Tarnish on Miss Bea's Halo?

June 01, 1994

Show up homeless at Bea Gaddy's house, and she'll find you a roof or take you in. Show up famished, and she'll send you around back to eat. Bring in a chair and she'll give it to someone without one. But ask for an exact accounting of the dollar you gave last week, and you may not get total satisfaction.

Bea Gaddy is a doughty character who helps people in need in a direct, hands-on, human, one-on-one way with empathy and without condescension. That, a healthy ego, public relations brilliance and toughness in face of adversity have turned a one-woman operation on the edge of Butcher's Hill in East Baltimore into a multi-tentacled institution that sometimes frustrates the bureaucracy and professionally managed charities.

To watch it in operation is to behold chaos and Miss Bea, as neighbors call her, straightening it out through micro-management. But perhaps the Patterson Park Emergency Food Center and other of Bea Gaddy's operations have grown too large to be managed by Bea Gaddy's intimate methods. Or perhaps institutionalizing it by the book would smother the humanity that has inspired so many clients, donors and volunteers.

These thoughts are prompted by the careful examination of Bea Gaddy's operation and procedures by staff writer Laura Lippman in a May 29 report. In Ms. Lippman's words, the center "appears chaotic and loosely run to those who know it best." More important than appearances is the failure to file all the disclosure statements required by the Internal Revenue Service and the Maryland secretary of state.

This red tape, like the building code that Bea Gaddy's homeless shelter ran afoul of on the coldest night of the winter, are not nuisances for the sake of being nuisances. They are vital safety nets to protect people, whether homeless folks in a shelter or well-intending donors.

There should be no question that Bea Gaddy will set policy and run any charity to which she dedicates her eloquence, her managerial acumen and her life. But because she has been so successful and her operation has grown so large, she really ought to accept the help that is needed to win any accountant's or regulator's clean bill of health.

Ms. Lippman's inquiry showed no abuse of trust. But the money comes in, the money goes out, and the donors and authorities who exempt it from taxes deserve to know where it went. This can be arranged, without strangling the humanity that makes Bea Gaddy's help for the needy unique and inspiring.

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