Frances Leonard Nash, poet's widow active in charities, patron of the arts

June 17, 1994|By Fred Rasmussen | Fred Rasmussen,Sun Staff Writer

Frances Leonard Nash, the widow of poet Ogden Nash, died Wednesday of Myelodysplasia at her Roland Park Place residence where she had lived since 1983. She was 88.

Born Frances Rider Leonard in Salisbury, she was the granddaughter of Maryland Gov. Elihu Jackson and spent her childhood traveling with her family.

She attended Calvert School and Roland Park Country School and graduated from Great Barrington School in New England in 1924. She briefly attended Vassar College before returning to Baltimore where she devoted her time outside the home to charitable causes.

At a dinner dance at the Elkridge Hunt Club in fall 1928 she met Mr. Nash, who an advertising copy writer for Doubleday & Co. Taken with her beauty, he switched the place cards at the table to sit beside her.

Writing later about that evening, Mr. Nash said, "I was able to attract her attention with well-phrased, laudatory remarks about Al Smith [governor of New York and Democratic presidential candidate] and [writer] P. G. Wodehouse, remarks which

changed imperceptibly into other and more personal compliments. My aim was then, as it is now, to persuade her to stay beside me for the rest of my life."

Daughter Linell Smith, who edited "Loving Letters from Ogden Nash, A Family Album," said, "I don't think Daddy could have functioned without Mother. She was very shy and reserved but she was indispensable to Daddy.

"My parents' relationship was something that we always understood," Mrs. Smith of Sparks said. "It was a deep bond that lasted 40 years."

And it inspired some of Mr. Nash's finest poems, some of which were in his wife's bedside table at the time of her death.

In 1968, for her 62nd birthday, he wrote a poem that contained this verse: "My wife/Will be an old lady mischievous and flighty,/Will shake her gold-headed cane in the face of God Almighty./She will be revered,/Be pampered, be boasted of, be adored and feared./She will love a surprise, and a dry martini as well,/She will still be the girl who was borne ashore on a shell,/And I'll shout, as the ivy on my stone advances,/Go to it, Frances!"

In a 1970 poem to his wife, which was his last, he wrote: "That you should guide me when I steer,/Why should it cause `f surprise?/You've been my heart this forty year,/And now you are my eyes."

They were married in Baltimore in 1931, the same year Mr. Nash's first book of poetry, "Hard Lines," was published. In 1934, they moved into a home on Rugby Road in Guilford after living in New York City, where his experiences there produced the verse: "I could not Love New York Had I not loved Balti-More."

During the 1930s and 1940s, while Mr. Nash traveled the country giving lectures and worked in Hollywood, Mrs. Nash stayed home to rear their two daughters.

The couple moved easily in the intellectual world of New York and Hollywood, where such writers as S. J. Perelman, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Katherine and E. B. White became close friends, as did actors Jane Wyatt and Lotte Lenya and her husband, the composer and songwriter Kurt Weill.

During World War II, Mrs. Nash knitted and rolled bandages and worked as a Red Cross volunteer.

In 1953, the couple again moved to New York where they lived until returning to Baltimore in 1963, settling in Cross Keys.

Mr. Nash died in 1971.

Mrs. Nash had a keen interest in politics and world affairs. A voracious reader, she was reading more than 20 books a week until several months before her death.

"She also wrote beautifully herself," Mrs. Smith said. "She adored art and architecture, and I think in a different time, she would have been an architect."

Mrs. Nash was a patron of the performing arts and was particularly interested in the Morris A. Mechanic Theater, Center Stage, the Baltimore Choral Arts Society, the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and the Walters Art Gallery. Her club memberships included the Mount Vernon Club and the Elkridge Club.

Survivors include another daughter, Isabel Nash Eberstadt of New York City; five grandchildren; and five great-grandchildren.

Memorial donations may be made to the Leukemia Research Fund of the University of Maryland Cancer Center, 22 S. Greene St., Baltimore 21201.

0 Plans for a memorial service are incomplete.

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