Ann H. Ryder

For more than three decades, she assisted callers and visitors seeking help in Howard County

March 13, 2009|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,

Ann H. Ryder an information and referral coordinator for Howard County who for more than three decades assisted callers and visitors seeking help and information, died Monday of cancer at Carroll Hospice's Dove House in Westminster. She was 76 and a Columbia resident.

"Ann really was the face and voice of Howard County for the many people who came to the county office building for years," said County Executive Ken Ulman. "She was their first point of contact and told them where to go, whether it was to a courtroom or another county office."

Mr. Ulman described her work as being a "lifeline for residents of Howard County for so many years. She's really going to be missed."

Mr. Ulman declared today, which would have been Mrs. Ryder's 77th birthday, Ann Harrison Ryder Remembrance Day in Howard County.

Ann McMillan Harrison, the daughter of a lumberman and furniture builder, was born in Amory, Miss. Because of her father's work in the mahogany exporting business, she spent her early teens in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, and Tampa, Fla.

After graduating from Hillsborough High School in Tampa in 1950, she moved to Washington with her family and worked at the Pentagon for several years.

She was a homemaker in Springfield, Va., and later in Baltimore before moving to Ellicott City in 1969.

In 1972, she took a job with the Office of Aging in Howard County, later the Howard County Office on Aging, editing the agency's newsletter.

Mrs. Ryder helped establish the county's information and referral office in 1975 and remained its coordinator until retiring at the end of last month.

"She really created this job because she saw a need for it," said Kathleen Sloan-Beard, deputy director of the Howard County Office of Public Information.

Mrs. Ryder set up her "office" in a small booth near the main entrance of the George Howard Building in Ellicott City.

"She was often the first face visitors would see when they came into the building, a building she helped plan and coordinated the dedication of in 1977," recalled Ms. Sloan-Beard.

"As an information and referral specialist, she took calls from people looking for services on just about every topic imaginable - who to call for a downed tree; where to get a permit to build a deck; where to get a marriage license, and the list goes on," she said.

"Some of those calls were from people in desperate need, looking for emergency shelter, food or medical care," Ms. Sloan-Beard said.

Colleagues said Mrs. Ryder combined an outgoing personality with an eagerness to help.

"Ann was all about wanting to help, and it didn't matter what the question was. She was a warm and friendly voice on the phone and through the years touched thousands and thousands of lives and made many friends," Ms. Sloan-Beard said. "Every question was a priority, and if she didn't know the answer, she'd find out."

Mrs. Ryder didn't let her chemotherapy treatments interfere with her work, where she preferred using a pale green IBM Selectric typewriter, which dated to the early 1970s, over a computer.

"I use my computer very little," Mrs. Ryder told The Sun in an interview last year. "Personal contact is so important. I have resources up the wazoo and a messy office."

"She really worked until the end of her life," Ms. Sloan-Beard said. "She was a terrific gift giver, and she came in on Feb. 26 and gave everyone boxes of Valentine candy."

She researched, presented and wrote the legislation that resulted in the American goldfinch becoming the official Howard County bird and Queen Anne's lace the county's official flower.

Through the years, Mrs. Ryder's work earned her many awards, including the Howard County Customer's Service Award. She had been nominated for both the Employee of the Year and Unsung Hero Award.

She was a past president of the Maryland Association of Information & Referral Specialists, an organization that represents information specialists in Maryland, Delaware, Virginia and West Virginia.

Interested in the history of Howard County, Mrs. Ryder had been president of the Howard County Historical Society and on the boards of Historic Ellicott City Inc. and Friends of the Patapsco Female Institute.

Mrs. Ryder maintained a particular interest in the Patapsco Female Institute, which was built in Ellicott City in 1837 and operated until 1891. An ancestor, Carrie McMillan Kerr, had been a student there.

She was also a member of the Soroptimists and FISH of Howard County, and volunteered for the Red Cross.

Mrs. Ryder enjoyed dancing and had been a member for 30 years and chairwoman of the Winterset Cotillion, a quarterly ballroom dancing event held in Howard County.

Mrs. Ryder was a communicant of St. John's Episcopal Church, 9120 Frederick Road, Ellicott City, where funeral services will be held at 10:30 a.m. today.

Surviving are two sons, Rob Ryder of Eldersburg and Ric Ryder of New York City; a brother, Allen Hugh Harrison Jr. of Arlington, Va.; and two granddaughters. Marriages to Robert B. Ryder Jr. and Robert S. Farmer ended in divorce.

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