Anita M. Iribe, 70, model, Howard County activist, worked to integrate schools

November 27, 1997|By Fred Rasmussen | Fred Rasmussen,SUN STAFF Sun staff writer Dana Hedgpeth contributed to this article.

Anita M. Iribe, a longtime Howard County activist, died of cancer Nov. 16 -- her 70th birthday -- at her daughter's Highland home.

There was hardly an area of life in Howard County that was not influenced by Mrs. Iribe's activism.

She was a co-founder of the Community Action Council, the Howard County Arts Council, the Howard County Symphony Society, the Howard County Council for Environmental Quality, the Middle Patuxent Valley Association and the Howard County Health Education Association and served on the citizens panel for the accreditation of Howard Community College and the Howard County Social Services Board.

She also was a member of the citizens committee that studied the need for a county charter and was appointed to the charter steering committee in 1968.

While researching old county records stored in the basement of an Ellicott City courthouse, Mrs. Iribe found a seal that had been designed by the noted artist Edward Stabler in 1840. The seal, which features wheat, a plow and vegetables, was officially adopted as the county seal in 1973.

"She was always trying to improve the world she lived in," said Doris S. Thompson, a longtime Columbia resident and former editor of the Howard County Times and Columbia Times.

"She gave so much of her time and her knowledge to the county," said Jacqueline Rana of Clarksville, who knew Mrs. Iribe for more than 45 years. "She felt it was her duty to contribute


A resident of Highland since 1954, Mrs. Iribe's civic activism began when she joined the PTA at Clarksville Elementary School and later at Glenelg High School.

In 1960, she joined the League of Women Voters and immediately immersed herself for the next five years in the integration of county schools.

Also in 1960, she joined the Howard County League of Women Voters and subsequently served two terms as president.

"She was one of our best leaders," said Joan Paik, president of the Maryland State League of Women Voters. "She was an inspiration and could always make us think."

In the 1960s, Mrs. Iribe participated in planning the new town of Columbia and worked for its acceptance by county residents.

"She was a fixture at late-night zoning meetings for the birth of Columbia and lobbied Howard County's dubious farmers and suburbanites to accept the new town," said Columbia Magazine in 1992.

"When I think about what would exist in this area without Columbia -- wall-to-wall bedroom country," she told the magazine. "There's no getting around the fact that there's no substitute for vision."

In 1974, Mrs. Iribe was appointed to the Howard County Planning Board, where she was an advocate of land preservation.

"She was a vivacious, friendly woman who always had a practical solution to any problem or situation," said longtime county resident Bruce Brendal, who served on the planning board with her.

The former Anita Magee was born and raised in New York City, the daughter of an advertising executive.

Mrs. Iribe, who had a slender build, blonde hair and blue eyes, was a model from the age of 6 to 16 and appeared in advertisements during the 1930s.

She also modeled for Cover Girl cosmetics, performed on radio and on Broadway and in the 1939 feature film "Back Door to Heaven."

"Her eyes were so full of intelligence," Mrs. Rana said. "She had this flair about her."

In 1937, Margaret Bourke-White covered the Louisville, Ky., flood for Life magazine and took the famous picture of unemployed blacks standing in a line to receive welfare in front of a billboard that declared "World's Highest Standard of Living. There's no way like the American Way."

The billboard featured a couple with their two daughters in a Ford automobile. The girl in the front seat was Mrs. Iribe.

"It's ironic that that little girl in the front seat would become so involved in civil rights later in life," said her daughter, Elizabeth Iribe Trexler of Highland.

Mrs. Iribe participated in the historic March on Washington in 1963, which featured the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech, and was a lifetime member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

She earned a bachelor's degree from Smith College in 1948.

In 1945, she married Paul Iribe, a former aeronautical engineer and staff member of the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory, who died in 1971.

According to Mrs. Trexler, a few days before her mother's death, Mrs. Iribe told a friend who was visiting her, "I was a nonconformist. I was given opportunities as a young woman which other young women my age didn't have. I met unusual and interesting people. I can say I have seen the inside of Eleanor Roosevelt's mouth when she laughed out loud at something I'd said in a skit."

A memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. Saturday at Wilde Lake Interfaith Center in Columbia.

Mrs. Iribe also is survived by a son, Paul C. Iribe of Washington; and four grandchildren.

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Pub Date: 11/27/97

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