Suzannne Ruth Sherwood (Baltimore Sun )
Suzanne Ruth Sherwood, the first woman appointed to the Maryland Tax Court, died Thursday at Roland Park Place. She was 85.
"In her understated way, my aunt was an early feminist before that word came into existence," said Mrs. Sherwood's niece, Laure Ruth.
"She enjoyed being a lawyer, but neither she nor her husband chose the traditional route of joining a law firm, becoming partner and making a lot of money," Ms. Ruth said. "Much of what she did was pro bono. She dedicated her life to public service and charitable works and helping others."
Mrs. Sherwood spent almost her entire life in Baltimore. Her early education was at Roland Park Country School, and in the early 1940s, she took her only extended absence from the Free State to attend Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, N.Y.
After earning her bachelor's degree in 1946, she accepted a job teaching kindergarten at Gilman School. After just a few years, she decided that while educating students was rewarding, it wasn't the right career for her.
She gained admittance to the University of Maryland Law School, becoming one of three women in her class, Ms. Ruth said. For Mrs. Sherwood, 1952 was a seminal year — the fledgling attorney received her law degree and married a law school classmate named Arthur Sherwood.
"She talked to me later about how hard it was to find work when she graduated," Ms./ Ruth said. "No one would hire women. Eventually, she found work at a title company."
Meanwhile, Arthur Sherwood forged a place for himself in the public eye. In 1967, he both created the Chesapeake Bay Foundation to safeguard Maryland's most precious natural resource, and was the Republican candidate for mayor of Baltimore. He was defeated by Thomas D'Alesandro III.
His wife also was breaking new ground, but more quietly. In 1980, Gov. Harry R. Hughes appointed Mrs. Sherwood as the first woman judge on the Tax Court, which handles appeals from property owners. She also became a role model of sorts for young women — among them her niece, now legal director of the Women's Law Center — who aspired to a legal career.
"Sue and Arthur were my surrogate parents," Ms. Ruth said. "What I recall from my childhood was going over to their house and seeing loaves of zucchini bread. I asked Sue if she'd made the bread, and she said, 'No, a client paid me that way.'"
But her legal work didn't exhaust Mrs. Sherwood's capacity to give. For many years, the Bolton Hill resident was a trustee for her alma mater, Roland Park Country School. She established a scholarship for a promising singer at the now-defunct Baltimore Opera, and she volunteered in the office of the Memorial Episcopal Church in Bolton Hill.
She was a member of the Mt. Vernon Club, the Hamilton Street Club and the Elkridge Country Club. She was chairwoman of the Maryland House and Garden Pilgrimage and remained active in the Chesapeake Bay Foundation after her husband's death in 1996.
Mrs. Sherwood was able to live independently until last fall, Ms. Ruth said, when she moved into an assisted living facility at Roland Park Place.
She didn't seem to be ailing Thursday when she was awakened as usual at 6:30 a.m. Ten minutes later, when the staff returned to Mrs. Sherwood's room to get her up for the day, she had died.
"She was very thoughtful and intelligent," Ms. Ruth said. "She worked diligently. She was a very dignified woman, and a great storyteller. Now, there are some stories that we'll probably never hear, and that makes me very sad."
Mrs. Sherwood is survived by a sister, Elizabeth Ruth Cleaver of Providence, R.I., and eight nieces and nephews.
A memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. Feb. 26 at the church, 1407 Bolton St., with a reception in the parish house to follow. Burial will be private.