teaching me how to make English gooseberry jam.
Celeste was born in Leicester, England, in 1943 and grew up near London in St. Albans. I have always had difficulty visualizing the very proper Celeste I knew in the 90s as a mini-skirted mod in London’s swinging 60s, but yes, that was her, too!
Like each of the founders, Celeste pitched in wherever help was needed in the early days of Best Friends, whether that was lending a hand with the construction of a cattery or sitting at a table outside of a market in Flagstaff, raising much-needed funds and spreading the no-kill message. She wore many, many hats. She was our first HR person, one of our first major gifts officers, and was instrumental in creating our planned giving department.
In 1990, the organization entered a serious existential financial crisis that would last for six years. Celeste, along with her husband and co-founder John Fripp, constituted the essential administrative hub of Best Friends, balancing meager funds with the need to feed increasing numbers of animal mouths AND keep the lights on. They held the center while other founders and I exercised our imaginations for ways to expand the boundaries of Best Friends by building programs and spreading the word.
If any of us wanted to spend money in those days, we had to visit the Fripps, hat in hand, and make our case for why $20 was needed to repair an irrigation line, or $50 was needed to repair the radiator in the old brown Chevy truck. The Fripps had the thankless task of imposing financial reality on the likes of Michael Mountain, Steven Hirano, Anne and Cyrus Mejia, Jana de Peyer, Francis and Silva Battista, and Gregory Castle and me.
Knowing what I know now of those strong individuals, I can’t imagine how Celeste did it. Perhaps it was growing up with rationing in post–World War II England. While I’ll never know that for sure, I do know that Best Friends would not have survived without her.
When the founders began succession planning, as well as a necessary restructuring of the organization’s operations, Celeste was, of course, at the center of the action and helped map the transition from a founder board of directors to the board’s current configuration. She also had a fabulous eye for design and worked closely with founder and architect Paul Eckhoff on many of the Sanctuary buildings. There wasn’t anything Celeste couldn’t do.
Celeste shunned the spotlight and unfailingly gave credit to others while buckling down to do the necessary hard work at hand — whatever it might be. Her death is a profound loss for me personally, and for everyone who was fortunate enough to know her. I will miss her wisdom and her example very, very much.