Pinnie L. Ross

Longtime Columbia Resident Ran A Charm Studio Turning Shy Young Girls Into Confident And Poised Women

August 12, 2009|By Jacques Kelly | Jacques Kelly,jacques.kelly@baltsun.com

Pinnie L. Ross, who preached self-esteem and confidence to the hundreds of girls she taught at her Columbia charm school, died of a stroke Aug. 4 at the Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center. The Columbia resident was 81.

Born Pinnie (pronounced piney) Lucille Staton in Pactolus, N.C., she attended St. Augustine College in Raleigh, N.C., where she was later given an honorary degree. She also graduated from the Baltimore Academy of Modeling and the Christine Volmer School of Make Up Artists.

After moving to Catonsville in 1953, she began writing a "Catonsville Pot Pourri" social column for the Afro-American newspapers and continued it, renaming it "Columbia Capers," after moving to Howard County in 1968. She and her husband, educator William A. Ross Sr., became the 501st family to move to the then-new community.

She completed a course at the New Millinery School in Manhattan and made hats at her home for many years. She sold her creations through fashion and hat shows in churches and to women's clubs throughout the Baltimore-Washington region. Her theme was, "The Hat Tops the Total You."

In 1969, sensing that the parents of young African-American girls wanted a place for their daughters to learn the social graces, she founded Pinnie's Charm Studio.

"She stood for integrity, morality and inner confidence," said Travis Winkey, a model and fashion show producer who studied with her. "She herself was a socialite and very spiritual. She believed in young people and said that charm, congeniality and grace would take you wherever you needed to go."

She did not advertise and attracted Sunday afternoon classes at her home.

"In the new town of Columbia, Pinnie's Charm School unabashedly harks back to old-fashioned finishing schools and debutante balls," said a 1997 Baltimore Sun article. "The six-week course includes instruction on posture, sitting, standing and walking - promising to turn shy, awkward girls into poised young ladies who can command a room."

In the story, Mrs. Ross said, "I want my girls to know how beautiful they are - I want them to have all the confidence and self-esteem in the world." She added, "Once you build it in yourself that you're beautiful, no one can touch you."

Over the years, Mrs. Ross also became involved with Hal Jackson's Talented Teens International competition and was named state pageant director for the franchise.

Former Rep. Kweisi Mfume served as master of ceremonies for the Maryland competition for twenty-three years.

Regular sessions of Pinnie's Charm Studio ended in 2004. In 2005 she held a session at River Hill High School at the invitation of The Links, a black women's service organization. A year later, she taught an after-school class at Oakland Mills Middle School. This was her last group.

She belonged to the Baltimore-Washington area and Columbia chapters of Jack and Jill of America, National Council of Negro Women, National Association of Negro Professional and Business Women's Clubs, Links Inc., Pierians, Club DeJouir and Coalition of 100 Black Women.

"Ross carries her slender frame with the same elegant bearing she once did in fashion shows, and she remains aware of her posture. It is not hard to imagine her receiving young girls into her Columbia home for another session of Pinnie's Charm Studio," said a Sun profile published a year ago, when she was honored at a banquet in Columbia.

She was a founder of the Church of St. John the Evangelist-Baptist, now known as St. John Baptist Church, in 1970. She was president of the choir, member of the board of managers and its publicist.

Funeral services will be held at 10 a.m. Friday at Celebration Church, 6080 Foreland Garth in the Village of Long Reach in Columbia.

Survivors include her husband of 58 years; two sons, William A. Ross Jr. of the Republic of Guinea and Dion A. Ross of Columbia; a daughter, Rae Collette Ross of New York City; four grandchildren, and a great-grandson.

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