Ruth Callahan

She ran a decorating business for decades, working under contract for Hutzler's, the U.S. government and archdiocese.

November 30, 2008|By Jacques Kelly | Jacques Kelly,

Ruth Callahan, who installed curtains and cut slipcovers until she was 90 for a business she owned, died of dementia Nov. 22 at Brighton Gardens in Columbia. She was 94 and had lived in Arbutus for many years.

Born Ruth Miles in Baltimore, she was raised on Hamburg Street and left public school to help support her family after her mother was killed in an automobile accident. She walked to a job at the old Montgomery Ward catalog house, where she was a typist.

"She could type 80 words a minute," said her daughter, Kathleen Callahan of Santa Monica, Calif. "Even until her late 80s, she could tap out a sentence on a computer."

Family members said that Mrs. Callahan never shied away from work. To keep busy while her first husband, Thomas O'Hare, was a projectionist at the Glen Theater, she delivered morning newspapers in Arbutus-Violetville-Lansdowne.

"She was fiercely independent and loyal to a fault," Kathleen Callahan said. After her husband's death in the late 1940s, she ran a basement sandwich shop at lunchtime from her home in Arbutus, where she helped feed workers at nearby plants.

In 1962, she joined the man who would be her second husband, Daniel Bernard Callahan, in a home-decorating business called Personality House - a name she came up with. The two married in the 1960s. At their business, she cut slipcovers, measured for draperies and took on upholstery jobs. She kept the business going for more than 40 years and worked with numerous seamstresses who executed much of the work.

She had a workroom at her Arbutus home. She also was a contractor for the old Hutzler's and Hochschild Kohn department stores in Baltimore and Britts in Annapolis.

"She had tons of personality and worked tirelessly. She'd drive her truck to Columbia or the southern part of Anne Arundel County," her daughter said. "She loved her work, and meeting people and making them happy."

Family members said Mrs. Callahan developed a broad clientele. She did considerable work for the Archdiocese of Baltimore and the federal government. On one occasion, she reupholstered the seats on the underground miniature subway that runs under Capitol Hill. She worked on ship interiors for the Navy and had many customers among families attached to the Naval Academy.

"No job was too small - she'd have a remnant of fabric and help one of her customers get a new pair of curtains," said another daughter, Cynthia Honsberger of Sykesville. "People would say, 'I know I cannot afford this,' and she'd reply, 'Maybe you can.' "

Mrs. Callahan visited the homes of her customers and cut slipcovers until she was 90.

"She liked working with people on a tight budget - she'd say the bottoms of the cushions don't have to match. She wanted the reputation of being affordable when times were tough," Ms. Honsberger said. "Well into her 80s, she got on ladders, put screws in the wall and hung curtain rods."

"My mom was frugal, but she splurged on Caribbean cruise vacations for her little family," Kathleen Callahan said. "We would steal away from snowy Baltimore and board a ship that went to sunny beaches and went on straw market shopping sprees."

Mrs. Callahan took daily walks with her dog. She enjoyed flower gardening and music, and was a newspaper reader who enjoyed politics and current events.

She was a member of St Clement I Roman Catholic Church.

In 2006, she moved to an assisted-living facility in Columbia to be close to family members.

Plans for a memorial service are incomplete.

In addition to her two daughters, survivors include a son, Thomas O'Hare of Towson; another daughter, Mary Pat Cheswick of Towson; three grandchildren; and a great-grandson. Her second husband died in 1971.

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