Marion B. Knott, 92, joined husband in philanthropy

April 17, 2003|By Jacques Kelly and Frederick N. Rasmussen | Jacques Kelly and Frederick N. Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

Marion Burk Knott, whose name graces many of the educational and medical buildings donated by her builder-philanthropist husband, Henry J. Knott, died of heart and respiratory failure at her Warrington Apartments home in Guilford. She would have been 93 next week.

"She with her husband left their children a marvelous example of philanthropy and faith," Cardinal William H. Keeler said yesterday. "She was a devoted mother and I am sure that many will be mourning her passing. I join them."

Born Marion Isabel Burk in Richmond, Va., she was a direct descendant of David Lindsay, a Scottish Presbyterian minister who settled in northern Virginia in 1628, and Ann Calvert, granddaughter of Leonard Calvert, who led the English colonists settling Maryland in 1634.

After the death of her parents, she went to live with an aunt and uncle in 1921 on Lyndhurst Street in West Baltimore. She attended city public schools.

She met Henry A. Knott on a blind date in 1926. He was a laborer for his father's construction company, earning $19 a week.

Two years later, after a quarrel with her aunt, she informed Mr. Knott she was returning to Richmond to live with a sister. He urged her not to, and they married on Aug. 2, 1928.

Mr. Knott, who died in 1995, accumulated a fortune as a brick contractor and real estate developer.

With an expanding family, the couple settled in the early 1940s into an elegant home on Guilford's Greenway, where they raised 13 children. The home got the nickname of "the Stork Club" - less an allusion to the famed New York nightclub than for the children growing up there.

While her husband was working, Mrs. Knott looked after their children. After a son-in-law taught her to drive in 1953, she had more mobility in dealing with her children's busy schedules.

"She devoted her life to caring for her family, which left little time remaining for personal interests. Mom was always gracious and an unpretentious lady," said a daughter, Patricia K. Smyth of Baltimore. "She was the true heart and backbone of our family."

The family moved in 1952 to Gentry Lane in North Baltimore, where Mrs. Knott loved to cook for her family and friends. Summer afternoons were spent canning and preserving the fruits and vegetables that came from the large family-tended garden, and a special treat for her children would be the sea foam candy that she made in her kitchen.

"She was so fundamentally down to earth," said Sister Kathleen Feeley, former president of the College of Notre Dame of Maryland. "And if she did say something, it was always something practical."

Sister Kathleen recalled a day in 1950 when Mrs. Knott went to South Carolina, where her daughter Marion was studying to enter the Notre Dame sisters.

"She came to the convent - there were eight sisters - and cooked for us. She was an excellent cook, but kept saying, `This dish isn't as good as it should be.' She thought it was the stove. She went back to Baltimore and had a new stove delivered to us.

"Over the years, I think Henry realized what a steadying influence she was," Sister Kathleen said.

If Mrs. Knott was retiring in private life, she certainly was not when it came to sharing in her husband's philanthropy.

"She was the good woman behind the throne. She was always very sympathetic of the money that Henry gave away and never once said, `Stop, you've given enough,'" said Maryland Comptroller William Donald Schaefer, former governor and Baltimore mayor. "He was the toughest businessman I've ever known and the most generous."

In 1981, the couple established a $20 million scholarship fund that was named for Mrs. Knott. It provided scholarships to area parochial school, high school and college students.

In 1988, they established a $26 million fund that benefited 31 local educational, health and cultural institutions. Among the recipients were the Johns Hopkins Oncology Center and Baltimore Symphony Orchestra. St. Joseph Medical Center and Mercy, St. Agnes and Bon Secours hospitals were given $1 million each to establish an income fund for medical care for the needy.

In 1989, St. Mary's Seminary and University named the Marion Burk Knott Library in honor of Mrs. Knott. A building at Mercy Medical Center is named for her parents, Frederick Law and Alice Kirkham Burk.

Into the late 1990s, Mrs. Knott continued following the advice her husband wrote in a letter to their children: "All the lousy money in the world won't do you any good in eternity."

Among her gifts, in 1999, was $10 million to the Johns Hopkins medical school to support cancer and genetics research.

She liked to attend early services at SS. Philip and James Roman Catholic Church or at the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen, 5200 N. Charles St., where a Mass of Christian burial will be offered at 10 a.m. Tuesday.

In addition to Mrs. Smyth, Mrs. Knott is survived by three sons, Francis X. Knott, James F. Knott and Martin G. Knott, all of Baltimore; six other daughters, Alice K. Voelkel, Margaret K. Riehl, Rose Marie K. Porter, Lindsay K. Harris and Mary Stuart K. Rodgers, all of Baltimore, and Marion K. McIntyre of Delray Beach, Fla.; 51 grandchildren; and 91 great-grandchildren. She outlived three children, Henry J. Knott Jr., Ann Carlisle Knott and Catherine K. Wies.

The family suggested memorial donations to the Institute of Notre Dame, 901 Aisquith St., Baltimore 21202.

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