Louise M. Epstein, 79, philanthropist, musician


Louise M. Epstein, who created a charitable foundation to address educational and philanthropic needs, died of cancer Thursday at the Broadmead retirement community in Cockeysville, where she lived for the past seven years. She was 79.

Born Louise Marietta Tillman in South Bend, Ind., and raised in Vienna on the Eastern Shore, she was a 1942 graduate of Dorchester High School, where she sang soprano in musical comedy productions. She played the piano until her death and sight-read scores, often with friends alongside singing. She attended the University of Kentucky at Bowling Green for a year.

In 1947 on a blind date, she met her future husband, Donald Epstein, who owned an amusement arcade business on 9th Street in downtown Washington. They eloped and drove to Chesterfield, S.C., where they married. She moved with him to Washington, and she did secretarial work and assisted him in running his Playland Arcade, which included a shooting gallery, tattoo shop and pinball machines. They later had other retail ventures.

She lived for some years in Hyattsville and composed popular-style ballads that were occasionally performed at the old Blues Alley club in Georgetown.

About a year after her husband's death in 1988, she established the Donald and Louise Epstein Foundation. Mrs. Epstein made donations to the Salvation Army, the Bolton Street Synagogue, the Village Learning Center in Charles Village, St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Vienna, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and the Park School, among other recipients.

"The foundation was her idea," said her son, Daniel Mark Epstein of Baltimore, a poet and writer who is the author of several biographies. "My mother was essentially a generous person who had a deep commitment to literacy and education. She herself was a small-town girl who never completed college, but she instilled a deep love of literature in me and I think she wanted to do this for others, too."

Throughout her life, Mrs. Epstein devoted several hours a day to reading. Her son said that she had read the works of Charles Dickens and that one of her favorite novels was Bleak House. She also enjoyed contemporary poetry and novels.

"She was one of my best critics - one of the most widely read individuals I've ever known," her son said. "She would read aloud to me and my sister - big, important books such as David Copperfield. She was an enormous influence and inspiration on everything I've done."

Her daughter, Linda Stevens, who lives in Walpole St. Peter in England, said, "When we were listening to the Beatles or the Rolling Stones, she would want to know why we liked the music. She assimilated the world we were growing up in.

"Conversely, we got to know Frank Sinatra and the Dorseys," Mrs. Stevens said. "It was the natural course of her sharing spirit. She was a totally open person. And it kept her young."

Funeral services will be held at 11 a.m. today at St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Vienna.

In addition to her son and daughter, survivors include a brother, Paul Tillman, and a sister, Harriet Robinson, both of Salisbury; and four grandchildren.


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