Eileen C. Toomey, 48, taught special education at Hopkins

February 21, 1997|By Robert Hilson Jr. | Robert Hilson Jr.,SUN STAFF

Eileen C. Toomey never met a child she couldn't relate to. As a special education teacher at the Johns Hopkins Children's Center, she'd observe, evaluate and talk to children daily with special needs.

But the quality that most distinguished Toomey, who died Feb. 9 of cancer at her Ellicott City home, was her ability to listen patiently to youngsters. She was 48.

"She made learning fun, she made it so students wanted to learn," said Jerriann Wilson, director of the Hopkins Children's Center.

From 1984 until last spring, Ms. Toomey taught in the adolescent and child psychiatry units at Hopkins. Colleagues said she was able to calm the most disruptive students and interest them in her lessons.

"A child who previously cared about nothing came out of Eileen's classroom and shared information with me about the Mayan and Inca Indians," said Mary Goldsmith, a child psychiatry nurse.

Joe Capozzoli, nurse manager of the hospital's child and adolescent psychiatry units, called Ms. Toomey a teacher and clinician "who never lost track of the fact that she was an educator. She was one of the strongest advocates we had for children."

One of Ms. Toomey's more memorable experiences her visit to Bosnia in May as part of a Hopkins psychiatry team.

The team's goal was to teach mental health workers and school officials about post-traumatic stress.

Everyone -- especially Ms. Toomey -- was struck by the devastation and deplorable living conditions in Bosnia.

"Everything there was horrendous," said Mr. Capozzoli. "It was an incredibly moving experience. We'd debrief at night, and we'd break down and cry.

"Eileen demonstrated how important education was for children, especially those with mental health problems. She was an incredible advocate for kids."

A native of Schuylkill Haven, Pa., Ms. Toomey graduated from Millersville State College in Pennsylvania in 1970 and received a master's degree from Temple University in Philadelphia in the 1970s. She came to Maryland in 1984 when she accepted the job at Hopkins.

Ms. Toomey also enjoyed traveling, scuba diving and writing, and was a "closet limerick writer," Ms. Wilson said.

"She was a very good writer. She had the ability to write a technical paper on child psych as well as a bawdy limerick," she said.

Her sister, Margaret Collins of Ellicott City, said writing seemed to be her career goal until shortly before she began at Hopkins.

"She never fulfilled her dream of writing," Ms. Collins said. "But she saw a need to give all children a place -- not only in education -- but a place in society. She wanted them to see learning as a pathway to the world."

In her honor, the child life department at Hopkins has established an award called the Power of One that will be presented to a staff member Dec. 7 -- Ms. Toomey's birthday.

The award, according to Ms. Wilson, is for someone who "embodies the spirit of Eileen. Someone willing to stick their neck out for a cause."

A memorial service is scheduled for 2 p.m. tomorrow at London Town House and Gardens, 83 London Town Road in Edgewater.

In addition to her sister, survivors include her mother, Esther Toomey; and a brother, Vincent James Toomey, both of Friedensburg, Pa.; two nephews, Matthews Collins and Vincent Joseph Collins, both of Ellicott City; and a niece, Stephanie Strott of Columbia.

Donations may be made to the Johns Hopkins Children's Center's Child Life Department or to the Division of Child Psychiatry, in care of the Development Office, 111 Market Place, Suite 901, Baltimore 21202.

Pub Date: 2/21/97

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