Murray Schmoke

[Age 79] The retired government chemist shielded his son, the former Baltimore mayor, from his experiences with racism.

April 04, 2007|By Jacques Kelly | Jacques Kelly,sun reporter

Murray A. Schmoke Sr., a retired Aberdeen Proving Ground chemist and the father of former Baltimore Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, died Monday of pulmonary fibrosis at Johns Hopkins Hospital. The Madison Park resident was 79.

Born in Raleigh, N.C., Mr. Schmoke earned a bachelor's degree at Morehouse College in Atlanta, where he sang in its glee club and remained active in its alumni association. He moved to Baltimore in 1949 to take a job as a chemical research scientist at Edgewood Arsenal.

His son, who served as Baltimore's mayor from 1988 to 1999 and is now dean of the Howard University School of Law, said his father worked on shielding military vehicles from a nuclear attack. After a restructuring of the federal bases, the elder Mr. Schmoke's work shifted to the Aberdeen Proving Ground, where he retired about 15 years ago.

The former mayor said his father began visiting various churches in Baltimore soon after moving here and joined Douglas Memorial Community Church, where he worshiped for more than five decades and had been president of the choir, where he sang bass. He also managed the church's credit union and sat on its trustee board.

"I never visited Murray when he was not reading something of a scholarly pursuit," said his longtime pastor, the Rev. Marion C. Bascom, a close friend. "He was a strong man with notions all his own. He came to Douglas Memorial and Baltimore as a student singing with Morehouse College, and I like to say that I've never been able to get rid of him. Douglas Memorial has lost one of its finest congregants."

The younger Schmoke recalled his father's enthusiasm for science, music and sports.

"He loved singing more than anything else," the former mayor said. "Modern music of the younger generations did not appeal to him."

He said his father attended performances of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and the Baltimore Opera Company.

He recalled that his father was also a season ticket holder for Baltimore Colts games going back to the 1950s and rarely missed a game. After the Ravens arrived, he also had tickets.

"He was such an enthusiastic fan that he even made the kickoffs of the exhibition games," his son said yesterday, adding that Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti invited his father to attend early spring practice games.

A 1995 Sun profile of the Schmoke family noted the mayor's parents were college graduates who raised their son in a middle-class life and shielded him from their own experiences of racism.

"There was no effort to make him the great angry man," the elder Mr. Schmoke told a Sun reporter in 1995. "We always gave him the feeling there was nothing inferior about him."

Mayor Sheila Dixon issued a statement after hearing of Mr. Schmoke's death: "He was a man of great integrity who passed his work ethic, commitment to others and love of music on to his children. Losing a parent is difficult for children of any age, and Mayor Schmoke and his family are in my thoughts and prayers."

A memorial services will be held at noon April 14 at the Douglas Memorial Community Church, Lafayette Avenue and Madison Street. A wake, beginning at 11 a.m., precedes the service.

In addition to his son, Mr. Schmoke is survived by his wife, Elizabeth Verdeen Washington, a retired Baltimore public school mathematics teacher.

A previous marriage to the former Irene Bennett ended in divorce. Another son, Murray A. Schmoke Jr., died in a 1994 traffic accident in South Africa, where he was teaching school.

jacques.kelly@baltsun.com

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