Mary Helen `Bebe' Cadwalader, 85, journalist for Life, Evening Sun

January 16, 2001|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

Mary Helen "Bebe" Cadwalader, a former Evening Sun and Life magazine journalist who, after her professional career, became a prolific free-lancer and wrote on a variety of subjects, died Thursday of a heart attack at her Harford County home. She was 85.

Since 1963, Miss Cadwalader had lived at The Mound, her 140-acre farm in Joppa near the Gunpowder River, which dates from the 18th century. She grew grains, managed a herd of Hereford beef cattle, boarded horses, hunted foxes and, in her spare moments, relaxed with the typewriter.

In that bucolic Harford County setting, which has been in her family since 1919, Miss Cadwalader produced a profusion of letters to the editor, poetry, feature articles and what used to be called casual essays, many of which were published in The Sun and The Evening Sun.

She wrote about historical figures, environmental matters, farming, Episcopal church affairs, capital punishment, fox-hunting, the glorious taste of summer's first Silver Queen corn, boxwood and the changing Maryland seasons.

"Cold Enough for You?" she asked in a 1977 Evening Sun article during Maryland's coldest winter since 1856.

She acknowledged sitting "so close to the fire that twice I've singed my sleeve. Naturally, this being the winter it is, the wood declines to burn well. It's been seasoning since Herbert Hoover's day but still it sulks. So do I."

She took exception to the term "old-fashioned winter," explaining that "old fashioned winters were fun, with hordes of children coasting and snowballing each other, and bright bonfires beside glassy ponds on still, starry nights when skaters twirled."

Reacting to the first pulses of spring as they made their way across Maryland, she wrote in a 1978 article: "How good to shrug out of the heavy old coat, the thick clumsy mittens! How wonderful to have the back kitchen door standing open in the balmy airs! How can this be true after our four months of biting winter?"

A foxhunter who never killed a fox, Miss Cadwalader enjoyed pointing out in an article that the Elkridge Fox Hunting Club during the late 1830s used to meet at the "foot of the Washington Monument" in the city's Mount Vernon Place.

And that since 1934, when that group merged with another club to become the Elkridge-Harford Hunt in Monkton, the spectacle of fox-hunting had continued.

"There, (Monkton) foxes are still numerous (and are treated with considerably more tenderness than formerly), riders still gallop over field and fence as their forebears did, and their coats are still a dazzling red," she wrote.

Born in Baltimore in 1915, Miss Cadwalader was descended from Arthur Middleton of South Carolina, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, and Gen. John Cadwalader, who commanded the Pennsylvania militia during the Revolutionary War. Her grandfather, John Cadwalader, was president of the Ericsson Line, whose overnight packet boats traveled between Philadelphia and Baltimore.

Raised on West Lanvale Street in Bolton Hill and at The Mound, she began writing at age 7. She was a 1934 graduate of Bryn Mawr School and made her debut that year at the Bachelors Cotillon.

In the 1930s, she became a cub reporter on the Eastern Shore Times in Salisbury and later worked at the Bel Air Times, before joining The Evening Sun and The Sun in the late 1930s.

As an assistant to Carroll Williams, who then covered the port for the Sunpapers, an exuberant Miss Cadwalader fell off a pier into the harbor while covering a story in Curtis Bay.

A picture by a Sun photographer showing her bobbing in the water later hung in the city room. Its caption read, "Bebe covers the waterfront, and the water covers Bebe."

During World War II, she served with the American Red Cross at posts in the Alaska-Aleutian theater and, later, in the Far East.

In 1946, she joined the staff of Life magazine, where she worked in Washington and New York and was assistant to Philip K. Jessup, the magazine's editorial writer. She retired in 1963.

"She more than held her own at Life, which was one of the pinnacles of journalism and writing in those days," said James H. Bready, a former reporter, editorial writer and book editor at The Evening Sun. "There was something always of the Harford County in her. She had a bright and agreeable personality and was a country gentlewoman."

In addition to being a member of the Elkridge-Harford Hunt Club, she was a founder and former president of the Little Gunpowder Improvement Association and led campaigns against urban sprawl and commercialization in southwest Harford County.

She was a donor to the Parks and People Foundation, which plants trees in East Baltimore. She also was a member of the Harford County Chapter of the Federated Garden Clubs, the Women's Hamilton Street Club and the Friends of Jerusalem Mill. She was a communicant of St. Alban's Anglican Church in Harford County.

Services will be held at 11 a.m. today at St. Mary's Episcopal Church - Emmorton, 1 St. Mary's Road in Abingdon.

She is survived by two brothers, Thomas F. Cadwalader Jr. of Baltimore and Benjamin R. Cadwalader of Gibson Island; a sister, Anne C. Earle of Center Conway, N.H.; and many nephews and nieces.

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