Margaret M. Ruffin, 77, championed the rights of public housing tenants

April 14, 2000|By Jamie Stiehm | Jamie Stiehm,SUN STAFF

Margaret M. Ruffin, an outspoken West Baltimore community activist, died of leukemia Monday at University of Maryland Medical Center. She was 77.

As longtime president of the Gilmor Homes tenant council, Mrs. Ruffin championed the rights of public housing residents in Baltimore and other large cities. She referred to residents of the Sandtown-Winchester neighborhood as "my people."

The former Margaret May Jones was born in Baltimore and lived in the city her whole life. She attended Douglass High School and married Howard L. Ruffin, a longshoreman. He died in 1965.

A resident of Gilmor Homes since the 1950s, when the urban renewal movement sparked the building boom of public housing, she made it her mission to improve life for families living inside them.

She become synonymous with her volunteer work and was widely known as "Mrs. Gilmor Homes," said granddaughter Monique Taylor of Baltimore.

"This was her passion, her life, her open-door policy," Ms. Taylor said. "She would take food from her shelves to feed someone."

Community leaders also remembered her effectiveness.

"She was lively, feisty, hard-working, not afraid of anybody. She wouldn't back down from any mayor or council member," said Emmanuel Price, chief executive officer of Community Building in Partnership Inc. Mrs. Ruffin was a board member of the nonprofit group, a collaboration of the city, community and Enterprise Foundation.

"She was so straightforward and very stern if you didn't get the point," Mr. Price said.

Her death left others in her community wondering what they will do without Mrs. Ruffin's everyday activism, which resulted in the construction or improvement of hundreds of houses.

Whenever there was a march to organize, a grant proposal to help prepare or letters to write to the zoning board, she could be counted on to help.

She was instrumental in the rehabilitation of Gilmor Homes in the early 1990s. She also often helped at a neighborhood church's soup kitchen.

Mrs. Ruffin also was an important figure in organizing and operating the local recreation center, youth employment program and family center. The day care center at Gilmor Homes is named in her honor.

Her influence grew beyond Baltimore's borders as she attended conferences and participated in national programs such as Habitat for Humanity and the federal empowerment zones, which reached into her neighborhood.

Keiffer J. Mitchell Jr., a city councilman from West Baltimore's 4th District, said she was a respected community force. "She made sure her elected representatives were held accountable. As the new kid on the block, she let me know that," he said.

Ms. Taylor, a granddaughter whom Mrs. Ruffin raised, said, "Let her life work speak for her. It has done exactly that."

Services were held yesterday at St. Gregory the Great Roman Catholic Church.

Mrs. Ruffin is survived by four daughters, Evelyn Ruffin, Janice Clark, Mada R. Holmes and Rhona Ruffin, all of Baltimore; a brother, Joseph Jones of Baltimore; four grandchildren; and six great-grandchildren.

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