Marie Elizabeth O'Dea, 96, founder of Catonsville Fourth of July parade

March 03, 1997|By Marilyn McCraven | Marilyn McCraven,SUN STAFF

Marie Elizabeth O'Dea loved a parade. So she founded Catonsville's Fourth of July parade in 1947 as a way to keep families safe and close to home on the busy holiday.

The retired newspaper editor and chemist never missed seeing what now is one of Maryland's best-known Independence Day celebrations. Last year, she was an honorary grand marshal of the event that drew an estimated 50,000 spectators.

Miss O'Dea, who was 96, died of pneumonia Thursday at St. Martin's Home for the Aged in Catonsville, where she had lived for 10 years.

Until about a month ago, she spent most of her time in her beloved Catonsville, where she had been the longtime editor of the Herald Argus -- the forerunner of the Catonsville Times.

Miss O'Dea joined the newspaper as associate editor in 1940 and became the editor three years later.

She retired in 1964, but a year later returned and worked for another four years as associate editor. After that, she worked for several years as advertising manager for the Charles A. Skirven real estate company.

As a pioneering suburban newspaper editor, Miss O'Dea campaigned for sewerage systems, traffic signals and the location of an armory in what was then the village of Catonsville.

But her best-known contribution was the parade, which she established with help from the local Lions Club after learning how many Catonsville residents were injured or killed in holiday accidents away from home.

In an interview last year, she recalled, "When we first started, we had two bands and hundreds of people. People really took to it, and this year we'll have 16 bands and tens of thousands of people."

Miss O'Dea often became involved in efforts that she championed in her newspaper. For example, she was named to the first Maryland Juvenile Delinquency Commission after writing about the subject. She was founder and first president of the old Catholic Library of Baltimore.

She was a past president of the Baltimore branch of the National League of American Pen Women, the Soroptimist Club and the Women's Advertising Club.

Concerning Miss O'Dea's genealogical research, a second cousin, Joyce Brown of Anne Arundel County, said, "She made books on family history for lots of family members. She was always family oriented, though she never married and had no children of her own. She was always at the Christmas and birthday celebrations."

Miss O'Dea had used a wheelchair since she fell and broke a hip a few years ago. She continued to read and write and research, the cousin said.

Marie O'Dea was born and educated in Norfolk, Va. Her family moved to Washington in 1917 and to Baltimore in 1918. She earned bachelor's and master's degrees in chemistry from George Washington University in Washington.

After graduating in the early 1920s, she briefly taught chemistry at Georgetown University. She soon joined the family's food-manufacturing business, the Baltimore Butterine Co., where she was a chemist and later advertising manager.

Although her first love was science, Miss O'Dea developed a keen interest in writing and left the family business to study writing at Columbia University in New York, Brown said. She returned to Baltimore and worked as sales-promotion manager for the Rennert Hotel.

During the Depression, she handled the citywide publicity campaign for the National Recovery Administration. Other cities modeled their campaigns on the Baltimore effort, and Miss O'Dea received a citation from President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

A Mass of Christian burial will be offered at 11 a.m. today at St. Martin's chapel, 601 Maiden Choice Lane, in Catonsville.

Miss O'Dea is survived by several other cousins.

Pub Date: 3/03/97

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