Margaret Gail, 85, swimmer known as the `singing mermaid'

October 10, 2003|By Jacques Kelly | Jacques Kelly,SUN STAFF

Margaret Gail, a swimmer once known as the "singing mermaid," died of congestive heart failure Oct. 3 at Stella Maris Hospice. The Timonium resident was 85.

Born in Baltimore and raised on Pimlico Road in Mount Washington, the former Margaret Russell was a 1939 graduate of Western High School. By her teens, she was a Red Cross lifesaving examiner. She also taught swimming at the city's Patterson and Gwynns Falls park pools.

"She was a born swimmer," said her sister, Maureen Skinner of Timonium. "She seemed to win just about every medal around."

Mrs. Gail trained for the 1936 Berlin Olympics. Newspaper stories noted that Baltimore's only Olympic-sized pool was at the all-male City College and that the city school system lifted a prohibition on females to allow her to practice there. But she was unable to compete in the 1936 games after breaking her hand during a backstroke practice.

In regional competitions, she represented the old Lakewood Swimming Pool, Meadowbrook in Mount Washington, the Knights of Columbus and the Women's Swimming Club of New York.

By 1937, she had won so many medals that her awards were on display at the Central Enoch Pratt Free Library.

She was a soprano and sang on Baltimore radio in the 1930s, and newspaper articles called her the "singing mermaid" when she appeared at the Eastern Shore's Cambridge Yacht Club Regatta in 1938.

Publicity reports referred to her as the "human fish" at the 5th Regiment Armory's 1939 Outdoor Life Show.

In 1943, she married Elmer Galloway, and after they divorced she changed her last name to Gail.

Family members said that at age 60, she resumed swimming and competed in the Senior Olympics. She also taught swimming at the Towson YMCA.

Services are private.

In addition to her sister, Mrs. Gail is survived by a son, Michael Galloway of Newark, Del.; five daughters, Sue Nagy of Flagstaff, Ariz., Margaret Mary Eduardo of Henrietta, N.Y., Maureen Konizer of Wilmington, Del., Patricia Galloway of Newark and Katie Blanke of Amsterdam, Netherlands; a brother, J. Meredith Russell of Port St. Lucie, Fla.; and many grandchildren.

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