Elinor Ehle

Civil service worker was known for her intelligence, her independent streak and her 'delight in life'

March 14, 2009|By Jacques Kelly | Jacques Kelly,jacques.kelly@baltsun.com

Elinor Ehle, a retired civil service worker who lived in a downtown rowhouse for more than five decades, died of pulmonary hypertension March 6 at Johns Hopkins Hospital. She was 95.

Born Elinor Duker in Baltimore, she was raised in a Charles Street mansion owned by her father, a wooden box manufacturer. Her home stood in what was then a rural part of the city - near 39th Street. She could recall the construction of many of the homes of the Tuscany-Canterbury neighborhood and later assisted in a community history. The Duker home was eventually razed for apartment construction.

She was a 1931 Bryn Mawr School graduate and earned a bachelor's degree at Smith College. She remained active in its alumnae affairs. She also volunteered with an annual used-book sale organized by Baltimore-area Smith graduates.

"Elinor was an epic," said Joan Griffith, who helps run the annual book sale. "She took such delight in life. She tasted every drop and wrung everything out."

Mrs. Griffith recalled that after Mrs. Ehle gave up driving her Hillman Minx, a British sedan she stored in a downtown garage, she took the light rail to the Smith Book Sale at the state fairgrounds in Timonium. After she found the transit entrance gate locked, she walked more than a mile around the fairground perimeter.

"She was 88 then and intrepid," said Mrs. Griffith. "There was an almost impish quality to her. She had a sense of fun. She wasn't laughing at you. She was saying, 'We're both fools together.' "

During World War II, Mrs. Ehle worked at the old Point Breeze Western Electric Works.

Among other duties in her civil service career, she designed and administered civil service tests for Baltimore government, where she worked for more than two decades.

She married Russell Ehle in the 1950s. After moving to an 1830s Hamilton Street rowhouse in the early 1950s, she and her husband, who was also a municipal employee, walked to their jobs.

She enjoyed walking and was a regular patron of the downtown farmers' market. Mrs. Ehle adamantly refused to move out of her home, even as she grew older, and was doing her own grocery shopping until last month. When, several years ago, she slipped while taking out the trash, she got help from a pedestrian. She then called her nephew and went to Johns Hopkins Hospital, where it was determined that she had broken her hip. She recuperated fully and continued walking and taking buses.

"She was a liberated woman of an earlier generation," said a friend, Johns Hopkins humanities professor Richard A. Macksey. "She had a sharp sense of humor and she was always herself." She would correct the grammar of my students."

She attended many lectures - and frequently raised her hand to question the speaker. She also performed with the Vagabond Players. She was also a regular patron of the Enoch Pratt Free Library.

"She had an extremely quick mind," said Rebecca Meade, another close friend. "She was a perfectionist."

When she sold her Hillman Minx to a car collector, he expressed amazement at its excellent condition, family members said.

"In addition to being very down-to-earth, she had this ethereal quality that was almost mysterious," said a nephew, Evans Hubbard of Baltimore.

Plans for her memorial service are incomplete.

Survivors include three sisters, Suzanne Bayley of Millersville, Helen Hubbard of Baltimore and Marjory McMickle of Madison, Wis.; and numerous nieces and nephews. Her marriage to Mr. Ehle ended in divorce.

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