Margaret Perin

Age 95 Swim champion taught swimming and helped youngsters and adults overcome their fear of the water.

July 29, 2008|By Jacques Kelly | Jacques Kelly,Sun Reporter

Margaret Perin, who taught generations of Baltimoreans to overcome a fear of swimming and was an advocate of downtown living, died of congestive heart failure July 22 at her Mount Vernon home. She was 95.

Margaret Vogel was born in Baltimore. She learned to swim when she was 6 years old and by 13 she had become South Atlantic backstroke champion, a title she held for three years. She was a 1931 Friends School graduate and captain of the varsity swim team. She studied piano and voice at the Peabody Institute.

In the 1940s Mrs. Perin was head swimming counselor at Camp Red Wing on Lake Champlain.

She also taught at the Bryn Mawr School, modeled at the old Hutzler's department store for two decades in the 1940s and 1950s and was a Park School swimming instructor from 1951 to 1966.

A 1971 Evening Sun feature article described how "timid beginners and ambitious intermediates, young teenagers and advanced toddlers passed through the swimming pool gate ... some jump, others dive ... the whole crowd looks to Margaret Perin for encouragement."

The article noted that for the previous quarter-century she had given a summer swimming course attended by about 100 children in four private pools lent by her friends. She also taught at the Meadowbrook pool near Mount Washington and enlisted her former students and her daughters to assist her.

"Most of all, I want to teach water safety and swimming pleasure as well as good form," she said in the 1971 newspaper article. "I want to give them something they can use for the rest of their lives."

She described her method as "teaching with firmness" and said she never had a discipline problem. She also taught swimming privately to adults who wanted to conquer a fear of the water.

"She took her swimming very seriously and spoke in a voice that would be heard and understood clearly," said a former student, Jon Acton, an assistant attorney general. "She was an inspiring teacher. She was extremely good at taking children who were a little afraid of the water and giving them self-confidence."

In 1962, she and her husband, attorney Lawrence Perin, bought a Calvert Street home near the Hotel Belvedere - in part because he wanted to be able to walk to his downtown law office.

A 1964 Sunday Sun article said she "reversed the usual trend of moving from city to suburbs" as she lived in her "stately town house," a home she occupied until her death. Family members said she enjoyed her home and often walked her succession of German shepherds throughout the neighborhood. She opened the home for the Maryland House and Garden Pilgrimage and the Holly Tour. She was an enthusiastic gardener and made the house, as a 1969 article said, "an oasis of greenery in the heart of the city."

She also offered her piano to Peabody students for practice, and often entertained numerous guests in a mahogany-paneled dining room.

Mrs. Perin used a wheelchair in recent years. In April, she was determined to see Pope Benedict XVI in Washington. She secured tickets and traveled by van to the ballpark for his Mass.

Mrs. Perin also established a scholarship at St. Ignatius Loyola Academy, on Calvert Street near her home.

A memorial Mass will be offered at noon Aug. 20 at St. Ignatius Roman Catholic Church, 740 N. Calvert St.

Survivors include a son, Neale Smith Jr. of Baltimore; two daughters, Stephany Smith Harper and Hope Smith Pollard of Baltimore; a stepson, Oliver Perin of Silt, Colo.; six grandchildren; and nine great-grandchildren. Her husband died in 1994. A previous marriage to Albert Neale Smith ended in divorce.

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