Raleigh R. Singletary, 76, master cabinetmaker, Mervo teacher for 20 years

March 29, 2001|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

Raleigh Randolph Singletary, an exacting master cabinetmaker who inspired and mentored students at Mergenthaler Vocational-Technical High School for nearly 20 years, died Sunday of cancer at his Glen Burnie home. He was 76.

A big, friendly man with a taste for fine English furniture, he presided over his woodshop in a carpenter's apron or beige jumpsuit, with collar open and tie at half-mast.

His world was one of fine, rare woods, fragrant hand-brushed dark stains, aromatic sawdust and finely turned wood carvings that Mr. Singletary enjoyed introducing to his students. He encouraged them to see possibilities in mahogany, cherry and maple boards.

"He was a great master craftsman and teacher," said Rodney Smith, a journeyman Baltimore cabinetmaker who graduated from Mergenthaler in 1981.

"He patiently taught us about the characteristics of wood, how to build fine furniture and how to work together. He told us we were unique and helped us get jobs in exclusive shops after we graduated," said Mr. Smith.

"He helped me find my niche in life and pushed me very hard. He molded and shaped those who wanted to learn the craft of woodworking. He taught us how to think. He was a well-rounded woodworker, and there wasn't anything he couldn't do."

David L. Wheeler, a Baltimore cabinetmaker and teacher who was in Mr. Singletary's last class when he retired in 1983, said he was a father figure to students.

"I grew up without a father, and he would spend hours talking to me. He put things in simple terms so you could understand. At Mervo, he so inspired the kids that they wanted to work and study with him," he said.

After he graduated, Mr. Wheeler said, Mr. Singletary escorted him to a job interview at Knipp & Co., a Hanover Street cabinetmaking company, where he worked for 14 years, until it closed in 1997.

"When he had applied there way back, they wouldn't hire him because he was black. He later got me my present job teaching cabinetmaking at the West Side Skill Center, where he taught until last year," said Mr. Wheeler.

During his last year teaching, Mr. Singletary helped two students build a reproduction Philadelphia Queen Anne highboy, which they first saw listed in an Ethan Allen catalog.

The mahogany highboy with a poplar interior was listed for $2,500. Mr. Singletary and his two students built a stunning copy for $800.

"He could go to a showroom or look at a piece in a magazine and go out and make a better copy. His work was par excellence. It was simply superlative," said Howard E. Favor, a friend of many years who is an economics professor at Morgan State University.

"He was a giant in his field," he said.

Mr. Singletary, the son of farmers, was born and raised in Bladenboro, N.C., and graduated from high school there. He served in the Army during World War II and was discharged in 1945.

He received a bachelor's degree in industrial arts from Hampton Institute in 1949 and began teaching in Baltimore public schools in 1953.

In 1950, he married Margaret Davis, who survives him.

He was an active member of Pennsylvania Avenue African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, 1128 Pennsylvania Ave., where services will be held at 11 a.m. today.

He also is survived by a brother, George E. Lacy Sr. of Baltimore; a sister, Emma Stewart of Bladenboro; several nephews; and a niece.

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