Nancy K. Roche, 64, teacher, trustee for Center Stage

September 11, 2006|By Nia-Malika Henderson | Nia-Malika Henderson,sun reporter

Nancy Kathryn Roche, an educator, a longtime member of Center Stage's board of trustees and a passionate advocate for the arts, died of breast cancer Friday at her home in Ruxton. She was 64.

Born Nancy Kathryn Keen, she was raised in New York City and Chicago. She graduated in 1963 from Rosary College in Illinois with a bachelor's degree in English. She then earned a master's degree in teaching at the Johns Hopkins University before returning to Chicago to begin her teaching career.

In 1966, she married George A. Roche, whom she met during a study-abroad program in Switzerland in her junior year of college. Mr. Roche is chairman and president of T. Rowe Price Group Inc., the Baltimore money-management company.

The couple moved to Baltimore in 1968.

For about five years, Mrs. Roche taught English in public high schools and at Roland Park Country School. She also taught composition at Villa Julie College part time while rearing two daughters.

She went on to earn a Master of Liberal Arts degree from Johns Hopkins and served on the boards of Roland Park Country School and the Baltimore School for the Arts.

"She was a wonderful mentor and friend to me, and I learned a lot about leadership from how she led," said Jean Waller Brune, head of Roland Park Country School. "She asked questions in such a way that there never was controversy, and she could really focus on the heart of an issue."

In 1987, Mrs. Roche joined the board of trustees at Center Stage, where from 1991 to 1998 she served as president, heading the Century Campaign that raised $14.2 million.

During the 2001-2002 season, she was interim managing director. "I have for many years lived and breathed this institution and am very honored to be chosen to play this role," she told The Sun at the time. "My goal is to offer a steady, consistent presence, as well as strong decision-making so that we move forward with the business of the theater."

Michael Ross, Center Stage's current managing director, said Mrs. Roche did just that, stressing the importance of art and ever mindful of finances.

"It's so easy for trustees to focus on finances first, but Nancy always said that we are first and foremost about the work and about the art," Mr. Ross said. "She led with her passion but balanced it so well with fiscal responsibility and made sure that it was woven into the whole fabric of what Center Stage is about. She was just the most exemplary trustee in America."

From 1992 to 1999, Mrs. Roche was also a councilor of the Maryland State Arts Council. She worked as consultant in governance for National Arts Strategies and was a founding member of the National Council for the American Theatre and the Eugene O'Neill Theater Center's trustees program.

She co-edited The Art of Governance, a guide to trustee leadership in the performing arts published in 2005.

In her spare time, she enjoyed adventure traveling and, along with her family, climbed Mount Kilimanjaro and hiked the Milford Track in New Zealand. When her daughters were in their teens, Mrs. Roche was convinced that the family wasn't spending enough time together on summer vacations in Bermuda, so she began "family fun day," which included scavenger hunts, board games, volleyball, badminton and dinner, among other activities.

"It was the most interminable day and night for ungrateful teens," recalled her daughter Anne K. Watson of Chicago. "But it was such a success in her mind that she reprised it again eight weeks ago."

Mrs. Roche was a voracious reader of plays, poetry and fiction. But her passion was the theater, a love that she passed to both her daughters, her family said. Among her favorites was Thornton Wilder's Our Town, but her tastes were varied.

"She was nondiscriminatory. She loved seeing everything - musicals, plays, Broadway, off-Broadway. She loved innovative, interesting theater," Mrs. Watson said. "She would say that theater helps us understand each other and the world."

Mrs. Roche also enjoyed attending and throwing parties. "She's someone who had the ability to make anyone feel like the most special person in the room at all times," said her daughter Kathryn R. Hope of New York City. "She had an ability to listen and connect, and it was sincere."

Center Stage is dedicating the 2006-2007 season to Mrs. Roche.

A Mass of Christian burial will be offered at 11 a.m. Wednesday at the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen, 5200 N. Charles St.

Other than her husband and daughters, there are no immediate survivors.

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