Rae Miller Heneson, 80, letter writer, volunteer

January 23, 2000|By Jacques Kelly | Jacques Kelly,SUN STAFF

Rae Miller Heneson, a Sinai Hospital children's volunteer who wrote thousands of letters to newspaper editors and public figures, died Tuesday of heart failure at Levindale Hebrew Geriatric Center and Hospital. She was 80 and lived in Mount Washington.

For nearly 30 years, her written output filled the in-baskets of Baltimore newspaper editors. She also wrote to and received replies from the queen of England, President Gerald R. Ford and Betty Ford, Beverly Sills, Ogden Nash and Barbara Walters. She often mailed four or five letters a day. Many were poems rendered in jaunty rhyme.

Typical was a September 1982 letter published in The Evening Sun: "Autumn is the prolific poet's dream; there is so much change, so much beauty, combined with a serenity and stillness that leaves one in awe. Coupled with it is a sadness that summer's joys are fading into oblivion and after autumn's chaste chill comes the frost of winter."

She had spent 40 years at Sinai Hospital in Northwest Baltimore as a volunteer at the lobby soda fountain and in the pediatrics department.

Depending on where she was stationed at the hospital, she dispensed chocolate ice cream sodas or love and attention to sick children.

"She had an incredible spirit. She would enter the playroom, and in a matter of minutes, she would know the children and their parents and be writing them poems," said Laura Cohen, child life specialist at Sinai Hospital and a friend for 18 years. "She loved to be the center of attention."

Mrs. Heneson often dressed up as Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny to help cheer her charges. She also kept up a correspondence with the families of children, many of whom were cancer patients.

"She was like the Pied Piper," said her daughter, Nancy Heneson, who lives in North Baltimore. "She had the ability to enter a child's mind. There were children who wouldn't respond to anyone else who would respond to her."

Born Rae Miller, she was raised on Springdale Avenue in Forest Park. She was a 1937 graduate of Forest Park High School, where she was features editor of the Press, the school newspaper. About 50 years later, she recorded her thoughts on those years:

"In 1937 we were in the midst of the Depression, but I never can recall being depressed," she wrote in The Evening Sun. "We respected and sometimes feared our teachers, even if we disliked them. They were sometimes mentors, sometimes misfits, but they walked no picket lines."

As a young woman, she ran a nursery school in her parents' Northwest Baltimore home and was a clerk at Brager's Department Store on Eutaw Street. She soon moved to Washington to be near her brother, Reuben Miller, a 16th Street pharmacist.

She found work at the Washington Post as a writer of rhymed classified ads and lived in a boarding house.

In 1948, she married Irving Heneson, a pharmacist with a store at the southeast corner of Charles and 25th streets. She worked with him and helped run the store's marble soda fountain. He died in 1994.

A funeral service was held Friday. She is also survived by another daughter, Lynne Heneson of Washington; and a sister, Belle Goldsmith of Baltimore.

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