Mary Lynch, a born helper, dies at age 66

April 11, 1993|By James M. Coram | James M. Coram,Staff Writer

People needing help may not have known where to turn, but if they persisted long enough, they eventually linked up with Mary Jane Craige Lynch.

Ms. Lynch, 66, died Thursday at Howard County General Hospital after a short illness.

A born helper, "she was tough enough to cut through the bureaucracy and sensitive enough to be responsive," friends say of the longtime legislative assistant to the County Council.

"She was superb in constituency work -- very committed to the council and to the community," said Councilman C. Vernon Gray, a 3rd District Democrat, "She was especially committed to the poor -- helping them find housing. I would call her at all hours to talk about county business. . . . She was such a resource of concern and involvement. It's extremely hard to lose her."

Ms. Lynch was a prime mover in getting the county to provide subsidized housing for people burned out of their homes in a Fells Lane fire that killed a mother and her children. She forced the county to make a commitment that the people who moved into the Hilltop housing project would never have to move. Over the years, she made sure the county kept that promise.

"If [tenants] had trouble making rental payments or anything, they called Mary," said Dorothy L. Moore, director of the Community Action Council. "Mary would call me, and something would be worked out."

Ms. Moore credits Ms. Lynch with getting her started at the Community Action Council. She met with Ms. Lynch often to talk about who needed help and how it could be provided. "She was my mentor," Ms. Moore said.

"I've lost a spiritual sister -- it's very hard to accept," said Anita Iribe, president of the Howard County League of Women Voters.

"She was no do-gooder in the stereotypical sense of the word. She was full of spunk and had a good sense of humor. She didn't pretend with people and she didn't kowtow. She didn't play that kindof game. She is the most devoted, effective, efficient person that ever served the County Council."

"I was always impressed with the very close connection she had with people in the community," said Thomas Graham, editor of the Patuxent Publishing newspaper chain. Ms. Lynch worked for Mr. Graham "a good few years" as a reporter before joining the County Council staff.

"I went with her to Main Street [in Ellicott City] on a couple of occasions and remember how involved she was in people's backgrounds and circumstances," Mr. Graham said. "That really impressed me. She knew who needed help, who was celebrating, who was coping with bad news."

Ms. Lynch retained her journalistic bent as a council assistant, helping council members keep in touch with people by writing a monthly newsletter that explained in simple terms the significance of legislation before the council.

She got into journalism almost by accident. She used to tell her friend Doris S. Thompson, former editor of the Howard County Times and Columbia Times, that, as editor, Ms. Thompson should pay more attention to education.

Ms. Thompson agreed and hired Ms. Lynch. Ms. Lynch became the first reporter in the Baltimore-Washington area to chronicle the desegregation of Howard County schools.

"It was marvelous to have someone of her caliber and qualifications," Ms. Thompson said. "I've lost a friend."

An opera lover, cook, gardener and voracious reader, Ms. Lynch earned a bachelor of arts degree in business administration and economics from Drexel Institute in Philadelphia and a master's degree from Antioch College.

In the late 1960s, she worked with Morris Keeton as an associate dean at Antioch College of Columbia. "She was extremely helpful in relations between students and the community," Mr. Keeton said. "She was a mature, caring person -- very bright, self-effacing and very competent."

Ms. Lynch worked closely with Mr. Keeton's wife, Ruth, when Ms. Keeton served on the council. "She did excellent staff work and was very much treasured by Ruth as a personal friend," Mr. Keeton said.

Ms. Lynch visited Ms. Keeton regularly after illness forced her to leave the council, Mr. Keeton said.

Ms. Lynch had cared for her aging mother until she died and then attended to an aging uncle. She was also devoted to her grandchildren.

"She was a tough woman with a wonderful heart," said former Baltimore Sun reporter Michael J. Clark. "She was always on the side of the underdog. What I admired most is that she was one of the few people who not only cared about Howard County but really showed that care."

Ms. Lynch is survived by a daughter, Rachel Ball of Pasadena; a son, Ned Lynch of Hagerstown; a sister, Phyllis Kanopf of Winchester, Mass.; and three grandchildren, Alexander M. Shandrowsky, Jeffrey Craige Ball and Emily Starr Victoria Ball, all of Pasadena.

A service of celebration led by the Rev. Robert Mitzel will be held for Ms. Lynch at noon Tuesday at the Wilde Lake Interfaith Center.

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