Donald S. Elliott, 72, humanities teacher and author of several children's books

March 17, 2001|By Jacques Kelly | Jacques Kelly,SUN STAFF

Donald S. Elliott, a retired teacher and children's book author regarded as a Renaissance man, died Tuesday of heart disease at his Owings Mills home. He was 72.

He taught at the private Garrison Forest School in Owings Mills from 1966 until he retired six years ago.

In the 1970s and early 1980s, he wrote three music-teaching children's books, "Alligators and Music," "Frogs and the Ballet" and "Lamb's Tales From Great Operas." All were illustrated by artist Clinton Arrowood.

"He was one of the most gifted, natural teachers I've ever seen," said Archibald Montgomery IV, Gilman School headmaster. "He could have taught every course in a curriculum. He was a true Renaissance man. He read Latin and Greek. He understood calculus.

"His true love was an interdisciplinary humanities course, one that combined art, literature, history and music," Montgomery said. "The girls at Garrison Forest loved him."

Recalled as a practical man - he constructed his own outdoor swimming pool - he would spend a vacation puttering and fixing things. A self-taught pianist who preferred the music of Beethoven, he read and reread the works of the Greek philosophers, and of novelists Thomas Mann and Joseph Conrad. Friends said he had a sharp wit and placed a high value on personal integrity.

"I attended one of his classes - he was talking on Chekhov. All his students were on the edge of their seats, " said Thomas Hardie, a friend who lives in Butler. "He was a modest man, unique, stimulating - an original."

Born and raised in Lutherville, he was 14 when he left Towson High School to enter St. John's College in Annapolis. He received a state senatorial scholarship to the school and received his degree there in 1948.

He joined the staff of Baltimore Life Insurance Co., where he headed the actuarial department. He then became a humanities teacher at Garrison Forest.

"He welcomed all people gracefully. He was quite a remarkable intellect and scholar," said Archibald Montgomery III, the former headmaster at Garrison Forest who now lives outside Philadelphia. "The students loved him. They dedicated the yearbook to him. ... His only problem was, he hated to fail anyone."

Mr. Elliott also taught classes to adults. Friends recalled that he would join them in his living room for extended discussions and conversations rendered in a question-and-answer format reminiscent of the method used by Socrates.

In 1956, he married Cielito Obina, a concert pianist and teacher who survives him.

A memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. Monday at St. Thomas Episcopal Church, St. Thomas Lane and Garrison Forest Road in Owings Mills, where he was a member of the parish.

He is also survived by three sons, Fermin Elliott of Pikesville, Bruce Elliott of Ellicott City and Gary Elliott of Frankford, Ky.; two daughters, Estelle Elliott Dobeck and Julia Elliott-Reid, both of Las Vegas; and four grandchildren.

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