Shirley Le Maitre, 82, secretary, raconteur

September 12, 2004|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

Shirley Le Maitre a nondrinking barfly and wisecracking conversationalist who kept customers at a Govans tavern entertained for hours, died of heart failure Wednesday at Gilchrist Center for Hospice Care in Towson. She was 82.

Mrs. Le Maitre, who lived in the Idlewylde section of Baltimore County, was born Shirley Graham in Springfield, Mass. She was raised there and in Oceanside, N.Y., where she graduated from public schools.

During the 1940s, she worked as a secretary in New York City, and in the 1960s managed restaurants in Lake Hopatcong, N.J.

She had also lived in Los Angeles and Homestead, Fla., before moving to Baltimore in 1992.

"She told jokes and enjoyed making people laugh," said her daughter Linda B. Clarke, co-owner with her husband of Swallow at the Hollow tavern on York Road in Govans.

"She used to say, `I'm over my quota in most things I've done during my lifetime.' She did everything and anything. Nothing ever fazed her. She had more men, more husbands and more boyfriends. Everyone loved her. She was just a nut," Mrs. Clarke said, laughing.

Mrs. Le Maitre seemingly relished her role as a precocious and outspoken senior citizen.

"She was a staunch Protestant from Massachusetts, very well-informed, a liberal and a great cynic," her daughter said.

"She was not a member of a church yet was fond of boasting about her relationship with God. She'd say, `I don't have to be a paying member of a church to talk to God. I can talk to him myself anytime I want to,'" Mrs. Clarke said.

Mrs. Le Maitre liked to go the tavern where she poured herself a cup of coffee, played the poker machine and kept her ears cocked for an interesting conversation that she could plunge into.

"She liked to smoke but not drink. She had one drink in her life - a whiskey sour years and years ago - and hated it," Mrs. Clarke said.

One of her favorite friends at the bar was Keith Issacs, a 37-year-old bartender.

"For a lady who was 82, she was like a 16-year-old. She'd grab my arm and say, `You know the old expression about feeling your age? Well, right now I'm feeling 37,'" Mr. Issacs said.

"She never had a problem talking to people and freely spoke her mind on politics, religion and sex. No subject was off-limits," he said. "I can't tell you how many times she'd say to someone, `All right, let's cut the B.S.,'" he said.

Mrs. Le Maitre enjoyed smoking an occasional cigarette while talking and sipping coffee.

"She'd unhook her oxygen tank, smoke a cigarette, and then reconnect," Mr. Issacs said.

On the wall of the bar is the "Death Board," announcing the names and services for patrons who have died.

"We wrote: `Shirley - She finally gave up smoking. 9-8-04,'" Mrs. Clarke said.

Her marriage to Joseph A.P. Shanahan ended in divorce. She was married for many years to William Le Maitre, an electrical engineer, who died in 1987.

Plans for a memorial service were incomplete yesterday.

Survivors, in addition to her daughter, include three sons, David Shanahan of LeRoy, Ill., Peter Shanahan of Lake Hopatcong and Thomas Le Maitre of Tacoma, Wash.; another daughter, Laurie J. Le Maitre of Los Angeles; 12 grandchildren; and 10 great-grandchildren.

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