A model life Anita M. Iribe: Howard County resident championed desegregation, 'smart growth.'

December 02, 1997

IF DESTINY DETERMINES the course of human life, Anita M. Iribe's fate was to be a vehicle for change in Howard County and in the nation.

When she was a child model, a Ford billboard depicted her as a daughter in a happy family riding in the latest model car. The advertisement read: "World's Highest Standard of Living. There's no way like the American Way." The make-believe family's photo became the backdrop for a famous 1937 Life magazine picture of flood-ravaged African Americans standing in a food line.

The juxtaposition was a powerful commentary about the gap between haves and have-nots in Depression-era America.

In posing for the billboard photo, she was an unwitting instrument for social awareness. It turned out to be a premonition of things to come for Mrs. Iribe, who died of cancer on her 70th birthday Nov. 16.

When she moved to Highland with her late husband, Paul, in 1954, Howard County was in dire need of change. That year, the U.S. Supreme Court handed down its Brown vs. Board of Education to break down the walls of segregation, but the pillars of discrimination stood firm in Howard.

Progress finally came -- Howard was the last Maryland county to desegregate -- because of people like Mrs. Iribe. In the early 1960s, she cast another towering image when she broke bread with African Americans in segregated restaurants in the county at a time when such behavior was frowned upon.

Her active mind led her to other social interests. She was an outspoken supporter of developer James W. Rouse's plans to build Columbia from 14,000 acres of farmland because she believed it was smart growth. "If Jim Rouse was the father of Columbia, Anita Iribe was the mother," remarked Helen Ruther, who served with her on the county's planning board.

Mrs. Iribe also served as president of the county's League of Women Voters, using the nonpartisan organization to air the pressing public issues of the day.

In her civic activity, she cut an elegant figure honed in her successful modeling days. She was one of the county's preeminent citizens, who commanded attention when she entered a room -- and respect when she spoke her mind.

Pub Date: 12/02/97

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