Laetitia B. Coolidge, 99, artist, traveler, Roland Park resident

May 21, 2004|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

Laetitia B. Coolidge, an artist, world traveler and former Roland Park resident, died in her sleep Saturday at a retirement community in San Diego. She was 99.

She was born Laetitia Bredow Kelly at Liriodendron, the 200-acre summer home that her parents built near Bel Air in 1897. She was the last surviving child of Dr. Howard Atwood Kelly, who was considered the "father of American gynecology" and was a pioneer in the use of radium to treat cancer.

Her father was one of the "Big Four" -- with Drs. William H. Welch, William Osler and W.S. Halsted -- who founded the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.

Mrs. Coolidge was raised at the Baltimore home of her parents in the 1400 block of Eutaw Place, where her father conducted research and operated the internationally known Kelly Clinic. She attended Bryn Mawr School and graduated from the Masters School in Dobbs Ferry, N.Y.

"Dr. Kelly's versatile interests gave his family a wide variety of experiences. As children they were accustomed to seeing other members of the `Big Four' around the dinner table, as well as many other known thinkers of the time, such as H.L. Mencken," said her son, Dexter Knowlton Coolidge of Santa Fe, N.M.

Mrs. Coolidge studied painting at the Maryland Institute College of Art and in New York. A lifelong artist, she enjoyed painting watercolors of flowers and was in her 90s when she completed a series of abstract works based on her study of the Bible.

She attributed her interest in the outdoors to her father, who established Indian Point, a camp, in rural Ontario in 1890. The camp, which does not have electricity, is visited annually by family members.

In her mid-80s, Mrs. Coolidge continued to observe the vigorous camp regime established by her father.

"The 7 a.m. swim before breakfast, regardless of the temperature, was done every day," said a daughter, Laetitia Coolidge Ayars of Elkton.

Mrs. Coolidge was also an accomplished canoeist.

"She really was quite something. She was in her 80s when I remember sitting in a canoe in the Brandywine River, which runs rather swiftly. Her daughter had turned over several times, but there sat Aunt Tish serenely in her canoe without a moment's worry about anything," said a nephew, Baltimore architect W. Boulton Kelly of Ruxton.

Mrs. Coolidge inherited her father's interest in reptiles and snakes. When she was 96, she was asked what pet she would like to have at her retirement home, and replied, "I think I would like to have a snake," family members said.

She was an avid traveler with an insatiable sense of adventure. In the 1960s, she drove the back roads through Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Poland, Romania and Yugoslavia, which were then under Communist rule.

Her varied travel experiences included hitchhiking on a chicken truck in Peru, sailing a small sailboat through the Greek Islands, driving through Turkey and Northern Greece, and going on safari in Africa.

She was 90 when she took her last automobile trip, which included touring Morocco.

"Her faith and family were the two most important things in her life. She wasn't a person who was interested in the social scene and rather liked being by herself," her daughter said.

Her 1934 marriage to Winthrop K. Coolidge, a chemical engineer, ended in divorce in 1961.

For many years, Mrs. Coolidge lived in Chicago. After the divorce, she returned to Baltimore, and since 1980 had lived in San Diego.

Services will be held at 1:30 p.m. today at Central Presbyterian Church, 7308 York Road.

Mrs. Coolidge is also survived by two other daughters, Olga Elisabeth Coolidge of Santa Fe and Carol Marie Breckenridge of San Diego; seven grandchildren; and five great-grandchildren. Another daughter, Deborah Jean Coolidge, died in 1958.

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