Elizabeth 'Libby' Rouse dies at 96

Former wife of Columbia developer James Rouse had 'strong religious and ethical sense'

(BALTIMORE SUN )
November 10, 2010|By Jacques Kelly, The Baltimore Sun

Elizabeth Jamieson Winstead "Libby" Rouse, the former wife of developer James Rouse — who helped inspire the original concepts used in the development of Columbia — died of pneumonia early Wednesday at her home in North Roland Park. She was 96.

She had been an official of the National Peace Foundation and was an advocate of conflict resolution.

"She was a formidable person with a strong religious and ethical sense," said Matt DeVito, former chairman, president and chief executive officer of the Rouse Co. "Jim Rouse told me Columbia was Libby's idea as a way of instilling egalitarian ideas in a community setting.

"She saw Columbia as being a place where people could start from scratch," Mr. DeVito said. "She was an expansive thinker who was interested in people and how they lived together. She was warm, with a sense of humor, and was fun to be with. She was ambitious, but not for material things."

Born in Goldsboro, N.C., and raised in Ruxton and on Bellemore Road, she showed an interest in the arts as a child. She studied voice at the Peabody Conservatory and sculpture at the Rinehart School of the Maryland Institute College of Art. At 20, she moved to New York City to study at the Art Students League. Family members said that while in Manhattan, she discovered a young preacher, Harry Emerson Fosdick, at the Riverside Church. He became a spiritual mentor.

She returned to Baltimore and met James Rouse, a mortgage banker. They married May 3, 1941, at the Episcopal Church of the Redeemer. She attended Goucher College and earned a bachelor's degree and master's degree from Antioch University.

"Mom was a big-hearted woman who inspired us all to think deeply about the importance of listening to the needs of others and making others feel heard," said her son, Winstead "Ted" Rouse, an official of Rwanda Village Enterprises who lives in Baltimore.

Author Josh Olsen, who wrote, "Better Places, Better Lives," the 2003 Rouse biography of Mr. Rouse, said, "Libby became an important force in Rouse's life." In that work, Mr. Olsen said, "She was markedly quieter but thought deeply about things. While both of them possessed the ability to see through the essence of matters, Libby spent more time on exegesis. … As time progressed, though, Libby's reflections became an integral part of Rouse's own philosophies, especially her musings on social issues, the nature of family life and the place of religion in all this."

The Mr. Olsen interviewed Mrs. Rouse some years ago. "I was by all conventional standards a lucky girl," she said, describing her architect-designed, modernistic home off West Lake Avenue with its tennis court and pool.

But conventional suburban life had its downside, she said. "I was deeply lonely. I had to drive the children everywhere they went: to school, to doctors, to dancing class, to their friends' houses, to shop, to a movie, to everything," she said in the biography. "The children had no autonomy or independence, and I had no free time to do the creative things I wanted."

She had read urban commentator Lewis Mumford's "Culture of Cities" and discussed the work's ideas with her husband. He once wrote a friend, "My good wife is forever harassing me about the miserable aesthetic results which [my] mortgage company financing seems to have made possible."

She became interested in the social works done by the Church of the Saviour community, an ecumenical congregation in Washington's Adams Morgan neighborhood. The church assists the poor through its Jubilee Jobs and Jubilee Housing programs.

"She was warm and generous," said the Rev. Gordon Cosby, the church's founder. "But she always had her own thinking. She didn't just go along with everything that came along."

Mrs. Rouse was a founding member of the National Peace Foundation, a group with goals of promoting the peaceful resolution of conflicts within families, communities and between nations. In this light, Mrs. Rouse wrote a book, "Our Common Goal That Unites the World." She also founded the Center for Human Understanding.

"My mother had an active mind, and the dinner table discussions in our house centered on ideas like how to create better environments for people to grow in," said James Rouse Jr., her eldest son, who is an artist and the former proprietor of Louie's Bookstore Cafe.

Mr. and Mrs. Rouse divorced in the early 1970s after more than three decades of marriage. Mr. Olsen quoted James Rouse as saying the breakup was a "deep personal incompatibility — my inability to meet her needs and her inability to live with that gap."

Mrs. Rouse once jokingly referred to Columbia as "Jim's mistress." Their daughter, Robin Norton, responded at the time, "No, Columbia is Daddy's wife — you are his mistress."

Mrs. Rouse was active in the formation of the Family Life Center and the Kittamaquandi Community in Columbia. The Family Life Center assisted families in addressing issues and conflicts. The Kittamaquandi Community was modeled after the Potter's House of the Church of the Saviour to be a nondenominational spiritual gathering place.

Services are private.

In addition to her two sons, survivors include a brother, Thomas Winstead of Baltimore; and seven grandchildren, including actor Edward Norton. Her daughter, Lydia Robinson Rouse "Robin" Norton, died in 1997. James Rouse died in 1996.

jacques.kelly@baltsun.com

Baltimore Sun Articles
|
|
|
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.