Ruth Bear Levy, artist and author inspired by youth in Lonaconing

October 11, 1994|By Fred Rasmussen | Fred Rasmussen,Sun Staff Writer

Ruth Bear Levy, an artist and author who drew a lifetime of inspiration from her days growing up in Lonaconing, died Saturday of heart failure at Union Memorial Hospital. She was 95.

"She always called Lonaconing 'God's country,' " said Elizabeth Ann Malis, a granddaughter who lives in Pikesville.

F. deSales Meyer, a retired state information officer and also a native of Lonaconing in Allegany County, said, "Ruth never really left 'Coney' even though she lived most of her life in Baltimore. She always emotionally considered it her home and faithfully returned there as often as she could, attending high school reunions and seeing old friends."

The mining town, 18 miles west of Cumberland, was home to Scots and Germans who came to dig coal out of the surrounding hills lining George's Creek Valley.

"She always spoke with a slight Scottish brogue," Mrs. Malis said, "especially when she returned to Lonaconing."

Mrs. Levy's 1983 memoir, "A Wee Bit O' Scotland: Growing up in Lonaconing, Maryland at The Turn of the Century," was illustrated with her paintings and published by the Maryland Historical Society. The only child of a haber--er, she grew up in a house on Jackson Street that had been built in 1850 by her grandfather who had emigrated from Germany.

In the memoir, she recalled that "Soap was not limited to household cleaning. It was also used to wash out the insides of the mouths of children who said unacceptable words -- like pregnant."

"At one time the question was put on the ballot, 'Should the cows have the right to walk the streets?' " she wrote.

Mrs. Levy was a lifelong baseball fan who knew Lonaconing native and pitcher Robert Moses "Lefty" Grove, a member of the Hall of Fame. She recalled Mr. Grove, who pitched to her once, running past her house as a child with a baseball glove tied to his belt. He spent his days pitching stones at hills, she said. When she was 88, she fashioned these and other memories into a two-part article, "Recollections of Lefty Grove: Baseball's Greatest Left-Handed Pitcher," for the Maryland Historical Magazine.

Mrs. Levy began painting at the urging of her husband, Dr. Charles S. Levy, a urologist, and studied with the well-known Baltimore artist, Herman Maril. She painted scenes of railroads, mountains and coal mines in Allegany County.

A 1992 article in The Sun on her 75th high school reunion described her as "well under 5 feet tall, with a determined jaw, twinkling eyes and thick, wavy white hair, she is a subcompact dynamo with the vitality of an entire freshman class."

"She drove till she was 90 and every Friday went to Cross Keys to have her hair done. One of her favorite sayings was, 'I may be little but I'm mighty,' Mrs. Malis said. "She was still sketching from her hospital room and thinking about the pictures she wanted to paint" at the time of her death.

Known as "Teddy Bear," Mrs. Levy was a 1917 graduate of Central High School and earned her bachelor's degree from Goucher College in 1921. In 1924, she married Dr. Levy, who died in 1972.

She made her home for many years on Callow Avenue, then later at the Highfield House in Guilford. In 1990, she moved to Roland Park Place.

Services were held yesterday.

Other survivors include a son, Dr. Robert I. Levy of Mount Washington; a grandson, another granddaughter and a great-granddaughter.

Memorial donations may be made to the Har Sinai Congregation, 6300 Park Heights Ave., Baltimore 21215; or Goucher College.

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