Therese Weil Lansburgh, 81, child care pioneer

October 11, 2001|By Jacques Kelly | Jacques Kelly,SUN STAFF

Therese Weil Lansburgh, a social worker who was a pioneer in children's day care, died Saturday of congestive heart failure at Johns Hopkins Hospital. She was 81 and a resident of University Parkway.

Mrs. Lansburgh was president of the Maryland Committee for Children for two decades through the mid-1980s, and a day care advocate during the 1960s. The traditional extended family, with grandparents at home, was a thing of the past, she pointed out, and young children needed a "warm and acceptable" place to stay while their parents worked.

"Her passion -- and it really was a passion -- was for little kids," said Sandra Skolnik, executive director of the committee. "She was a humanitarian. There was an intensity of purpose in the ways she approached her work. She was convinced that what happened in the first few years of life determined what a human being was going to be."

Born in New Orleans, she was raised in a mansion in the city's Garden District near Tulane University. She earned her bachelor's degree in sociology from Smith College in Northampton, Mass., and a master's degree in social work from Tulane.

During World War II, she was a Red Cross caseworker in Boston., then moved to Columbus, Miss., where she initiated classes for mentally disabled children. By the time she gave up teaching, she had seen her program grow to more than 200 classes for the mentally disabled across Mississippi.

She moved to Maryland in 1959 when she married Richard Lans- burgh, an owner of the Raleigh men's store chain based in Washington, and settled in Pikesville.

In 1965, she became president of a small group then known as the Maryland Committee for the Day Care of Children, and a year later, while serving on the board of Jewish Family and Children's Society, was appointed to the Baltimore County Welfare Board by then-Gov. Spiro T. Agnew. From 1967 to 1971, she was president of the National Day Care and Child Development Council of America.

She was a frequent speaker before legislative groups, clubs and charitable foundations.

"For a presumably child-loving society, America does not put its cash on the line," she said at a 1970 White House Conference on Children. "It is much cheaper to provide a solid foundation for society today than to apply a series of Band-Aids which will only heal social wounds tomorrow."

She added that universally available day care services were a "necessity for the 1970s."

In 1975, she led a fund-raising campaign for a new Inner Harbor headquarters for the Committee for Children in a former chocolate factory on East Water Street. The agency continues there.

The American Jewish Committee named her its outstanding woman in community service in 1991. She also received the Hannah Solomon Award from the National Council of Jewish Women in 1995, in recognition of her accomplishments as a catalyst for social change.

Until seven years ago, she and her husband made their home in Pikesville.

Services were held Monday.

In addition to her husband, she is survived by a daughter, Deborah Adler of Washington, and two grandsons. A son, Randolph Wolff, died in 1998.

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