Deborah McMorris, 61, social worker

March 20, 2001|By Jacques Kelly | Jacques Kelly,SUN STAFF

Deborah Ann McMorris, a retired Baltimore Department of Social Services training specialist and City Fair volunteer, died March 13 of cancer at Holmes Regional Medical Center in Melbourne, Fla. She was 61.

The former Charles Village resident had moved to West Melbourne, Fla., in 1999.

During her lengthy career at the social services agency, Miss McMorris trained caseworkers, who determined clients' eligibility for food stamps and medical and cash assistance.

She joined the Baltimore Department of Public Welfare in the 1960s. She was a caseworker in the Eastern District and an assistant manager of the Park Circle office.

"The people she trained loved her," said a friend, Geraldine W. Wiggins of Columbia. "Debbie was the source in the department for the answers to tough, technical questions. She challenged her superiors for what she thought was ethical and correct."

An advocate of city living and revitalizing older neighborhoods, Miss McMorris was volunteer director of operations for the Baltimore City Fair for more than 20 years.

In 1970, she and other volunteers set up the first City Fair in Charles Center. Each year thereafter, she took a week's vacation, or longer, to set up tents and pavilions along the Inner Harbor or other locations where the urban festival was held.

"She was the heartbeat of the Baltimore City Fair," said Leslie Rehbein Marqua, a former City Fair chairwoman and a friend. "I always remember Deb as being there -- the volunteer who did everything there was to do.

"Debbie was a construction person. She wore a T-shirt, blue jeans and had that tool belt hanging around her waist. If it was broken, she was there to fix it," Mrs. Marqua recalled.

"The night of Hurricane Hugo in 1989, when everything had to be taken down, she was there leading the work crews."

Miss McMorris also helped run Preakness parades in the 1980s.

In the early 1970s, Miss McMorris was among the first urban homesteaders, who renovated dilapidated houses in the 600 block of Stirling St. in the Oldtown Urban Renewal District in East Baltimore.

She paid a dollar each for two adjoining 1820s rowhouses and spent nights and weekends tearing out old plaster walls and rebuilding floors and ceilings. She moved into the residence in 1974.

In the mid-1970s, she renovated a house in the 2600 block of N. Calvert St. that had been heavily damaged by a fire. She did much of the renovation work herself and later lived there with her parents.

Born in Ashtabula, Ohio, Miss McMorris was a graduate of Pfeiffer University in Misenheimer, N.C.

She was fond of animals and often picked up strays, which she put up for adoption. She also had a woodworking shop and made plant holders, dolls and gifts for friends.

She had been a member and treasurer of Roland Avenue Evergreen Methodist Church.

A memorial service is being planned.

She is survived by her mother, Mary Lester McMorris, and an uncle, James Lester, both of West Melbourne.

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