City thanks Gaddy for showing us how to help the poor

October 10, 2001|By Gregory Kane

EVEN HEAVEN will have to make an especially hallowed place to put this one.

Baltimore said goodbye to Bea Gaddy yesterday in what Americans of European extraction refer to as a funeral but black folks call a homegoing service. The line of those hoping to get a final glimpse of Gaddy as she lay resplendent in a coffin at New Shiloh Baptist Church stretched from the altar, out the long aisles of one of the country's largest houses of worship and spilled through the doors onto Clifton Avenue.

The visitors - who wanted to say thanks to Gaddy for being a part of our lives and making us a little humbler, a little better, a bit more concerned for the poor and hopeless among us and who wanted to have her touch us in her own special way one last time - hailed from many walks of life.

They came from the world of politics - Mayor Martin O'Malley, Rep. Elijah Cummings, Gov. Parris Glendening, Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, Baltimore City Council President Sheila Dixon, state Sens. Clarence Mitchell IV and Nathaniel McFadden, and Baltimore County Executive Dutch Ruppersberger were there.

Kweisi Mfume, president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and former city councilman and congressman, was there, as was the Rev. Frank Reid, pastor of Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church. Travis Winkey, head of the modeling agency Travis Winkey Studios, paid his respects, as did Carlos Muhammad, minister of Nation of Islam Mosque No. 6 on Garrison Avenue. Lawrence Bell, former City Council president and mayoral candidate arrived to bid farewell to Gaddy, whom he called a "good friend." (Bell, seldom seen since his election loss, did not say where he's been and said he couldn't stay long.)

The famous and not-so-famous were there. They came dressed up, and they came dressed down. Steven Gilliard was in casual attire.

"I have two suits," Gilliard said outside the chapel, which was filled to overflowing. "I put both in the cleaners over the weekend. I said to myself, `I can't go. I don't have anything to wear.' But when you went by Bea's place on Collington Avenue, you could come as you were. She would ask `Are you hungry?'"

Gaddy's younger years were tough, even horrific. Born during the Depression, Gaddy came from a poor family. Hunger was her constant childhood companion. She moved to Baltimore and resolved that she would feed others who were hungry.

She began by feeding a small gathering of 30 or so people on Thanksgiving. The numbers grew through the years, eventually swelling to 20,000 in some years. Folks from all parts of Baltimore came to help her. Duane Baysmore did it the past 10 years.

"I and my daughters used to go down on Thanksgiving and help Bea Gaddy feed the community," Baysmore said. "She was always warm and gracious and helped me instill a sense of community service to my children."

One of his daughters, Wendy Baysmore, is 21 and helped start a clothing drive that Gaddy supported. His other daughters, Montez Baysmore, 25, and Jasmine, 13, also have helped. After helping Gaddy, Baysmore and his daughters would head home where his wife, also named Wendy, would have a traditional Thanksgiving dinner waiting.

Baysmore, 45, last saw Gaddy a few months ago at City Hall. A member of Local 44, a union of public works employees, Baysmore talked to Gaddy as she expressed her support for union issues.

"She was very grass-roots-oriented," Baysmore said of Gaddy and her passion for those from the working class.

Ertha Harris is a 42-year-old East Baltimore activist and local chairwoman of the Organizing Committee for the Million-Man March. In 1998, Harris helped raise money to send an East Baltimore lad, Keon Gerow, to Atlanta's Morehouse College, where he is now a senior. Yesterday, Harris was on hand to pay her tribute to Gaddy.

"She inspired me to be a true activist and come out and do things for the community," Harris said. "I've got a long way to go, but I'm definitely going to try to walk in her footsteps."

Frederick Douglass IV stood outside the New Shiloh chapel and watched a television showing services for the activist who advocated for the poor. Douglass is the great-great-grandson of another Baltimore activist who advocated for the poor - abolitionist Frederick Douglass.

"This shows the need for us to institutionalize Gaddy's type of work," Douglass said, "to see that it goes on."

Gilliard is sure Gaddy's work will continue.

"In death, there is new life," he said. "There will be other Bea Gaddys."

We all pray that God didn't break the mold when he made Bea Gaddy. But he probably did.

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