Littleton Locale Heroes: Veronica Francis & Karen Keazirian
About this series: Meet our Local Heroes, a special band of folks dedicating their lives to making things even better in the great Granite State places they have chosen to live and work and play.
Happy-go-lucky. Devil-may-care. Lighthearted. There are many words to describe those endlessly upbeat souls beaming light into the world, but the most well-known may just be “Pollyanna.” Ironically enough, the term often carries a negative connotation with it, implying the so-called Pollyanna has their head in the sand, ignoring the truth of the world. Veronica Francis is trying to change that.
“I was always called a Pollyanna throughout my years as a sort-of insult, like I wasn’t paying attention or couldn’t be very smart if I was that happy,” Francis, 58, says. “I feel like I’m doing something worthwhile to try and change that whole perception about a Pollyanna.”
As a member of the Pollyanna of Littleton Board of Directors, owner of the GoLittleton Glad Shop and president of the country’s only modern-day Glad Club, Francis strives to champion local lore while promoting an infectiously positive attitude. For those uninitiated to its history, “Pollyanna” is a 1913 novel written by Littleton author Eleanor Hodgman Porter, following the trials and tribulations of 11-year-old orphan Pollyanna Whittier. Sent to live with her wealthy and wicked aunt in the fictional town of Beldingsville, Vermont (which shares more than a few characteristics with real-life Littleton), Pollyanna displays a relentless optimism in the face of hardship — opting to play “the glad game” whenever things get rough, finding something to be happy about no matter the circumstances. The book saw immense popularity, a handful of sequels and even received the Hollywood movie treatment in 1960 when Disney turned it into a beloved family flick. The message struck an immediate chord with Francis, who easily identified with the character’s inexorable joy.
“If you’re glad about something, you’re also thankful for something, and being glad brings you into the moment,” Francis says. “You can worry about tomorrow and you can feel bad about the past, but to play that glad game, it forces you to think about the moment right now — and, right now, it’s really windy and cold outside, but the sun is shining.”
In 2002, acclaimed New Hampshire artist Emile Birch created a bronze Pollyanna sculpture, permanently beaming to passersby in front of the Littleton Public Library — the same grounds where Porter’s grandfather once owned a house. Commissioned by the Eames family and spearheaded by Karen Keazirian, the sculpture was just the beginning; Keazirian started Pollyanna of Littleton, Inc., an organization dedicated to spreading Pollyanna’s spirit, which Francis joined as one of the board of directors’ first members. The group visits schools, passes out stickers at community events and holds an annual “Glad Day” festival on the second Saturday of every June, where attendees “eat cake, decorate hats and have a little parade right in downtown,” says Francis. Francis continued on her crusade of kindness, starting the GoLittleton website in 2003 to share Pollyanna information and maintain an online presence, and opening the GoLittleton Glad Shop in 2019, selling a litany of Littleton and Pollyanna souvenirs. With the pandemic momentarily shuttering the shop’s in-person business in 2020, Francis took to the internet to unite her fellow Pollyannas. Inspired by the “Glad Clubs” of the 1920s who communally rejoiced over the titular character’s buoyant worldview, Francis started her own. Today, she boasts over 400 members — each of which receive a monthly “Glad Greeting” video and email from Francis, a digital reminder to cherish the latent positives found in each moment.
Francis believes the Pollyanna mindset “has added to the whole ‘up’ vibe of Littleton.” With its moniker as “The Glad Town,” its vibrant downtown lacking a single vacancy and its growing reputation as a White Mountains tourist destination (even for those uninterested in outdoor recreation), Littleton radiates an increasingly warm and inviting aura. Francis, and her boundless, but not baseless, enthusiasm, have a lot to do with that.
“I think of Pollyanna as a spunky, optimistic person,” Francis says. “She had her tough times, and people were not that nice to her, yet that little glad game caught on to the whole town. That’s what I’m trying to do here. I hope to do this for the rest of my life.”
Karen Keazirian has been doing it since 2002, when the sculpture was first unveiled, and remains unwaveringly invigorated by Pollyanna’s legacy. After seeing the long-term reverberations of Pollyanna’s positivity, how could she not be?
“It’s true in Littleton, New Hampshire, that when something positive and optimistic happens, it lasts for a very long time,” Keazirian says. “You look at Pollyanna’s feet — one foot’s ahead of the other — and the vibration is there to go ahead, grab it, throw your head back and put your arms out. As far as the sculpture goes, it speaks to a lot. It speaks to that optimism.”