Linda D. Segal, 66, guide, Hampden store co-owner

September 22, 2005|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,Sun reporter

Linda D. Segal, a former Baltimore tour guide and the co-owner of a popular Hampden handbag shop, died of cancer Saturday at Johns Hopkins Hospital. The Pikesville resident was 66.

She was born Linda Gottlieb in Baltimore and was raised in the city's Pimlico neighborhood. She was a 1956 graduate of Forest Park High School and attended the University of Maryland, College Park until her father became ill and she returned home.

She worked in advertising production for a Baltimore agency from 1958 to 1962, when she met and married Robert E. Segal, a buyer for a New York City clothing manufacturer.

After living in New York for three years, the couple settled in Baltimore in 1965, when they opened The Village Set, one of the original stores in the Village of Cross Keys, specializing in women's sportswear. They closed the business in 1971.

After tending to their two sons as a homemaker for several years, Mrs. Segal took a job in 1979 with Baltimore Rent-A- Tour Inc.

"She loved Baltimore and its history, and liked showing her city to people. She did a lot of traveling and was quite cosmopolitan. But Baltimore was like a magnet; no matter where she went, it always drew her home," her husband said yesterday.

"She was an exceptionally good tour guide who had lots of information, a sense of humor and a fabulous presentation. `Special' is the word I'd use to describe Linda," said Ruth Fader, founder and former president of Baltimore Rent-A-Tour. "People would call up and request her. She was certainly No. 1."

"She had a number of humorous experiences as a tour guide. For instance, as she guided a bus through Baltimore City, she once saw Mayor William Donald Schaefer," said a son, Dr. Andrew H. Segal, founder of Genitrix, a Cambridge, Mass., biotechnology company. "She stopped the bus and dragged Mayor Schaefer onto the bus to greet the tourists."

In her private life, Mrs. Segal used her powers of persuasion to help her son, who was born with cerebral palsy, attend a regular public school.

"My mother was instrumental in ensuring that I was allowed to attend a Baltimore County public school that had never, until that time, accepted a child with a physical disability," Dr. Segal said. "It was county policy at that time that students with disabilities be educated only in schools specifically designated for that purpose."

"In the early 1970s, there was no such thing as mainstreaming. She was an advocate for her son and knew what Andy was capable of and that he could do the work," said Amy Miron, who took Mrs. Segal's son into her second-grade class at Wellwood Elementary School in Pikesville.

"It was the best thing that ever happened to me and a wonderful experience. She was a fabulous woman. When she saw something that was wrong, she tried to correct it," said Ms. Miron, now a private counselor and psychology professor at the Community College of Baltimore County's Catonsville campus.

In 1990, Mrs. Segal was a co-founder of a technology resource center for the disabled, LINC - Learning Independence Through Computers.

Last year, Mrs. Segal gave up guiding tours when she went into the handbag business with her best friend of 40 years, Emily Levitas, who had owned discount stores on Falls Road and in Boston. The friends, who were not ready to retire and anxious to keep busy, had sold sterling silver jewelry to retailers in Baltimore and Washington in the 1980s.

"Whatever we did was fun, and in all those years, we never had an argument. So when Linda asked about what we could do, I said, `What took you so long?' We knew we wanted to sell good handbags," Mrs. Levitas said.

They rented a basement shop in an old home in the 800 block of W. 36th St. that hadn't been used for decades and had it painted pink and purple.

"Linda thought up the name - Gotta Have Bags," Mrs. Levitas said.

Earlier this year, a Sun fashion writer described its array of handbags as "kicky."

Mrs. Segal "always said that you `can't sell a handbag. It's too personal. A handbag has to sell itself,'" Mrs. Levitas said.

When Mrs. Segal's cancer was diagnosed this spring, members from her synagogue put together a roster of members who filled in for her at the shop until she could return to work.

"Everybody loved her. What a personality. She was just the best. We laughed and had wonderful times together," Mrs. Levitas said.

Mrs. Segal enjoyed attending Baltimore Symphony Orchestra concerts and Orioles games. She also was an avid collector of antique porcelain and glassware.

Services were held Tuesday at Har Sinai Congregation, where she was president of the congregation and sisterhood, and the chief fundraiser.

Also surviving are another son, James M. Segal of Mount Washington; a brother, Gilbert Gottlieb of Birmingham, Mich.; and a grandson.

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