Grace A. Baker, peace activist

Baltimore peace activist supported public education and enjoyed attending lectures throughout the city

November 15, 2009|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | fred.rasmussen@baltsun.com

Grace A. Baker, a founder of a cultural program at her retirement community and a dedicated peace activist, died of heart failure Nov. 7 at Roland Park Place. She was 95.

Grace Elizabeth Hills Almond was born at home in Baltimore and attended Roland Park Country School until moving in 1922 with her family to Round Bay on the Severn River in 1922.

She was a 1931 graduate of Annapolis High School and earned a bachelor's degree in economics and sociology in 1935 from Goucher College.

Despite a childhood bout with polio, Mrs. Baker became a champion Severn River swimmer and later was captain of the swim team at Goucher.

From 1935 to 1940, when she married her husband, Russell T. Baker Sr., she worked as a social worker in Annapolis.

Her husband, who died in 1999, was the founder of Russell T. Baker & Co., the Baltimore real estate firm, which he sold to Coldwell Banker in 1983.

Mrs. Baker lived in a home on Tunbridge Road in Homeland for 35 years before moving to Roland Park Place a decade ago.

She was proud that she was a Democrat and throughout her life remained an ardent New Dealer.

"She was a rock-ribbed Democrat and loved [ Barack] Obama and had campaigned for him," said her son, Russell T. Baker Jr. of Columbia, an attorney and former federal prosecutor.

In 1988, Mrs. Baker began taking noontime and evening courses with her son, first in the Johns Hopkins Odyssey program, and then in 1999 in the Iliad Program, which she helped establish at Roland Park Place to bring cultural classes to the residents.

During the past two decades, Mrs. Baker took more than 70 courses in literature, art and music, and was an ubiquitous presence at lectures throughout the city.

She studied Shakespeare with Paul Cubeta, professor emeritus from Middlebury College, classical music with Peabody Conservatory professor Ray Sprenkle, and music with Tom Hall, director of the Baltimore Choral Arts Society.

She also took English literature courses from former Goucher professor Judy Pittenger and art with Aneta Georgiveska-Shine from the University of Maryland, College Park.

"She came to so many of my lectures through the years that, if she wasn't there, I wasn't happy," Mr. Sprenkle recalled.

"I doubt that she knew a whole lot about music, but she always had a really wonderful time. She really was quite extraordinary and indefatigable. She was still coming to my talks when she was in her 90s," he said.

"And she was always front and center. You know, some folks go to the movies, Grace went to talks," Mr. Sprenkle said.

Mr. Hall was a longtime friend.

"I was a big fan of Grace. She was such a warm and inquisitive person, and was gifted with an imaginative mind," said Mr. Hall. "She just had an insatiable appetite for expanding her intellectual horizons."

Mr. Hall would sometimes attend gatherings in her home.

"She gave what you'd call a salon in her apartment," he said. "She was so charming and fun. She was one of those people that every time I think of her, a smile will come to my face."

Lois H. Love, a retired Baltimore psychiatrist, was also a longtime friend.

"Oh, was she fun to be around. Anything Grace did, she enjoyed doing it. She was a great friend to have," said Dr. Love.

"We shared the same book group, went to movies and plays together, and shared a glass of white wine before dinner each night," she said. "You couldn't help but like Grace. She was always interested in you and what you were interested in."

With her daughter, Elizabeth A. "Libby" Baker, who lives in Baltimore, Mrs. Baker participated in the local peace movement and efforts to improve public education in Baltimore.

"She attended vigils, events and meetings even after being limited to a wheelchair since 2004, with Generations for Peace and Democracy and the Baltimore Algebra Project," her son said.

Mrs. Baker, sitting in her wheelchair, was a regular participant in the Roland Park Place peace vigils held weekly at the 40th Street entrance of the retirement community.

"I knew her through her daughter Libby," said Dean Pappas, a Baltimore educator and anti-war activist. "She was pretty feisty and against war. Whenever she could, she'd go to vigils."

Mr. Pappas recalled a lecture with Mrs. Baker in attendance.

"I spoke about Iraq at Roland Park Place, and she peppered me with questions. She wanted to buttress her thoughts not only with information that came from the heart but also facts," he said.

Mrs. Baker was a communicant of the Episcopal Church of the Redeemer, 5603 N. Charles St., where a memorial service will be held in the chapel at 2:30 p.m. Saturday.

Also surviving are four grandchildren

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