Where was Mary Hines' 'village'?

Community didn't do enough for 84-year-old discovered stabbed to death in burning building

January 16, 2012|By Dee Wright

If it takes the proverbial village to raise a child, it takes that same village to protect the elderly. Where was Mary Hines' village from July 2011, when her electricity was turned off, until her body was discovered, stabbed, in her burning rowhouse on Jan. 5, 2012?

The 84-year old retired teacher was found murdered in a burning house and left for firefighters to clean up the ashes of her human tragedy. If the financially burdened widow were as beloved and as respected by family, neighbors and church leaders as has been reported, did this "village" observe her darkened home and her inability to refrigerate and cook nutritious meals for seven months without a twinge of guilt? Did the medical professionals detect a change in her physical, emotional and personal care during that period? Did her church family preach more about the hereafter than the here-and-now?

Did Mary Hines' former students weep when they heard of the murder of their master teacher who molded them for tomorrow's world? Did cloistered BGE executives feel a grain of shame as they negotiated profits over compassion in July, when the lights went out in Mary Hines' heart? How did she cope during this past sweltering summer without the juice to hook up an air conditioner or a fan? Did she shiver in the cold winter months without heat? How did Mrs. Hines feel, day in and day out, living in the dark with perhaps the flicker of a flashlight and only a telephone to connect with the outside world? How did she keep up with the outside world without basic television service? We retired educators want to be informed.

The elderly have special needs — especially the need not to be forgotten. Mary Hines and her contemporaries retired at a time when their small pensions and Social Security could not necessarily fill the financial gap between the middle class and degrading poverty. Did anyone stop by her home in those seven months and feel her dire situation? If so, did they go far enough to resolve it?

A Baltimore Sun article on Jan. 7 reported that Mrs. Hines had proudly refused offers of help, but compassionate villagers could have crossed that invisible line between nosiness and neighborliness to seek resources to save her. Mrs. Hines suffered too many losses in her twilight years: the loss of her husband, the loss of her home (renting the very house she once owned, but lost in bankruptcy 15 years ago), and loss of independence by waiting for rides to church, doctors' appointments and the local senior center.

Mary Hines deserved to have lived her last days in peace and happiness. If vulnerable children have guardian ad litems to protect their rights, we need a village ad litem activism to protect the welfare of at-risk seniors.

As we celebrate Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday today, let us recall that this great humanitarian preached: "History will have to record that the greatest tragedy of this period of social transition was not the strident clamor of the bad people, but the appalling silence of the good people."

With 11.7 percent of Baltimore City's population age 65 or older, in time, there will be another Mary Hines, albeit with a different name and circumstances. As police search for the vicious killer who took Mrs. Hines' life, the village must search for its own heart — because it is broken.

Dee Wright, a former Baltimore City English teacher, lives in Owings Mills. She is the author of four books, including "The Invisible Woman." Her email is deewright10@comcast.net.

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