Marie R. Riley, registered nurse, dies

Harford County registered nurse ended her career at St. Joseph Medical Center working in rehabilitation

  • Marie Riley
Marie Riley
February 11, 2011|By Frederick N. Rasmussen, The Baltimore Sun

Marie R. Riley, whose nursing career spanned nearly 50 years and included working in a pioneering Harford County stroke program in the 1960s, died Monday of pneumonia at Upper Chesapeake Medical Center in Bel Air.

She was 102 and had lived in Timonium.

The daughter of farmers, Marie Rahll was born and raised at her parents' farm on Putnam Road in Pleasantville, Harford County.

"She remembered going to Bel Air with her father in the horse and buggy. [He] tied up the horse to a hitching post on Main Street, which was nothing but mud," said a son, James W. Riley of Fallston. "She also recalled going to St. John the Evangelist Roman Catholic Church in Hydes by horse and buggy."

When she was 12, she went to the old St. Joseph Hospital on Caroline Street to have her tonsils and adenoids removed.

"Though it was frightening to her, she said she knew one thing for certain: She wanted to be a nurse," her son said.

After graduating from St. Catherine's Normal School in West Baltimore in 1926, she entered St. Joseph Hospital School of Nursing, from which she graduated in 1929.

"She was the oldest living graduate of the nursing school," her son said.

Mrs. Riley worked as a private-duty nurse for 31 years at what is now St. Joseph Medical Center, Bon Secours Hospital, Church Home and Hospital, and St. Agnes, Johns Hopkins, West Baltimore General, South Baltimore, University of Maryland and Union Memorial hospitals, and in many private homes before becoming head nurse in 1960 in the infirmary at Stella Maris Hospice.

In 1963, Mrs. Riley went to work for Dr. John Gessner from University Hospital, who had established a rehabilitation program in Harford County working with stroke victims.

"She took great interest and a sense of accomplishment in helping numerous physically challenged children and adults to improve their physical condition and way of life," her son said.

In 1941, she married James H. Riley Jr., a carpenter, who died in 1973.

During the program's four years of existence, Mrs. Riley's patients ranged in age from 3 to 93.

"Her husband fashioned many gadgets for assisting patients in their everyday tasks. If a patient had no use of their fingers, he developed a device so they could open drawers or comb their hair," her son said.

After the program lost its funding in 1967, Mrs. Riley returned to St. Joseph Medical Center, where she worked in rehabilitation until retiring in the early 1970s.

Mrs. Riley, who lived in Pleasantville and Fallston for many years, moved in 1980 to St. Elizabeth Hall Apartments for seniors at Stella Maris in Timonium.

A fan of Halloween, Mrs. Riley enjoyed the senior community's annual Halloween parties, where she dressed up as a clown, mummy and a French cocktail waitress, among other costumes.

"One year, she borrowed a nun's habit and went as a nun," her son said.

An avid traveler and a member of the Fallston Senior Citizens Club, she had organized bus trips for the organization.

During her lifetime, she had visited seven countries and 37 states, and was in her 80s when she went rafting on the Snake River in Wyoming.

Her favorite country was Ireland. In 1975, she traveled to Rome for the canonization of Mother Elizabeth Ann Bayley Seton, the first native-born American to be canonized by the Roman Catholic Church.

In the early 1980s, Mrs. Riley joined the Bykota Senior Center in Towson, where she learned stained-glass making, studied watercolors and began painting scenes around Fallston.

She assembled scrapbooks on her family and life, which Mrs. Riley deposited with the Harford County Historical Society.

She was recognized in 2010 by County Executive David R. Craig as a Harford County Living Treasure.

"One of her favorite things to eat, besides ice cream, was steamed crabs, which she continued to pick herself until she was over 100 years of age," her son said.

Beginning to experience declining health, Mrs. Riley moved in 2005 to Fallston to live with her son. She began attending adult day care five days a week at Family and Children's Services Adult Day Care in Bel Air, where she enjoyed playing dominoes.

When she contracted pneumonia in January, she moved to Forest Hill Health and Rehabilitation Center.

"She always said her secret to longevity was, 'I don't worry.' She did not smoke and gave up drinking in her early 80s. She also was very religious [and] attended Mass every weekend and whenever possible watched Mass on television," her son said. "She died with one of her many rosaries in her hand."

Mrs. Riley donated her body to the Maryland Anatomy Board.

She was a longtime communicant of St. John the Evangelist Roman Catholic Church, 13305 Long Green Pike in Hydes, where a memorial Mass will be offered at 10:30 a.m. Feb. 19.

Also surviving is another son, John M. Riley Sr. of Fawn Grove, Pa.; two grandchildren; a great-granddaughter; three step-grandchildren; 25 step-great-grandchildren; and two step-great-great-grandchildren.

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