Harry S. Wolf, 84, artist, city mayoral candidate

February 13, 2004|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

Harry S. Wolf, an artist, actor and retired Westinghouse Electric Corp. librarian and designer who once ran a long-shot campaign for mayor of Baltimore, died of septicemia Feb. 6 at Sinai Hospital. She was 84.

Mrs. Wolf was born and raised Harry Francis Schlesinger in Atlanta. It was her father's desire that his first child be named after his father - a prominent Atlanta candy manufacturer - and when she turned out to be a girl, she was given the name anyway.

Mrs. Wolf - a blithe spirit - stood 5 feet 1 inch tall and was recognizable by her full head of auburn hair and fine tailoring.

"She was still wearing high heels even after she had a compound fracture and her doctors told her to switch to flats. She refused because she said they made her fall over," said her daughter, Susan W. Dudley of Stevenson.

"Everybody called her Mame after the character of the Broadway play of the same name. And her favorite song from the show, which kind of describes her is, `Life is a banquet and most poor suckers are starving to death,'" the daughter said.

Mrs. Wolf had lived in Baltimore since 1939, and was a longtime resident of the Belvedere Towers in Roland Park. "She was making her way to Philadelphia on the train when she got off at the wrong station and decided to stay in Baltimore," her daughter said.

Mrs. Wolf was a fine arts graduate of the Maryland Institute College of Art, and during World War II worked as a draftsman at Bendix Radio in Towson.

After the war, she joined the Westinghouse facility in Linthicum as a designer of airplane control panels and electronic equipment for missiles in the company's aerospace division. She later designed computers that were used for graphics. She was working as an engineering librarian at her retirement in the 1980s.

In 1941, she married Alan M. Wolf, a Baltimore lawyer who was the son of a congressman. The marriage ended in divorce.

"My parents were like Peter Pan and Tinker Bell or F. Scott Fitzgerald and Zelda. They were always out doing things and just had a good time in life," Mrs. Dudley said. "She chased fire engines and took us to every parade held in Baltimore. She just lived, lived, lived."

"There is a saying of Ashley Montagu's, the philosopher, that goes, `The idea is to die young and as late as possible,' and Harry was a great practitioner of this," said Rebecca Hoffberger, founder and executive director of Baltimore's American Visionary Art Museum and longtime friend. "She emitted throughout her life a fierce individuality, sensuality and spirit that was reminiscent of Sophie Tucker, the singer and actress."

In 1948, Mrs. Wolf passed the boat piloting examination of the U.S. Power Squadron and worked diligently on boating safety issues. She had served as a member of the boat safety division of the Governor's Conference on Safety and Health.

A Democrat, Mrs. Wolf took her first foray into politics in 1963 with a primary election campaign for City Council in the 5th District.

"If you don't like all the men on the ticket, pull the lever for me. It's time a qualified woman became a member of the City Council," she told The Evening Sun. She ran 27th in a field of 29, receiving 1,400 votes.

When she ran in the Democratic mayoral primary in 1967, The Evening Sun observed that "at 48 she is the oldest candidate for Mayor and probably the most technically talented."

She pulled out her slide rule and figured out that it almost didn't pay to be mayor.

"You work 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, which at $25,000 works out to only $2.80 an hour. I'd be taking a pay cut," Mrs. Wolf said.

In the primary, she garnered only 1,072 votes - and never again ran for public office.

"She was one of Baltimore's great characters and had a very interesting personality," said Thomas J. D'Alesandro III who won the primary and went on to serve one term as mayor.

She served as vice president of the National Council of Jewish Women and was a founding member of People Encouraging People, an organization that helped people recovering from mental illness find employment. She had also been a volunteer and founder of Meals On Wheels.

She was a collector of Lionel trains and for many years aided the firefighters at the Glen Avenue fire station in setting up their annual Christmas garden.

Mrs. Wolf continued working as a pen-and-ink artist, selling and showing much of her work. She also became an extra in John Waters' films and on the television series Homicide: Life on the Street.

"She was terrific and had quite a face. The great thing about Harry was that she was always available and enjoyed the camaraderie of filmmaking. She always got close-ups because she was so good-looking," said Pat Moran, the Baltimore casting agent. "She also had a certain timelessness and was a bohemian type. She was a real downtown kind of person, and her death means Baltimore has lost another real character."

Mrs. Wolf was a founding member of the Reformed Temple in Pikesville and the Suburban Club.

Plans for a memorial service were incomplete yesterday.

In addition to her daughter, Mrs. Wolf is survived by a son, Alan Michael Wolf Jr. of Towson; three grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren. Another daughter, Ellen W. Kaplan, died last year.

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