Gail M. Parker, former director of the Brown Memorial Tutoring Program that helped disadvantaged inner-city children overcome reading disabilities, died of breast cancer Saturday at Johns Hopkins Hospital. She was 72.
Born and raised Gail Munson in New Haven, Conn., she earned a bachelor's degree in English in 1953 from Smith College and a master's in reading in 1987 from what is now Towson University. At her death, Mrs. Parker was studying for a master's degree in humanities at Towson.
For 18 years until retiring in 2001, Mrs. Parker directed the tutoring program at Brown Memorial Park Avenue Presbyterian Church, believed to be the oldest such program in the nation.
Established in 1964, the program shuttles students once a week from Rosemont, Eutaw-Marshburn and Mount Royal elementary schools to the Bolton Hill church for one-on-one tutoring sessions. It helped about 1,100 students learn to read during her tenure.
"Gail was a wonderful person who brought a tremendous amount of energy and love for children to her work. She was dedicated to helping them improve their lives by becoming lifetime readers," said Sharon B. Winternitz, who succeeded Mrs. Parker as director of the program. "She felt strongly that she could help them become successful."
Mrs. Winternitz said that 70 to 80 children a year were tutored there by volunteers.
"Even though she retired, Gail continued as a member of the advisory board, became a tutor and established an annual giving fund for the program," she said.
In a 1997 letter to The Sun, Mrs. Parker complained about reliance in Baltimore elementary schools on the "whole language" method of teaching reading.
"Children who have a learning style not suited to the `whole language' method are destined for failure in school and often, as a result, in life," she wrote. "There are many school systems throughout the United States that train regular classroom teachers in three methods of teaching reading - `whole language,' `phonics,' and a multi-sensory method for those learners who need that more structured approach."
For her work with the tutoring program, Mayor Martin O'Malley presented her with a citizen citation in 2001, and she was named one of the city's top 10 citizens that year by the City Paper. Last year, Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. honored Mrs. Parker for her years of service and voluntarism.
Earlier, Mrs. Parker had served for 20 years on the board of directors of Center Stage, where she was the first chair of its fund-raising auction aired by WBAL-AM radio, president of its women's committee and executive vice president.
Mrs. Parker lived for 28 years in the city's Poplar Hill neighborhood, where she would often open her home to those in need.
"She was kind enough to take me in when I was 16 and during a difficult time in my life," said former Del. Gerry L. Brewster, now a Towson attorney. "I lived with her family during my senior year at Gilman and while I was a student at Princeton. She gave me shelter and became a loving inspiration in my life. She was a person who always felt an obligation to give back."
Mrs. Parker, who moved to Lutherville in 1987, had served as president of the old Eudowood Hospital Women's Board and Smith College Club of Baltimore.
"She was an avid Colts fan and never missed a home game between 1959 and 1973," said her husband of 50 years, Peter Parker, a former lawyer and retired businessman.
Mrs. Parker was an active member of Brown Memorial Woodbrook, 6200 N. Charles St., where services will be held at 11 a.m. tomorrow.
She also is survived by three sons, Peter Parker Jr. of Baltimore, Todd M. Parker of Weston, Conn., and George E. Parker of Houston; a daughter, Beth H. Parker of San Francisco; and 10 grandchildren.