Portia B. Pitts

A Homemaker Who Raised A Dozen Children, She Was Active In Her East Baltimore Church

April 16, 2009|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,fred.rasmussen@baltsun.com

Portia B. Pitts, a homemaker who raised her dozen children in public housing and still found time to volunteer at her East Baltimore church, died Saturday of heart failure at Johns Hopkins Hospital.

Last month, Mrs. Pitts celebrated her 90th birthday.

Portia B. Jackson was born in Baltimore and spent her early years on East Monument Street. After the death of her mother when she was 14, she moved to Edmondson Avenue.

She graduated from Douglass High School in 1938, then worked for several years before marrying David Augustus Pitts, an $18-a-week dishwasher, in 1940.

"Getting married meant being tied down, and I was afraid to propose, afraid she'd say yes," Mr. Pitts told The Sun in a 1990 article on the occasion of the couple's 50th wedding celebration. "But finally one day, I figured I might as well go on and do it, so I called her up and asked her to marry me."

The couple started married life by moving in with relatives who lived adjacent to the Pennsylvania Railroad tracks.

"We used to sit and watch the trains go by. And we used to talk about going to all the different places the trains traveled," Mrs. Pitts recalled in the 1990 article.

Once they started having children, the couple's dream of traveling came to an end.

"It's funny because when I first got married, I didn't want any children and David only wanted two - a boy and a girl," Mrs. Pitts said. "But it seemed they just kept coming, and soon I had a houseful of them."

In 1944, they moved to public housing near Fort Holabird in Southeast Baltimore. In 1955, they moved into a four-bedroom unit at the Somerset Homes public housing complex near Johns Hopkins Hospital.

The family eventually settled in 1968 in the Flag House Courts public housing complex in East Baltimore.

Mr. Pitts worked three jobs at once to support his family.

He was foreman of a city bridge maintenance crew when he retired in 1976. He also had been a janitor at Western Electric Co.'s Point Breeze plant and a correctional officer at what was then the Baltimore City Jail.

"Every time I even mentioned getting a job, he would say, 'You've got a job right here with these children,' " said Mrs. Pitts, whose husband never made more than $11,000 a year during his working years.

"Welfare seems hereditary to me. It goes down from one generation to the next, and we just didn't want that," she said.

Carolyn D. Taylor, a daughter who lives in Baltimore, recalled a warm childhood and secure home.

"We were very happy," Mrs. Taylor said. "She was soft-spoken, loved my father, and never hollered at us. She was a great mom."

Mrs. Taylor praised her mother's culinary skills and especially remembered her fresh baked rolls, vegetable beef soup and sweet potato pies.

"Every day, she made homemade biscuits and prepared a meal for 14. And then we all sat down together," Mrs. Taylor said. "And when dinner was finished, then she'd help us with our homework."

She and her husband believed in the value of education and insisted their children graduate from high school and go on to college. Seven of her children attended college, and three of them went on to earn degrees.

Since 1958, Mrs. Pitts had been an active member of Trinity African Methodist Episcopal Church, where she had been a member of the stewardess board, the Missionary Society and the senior choir, for which she had been secretary and financial secretary.

Mrs. Pitts had also been an active member of the Sister 2 Sister Ministry and hospitality and lay ministries.

"Church was very important to her, and she went every Sunday morning," Mrs. Taylor said.

A serious fall last year ended her weekly churchgoing, family members said.

Since the early 2000s, she had lived at the Pleasant View Gardens senior citizens housing complex in East Baltimore.

Her husband died in 1994 at Johns Hopkins Hospital after his car skidded on slush and crashed into a light pole.

Mrs. Pitts told The Sun that the secret to a successful and happy marriage was forgiveness.

"People who say they never fight are lying," she said. "You are going to fight a lot, but you also have to be willing to forgive and forget - can't hold grudges all your life or just walk away when things get rough."

Another daughter, Naon T. Harris of Baltimore, said her mother left a lasting impression on all she met.

"What can be said of someone who never forgot birthdays, never failed to greet you with a smile, never sought anything on her own, but was always giving and taught you to be thankful for life?" Ms. Harris said.

Services for Mrs. Pitts will be held at 10:30 a.m. Friday at her church, 2140 E. Hoffman St.

Also surviving are nine sons, David Pitts, Richard Pitts, Rodney Pitts, Gary Pitts, Aaron Pitts and Nathan Pitts, a Sun editorial assistant, all of Baltimore, James Pitts of Richmond, Va., and John Pitts and Gilbert Pitts, both of Las Vegas; another daughter, Patricia A. Pitts-Franklin of Baltimore; two sisters, Violet H. Stanley and Sarah R. Hudgins, both of Baltimore; 42 grandchildren; 47 great-grandchildren; and four great-great-grandchildren.

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