Martha S. Penniman, 95, outdoorswoman, volunteer


Martha S. "Pattie" Penniman, an outdoorswoman and longtime Ladew Gardens volunteer, died in her sleep March 31 at Welshes Cradle, her Worthington Valley home. She was 95.

Mrs. Penniman, who would have turned 96 on Sunday, was born Martha Symington in Baltimore and raised at Indian Springs Farm in Long Green Valley.

She was a 1928 graduate of Oldfields School. During the Depression, she moved to Pittsburgh to work in the family business, McConway & Torley Co. Founded in 1873, the company manufactured automatic railroad-car couplers.

"She often said that `We had lost a great deal of money because of the 1929 stock market crash, and Father needed my help. He loved taking me to business meetings because I humored his customers, and by the time lunch was over, had persuaded them to buy more of our couplers,'" said a grandson, T. Courtney Jenkins III of Owings Mills.

In 1950, she married Nicholas G. Penniman III, a law partner in the firm of Niles, Barton and Wilmer, a sportsman and conservationist. He died in 1981.

Mrs. Penniman shared her husband's interest in the outdoors. They fished for salmon in Canada, shot grouse in Scotland and hunted quail in South Carolina.

"She used a 20-gauge Purdy shotgun and was a darn good shot, and it wasn't unusual for her to be the chief gun in the field, and that field was usually all men," Mr. Jenkins said.

The couple also maintained a home at Northeast Harbor, Maine, and a plantation in Yemassee, S.C.

The 2,000-acre plantation, Bonny Hall, was burned during the Civil War by Union Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman on his "March to the Sea" in 1864 and was rebuilt.

The Pennimans raised pecans and established a wildlife refuge on its grounds, and during the 1970s, they completed a major restoration of the house and outbuildings.

Mrs. Penniman, who was interested in preservation issues, was a member of Historic Annapolis and an active member of Ladew Topiary Gardens in Monkton.

"She had been a friend of Harvey Ladew, who before his death appointed her to the original advisory board for the gardens, and [she] had served on its first board of trustees," her grandson said.

"She was instrumental getting Ladew up and running in the beginning and was heavily involved in starting the educational program and fall lecture series," said Jenny Horton, former Ladew executive director.

"She was a grand lady and a perfectly marvelous person. She was always upbeat, dynamic and energetic, and a joy to work with," said Alice K. Ober, who succeeded Mrs. Penniman as head of the fall lecture series and is an emeritus trustee. "And because she knew all the fun people, she made getting speakers real easy."

"She grew the lecture series, which has evolved into a fall and spring event and now serves as a fundraiser for Ladew," said Emily W. Emerick, current executive director.

Mrs. Penniman was a longtime member of Planned Parenthood and at age 81 participated in the organization's march on Washington.

She was a lively conversationalist and storyteller who enjoyed entertaining and was known for her "far-ranging toasts about the state of the country or the reason the group was gathered at her dinner table in the first place," her grandson said.

"She loved entertaining and was considered a very vivacious and vital person and always had plenty to say in her own way," said Isabel Klotz, a longtime friend.

"One of her great stories was about her grandfather, Maj. William Stuart Symington, who fought for the South and rode with Gen. George Pickett," Mr. Jenkins said.

"She always referred to him as `The Major' whenever she recounted this story for her wide-eyed grandchildren. He was one of the few officers to survive the famous Pickett's Charge at Gettysburg and would conclude her talk by saying, `After riding back and forth between the lines seven times, his horse was finally shot out from under him.'"

Mrs. Penniman was a member of the Elkridge Club and the Garden Club of Twenty.

She was a communicant of St. Thomas Episcopal Church, 232 St. Thomas Lane in Owings Mills, where services will be held at 11 a.m. tomorrow.

Also surviving are a stepson, Nicholas G. Penniman IV of Roland Park; a stepdaughter, Christine Penniman Strawbridge of Palm Beach, Fla.; three other grandchildren; five stepgrandchildren; and seven great-grandchildren. A son, Arthur Douglas Foster III, died in 2004, and her daughter, Elsie Foster Jenkins, died in 1998. Her 1931 marriage to Arthur Douglas Foster Jr. ended in divorce.

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