Lillie A. Ross, a retired city educator who was given the title of "Mother of Madison Avenue Presbyterian Church," died Sunday of a respiratory ailment at the Presbyterian Home of Maryland in Towson. The former Northwest Baltimore resident was 102.
Born in Baltimore and raised on Gay Street, she attended city public schools and was a graduate of what was then the Fannie Coppin Normal School -- now Coppin State College. She later attended the University of Wisconsin, among other universities.
Miss Ross began her teaching career in the early 1920s and taught fourth, fifth and sixth grades in city public schools, including the old William M. Alexander School at Laurens and Calhoun streets, where she was assigned for many years. She retired about 40 years ago.
"I've been interested in helping people ever since I was 6 years old," she recalled in a 1992 Sun interview on her 90th birthday. "It was instilled in me to help people no matter what color, no matter if they were rich or poor. I've tried to minister to the young and old all my life."
On her 90th birthday, she stood before the congregation of Madison Avenue Presbyterian and sang one of her favorite hymns, "Discipleship and Service."
Miss Ross was the first woman to be ordained an elder at her church, and its first director of Christian education. She was also the first African-American woman from the Presbytery of Baltimore to be elected as a commissioner to its General Assembly.
"She was a pioneer in that she broke the barriers as our first female ordained elder," said the Rev. Karen V. Brown, associate pastor of Madison Avenue Presbyterian. "She was energetic and inspirational."
Her congregation bestowed on her the title "Mother of the Church" in 1988. A year later, its Lillie A. Ross Learning Center, a tutorial program and adult education center at Eutaw Place and Madison Avenue, was named in her honor.
"She was loved and admired by all members of the church," said Roscoe Monroe, a Hamilton resident and church deacon who knew Miss Ross for 50 years. "She was an inspiration to everyone she came in contact with, especially the young people."
On her 90th birthday, then-Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke stopped by the church to commend her for her many years of educational and community service. That year, she was inducted into the Baltimore Women's Hall of Fame.
Miss Ross also loved to travel. She had been to Australia, New Zealand, Africa, Europe and other parts of the world.
On her 100th birthday, she was congratulated by NBC's Today Show.
In 1991, she was recognized by the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church for attending 25 consecutive years of its annual meetings at her own expense.
She was a member of the Presbyterian Interracial Council, Baltimore Neighborhoods Inc. and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. She was a former executive board member of the American Council on Human Rights.
A memorial service will be held at noon Sept. 29 at her church, 2110 Madison Ave.
Survivors include two nieces, Gloria Lindquist of Fort Pierce, Fla., and Lillian Slade of Baltimore.