Miriam J. W. Andrus, 90, philanthropist, social activist

February 13, 2000|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

Miriam J. W. Andrus, whose quiet philanthropy lent financial and spiritual support to cultural, medical, educational and social organizations in Baltimore and across the world, died Feb. 6 at her Guilford home from complications of cerebral vascular disease. She was 90.

Mrs. Andrus, a soft-spoken, diminutive woman with China blue eyes and upswept white hair who was known as Jay, relished being able to help others.

A modest woman who drove a yellow Volkswagen Rabbit, Mrs. Andrus would sit in a soft armchair drawn up to a card table in her living room and examine each day's mail.

"When I'd go for a visit, she'd be sitting there carefully studying every brochure and appeal, and it always impressed me that she wanted to know where her gifts were going and how they'd be used. She was such a good steward," said Mary Taylor, a longtime friend and retired Towson University professor who lives in Bare Hills.

Miriam Jay Wurts was born in New York City, the daughter of Pierre Jay Wurts and Edith Maud Benedict Wurts. She was a direct descendant of John Jay, first chief justice of the United States.

She was raised in Englewood, N.J., where she graduated from the Dwight School. She earned her bachelor's degree from Vassar College, continued her education studying international law at Columbia University and earned a master's degree in political science in 1934 from the Johns Hopkins University. She was fluent in five languages.

She was married in 1933 to Dr. E. Cowles Andrus, assistant dean of the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and an internationally known heart specialist. He died in 1978.

Her cosmopolitan upbringing created an enduring interest in the performing arts, international relations and social activism.

"She was very intellectual and cultured, and had a great interest in world affairs," said a niece, Anne A. Grady of Lexington, Mass.

"She had an instructive understanding of liberal causes, which you wouldn't expect from a person of her background and time. She cared about integration and the environment, for instance," Mrs. Grady said.

Mrs. Andrus took part in the creation of the United Nations in 1945 through her leadership in the National Committee of Americans United for World Government. She also had been a member of the board of the United Nations Association of Maryland.

Later, she provided financial assistance to create private universities for women in Japan and Iran.

"She had the grace to remember the distant poor, as well as those who sought her help at home," said Mrs. Taylor.

Her enthusiasm for theater and opera brought her membership on the board of Baltimore's Center Stage, which recognized her in 1995 by naming the Jay Andrus Rehearsal Hall in her honor.

"She was a great friend of the theater and a generous benefactor who was well-known and liked by the staff," said Peter W. Culman, managing director of Center Stage.

"Jay was like the little old lady whose white tennis shoes were quite worn from the various causes she defended, and she could melt the ramparts with her energy," he said.

An interest in health care for senior citizens led Mrs. Andrus to support the Elder House Care program at Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center, which provides health care to elderly patients in their homes. Because of her bequest, it was named the Jay Andrus Community Geriatrics Program.

"It was an absolutely marvelous and precious gift that will have a long-lasting impact," said Dr. John R. Burton, director of geriatric medicine and gerontology at Hopkins. "She was a tremendously committed woman who was always thinking of someone else."

She was a longtime member and supporter of Brown Memorial United Presbyterian Church on Park Avenue.

When inner-city church congregations began declining in the mid-1960s -- and Brown Memorial was no exception, especially after it built a new church in the Woodbrook section of Baltimore County -- Mrs. Andrus remained steadfastly "urban-minded," said the Rev. Roger Gench, the pastor.

"We will be indebted to her for many, many years to come," he said. "The survival of the church on Park Avenue has greatly depended on her generosity. She is one of our foundations. She has kept us alive."

An accomplished photographer whose works have been exhibited in Baltimore, Mrs. Andrus also was a talented gardener who designed a Japanese garden for her home.

A memorial service will be held at 1 p.m. Feb. 27 at Brown Memorial Church, Park Avenue and Lanvale Street.

She is survived by nephews and nieces.

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