May Roswell, 87, founding UMBC faculty member who taught modern languages

February 21, 2002|By Jacques Kelly | Jacques Kelly,SUN STAFF

May Roswell, a founding faculty member of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, died Saturday of heart disease at Charlestown Retirement Community. She was 87 and a former resident of Ellicott City and Elkridge.

A French and German teacher respected by her students and peers, she set up the school's modern language program and was among the initial 45 full-time professors who opened the Catonsville institution in September 1966. UMBC then had 750 freshmen and sophomores enrolled; today it has a student body of more than 11,000.

"She put together her department with a class of pioneering students," said Angela Moorjani, a UMBC French professor and friend. "Everybody uses the words `great lady' to describe her -- she was so considerate in her manners and so authentic. She possessed a nobility of the soul.

"She also set high standards. When you were with her, you were on your guard to bring out your best," Ms. Moorjani said. "She had the gift of bringing out the caring side of people at the same time as she challenged their minds to work at their best."

"She was the ideal person to nurture the school's language department -- and the school itself," said Calvin A. Glover Jr., a former student. "She was the embodiment of wisdom, and -- of course -- she used it wisely."

"She was formidable in her talents and in her ability, extremely gracious, kind and motherly," said Homer Schamp, the school's founding provost. "She always knew the right thing -- the human thing -- to do or say. She was extremely devoted to her students."

Albin O. Kuhn, the school's founding chancellor, said, "May was one of the very strong, yet quiet faculty who brought great strength to UMBC. She was good, constructive and did a lot for the progress of the language department."

Born May MacGinnis in Dublin, Ireland, she was the daughter of a physician who practiced in Chesterfield, England, where she was raised. She learned French at an English convent school and was instructed by the Order of the Visitation nuns near Munich, Germany.

She earned her bachelor of arts degree from Trinity College, Dublin, and while doing additional graduate work at the University of Heidelburg in the 1930s met her future husband, C. Alfred Roswell, a chemist from Lexington, Ky. When she sailed from Europe to marry him in 1940, her ship was torpedoed in the Atlantic but did not sink. Her husband died in 1994.

After her children were in school, Mrs. Roswell earned a doctorate in 1961 from the University of Maryland, College Park, where she was teaching when she was tapped to join the founding faculty of UMBC.

After her 1981 retirement, she actively volunteered for the school's Friends of the Library and was a member of the UMBC-Charlestown Retirement Community Partnership Committee.

She was well known for her roses and raspberry bushes at her Bonnie Branch Road home in Ellicott City and, until 1975, at the 18th-century Clover Hill Farm home she and her husband owned in Elkridge. Mrs. Roswell continued her gardening at the retirement community.

Services were held Monday.

She is survived by three sons, Charles Roswell of Columbia, David Roswell of Baltimore and John Roswell of Elkridge; three daughters, Anne Porter of Racine, Ohio, Rosemary Roswell of Columbia and Joan Carter of Newark, Calif.; 17 grandchildren; and six great-grandchildren.

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