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In Memoriam: Friends of Baltimore Who Passed in 2018

Photo by Bruce Emmerling/Wikimedia Commons

As the year comes to a close, I’d like to take a moment to look back and remember some important contributors to local cultural and civic life who we lost in 2018.  This is by no means an exhaustive list.  I simply want to mention a few people I was blessed to know, and who our community was blessed to have. 

Tom Saunders died in January.  He was an accomplished historian of local African American history, who led bus tours of important sites throughout the city.  His tours drew thousands of people.  He took them to Frederick Douglass’ house, the house where Thurgood Marshall was born, and the “Colored Pool,” that had long been abandoned in Druid Hill Park.  He was a masterful story-teller, and having worked at the city Rumor Control office for many years, he knew very well how to separate fact from fiction.

Few people knew John Taylor by his given name, but thousands of children knew him as Kinderman.  He drove his Kindermobile from his base in Howard County to schools, festivals and conferences around the region, delighting children and their parents with his songs and dances, that he presented gently, lovingly and always with large dollops of audience participation.  John passed away last July. 

In August, Baltimore lost one of its most dynamic, determined, and dedicated citizens.  Sally Michel was a force of nature, an irrepressible spirit, and one of the most generous and committed people our city has ever known.  She was a trusted advisor to Mayor Donald Schaefer, and a civic powerhouse who transformed Baltimore immeasurably.  She established the Parks and People Foundation and the SuperKids Camp.  She was an early and ardent supporter of the Baltimore School for the Arts.  The Baltimore Sun reported that she served on 57 boards of organizations and institutions large and small, and she was the chair of 19 of them.  She was indefatigable, elegant, and selfless.  There are many fine people who are doing a lot of great work on behalf of Baltimore.  They are not deterred by the depth of the problems we face.  But none, in my experience, have explored solutions to those problems with the zeal and imagination and grace of Sally Michel. 

In September, we lost one of our most effective and experienced advocates for education.  For more than three decades, Mike Bowler was a journalist for the Baltimore Sun, and his coverage of education was exemplary.  His erudition, his deep concern for the success of students and teachers, his insights and his thorough understanding of the nuances and complexities of what it means to teach and what it means to learn made his work an invaluable resource for citizens and policy makers alike.  He also worked at the Department of Education, and he served as a member of the Baltimore County School Board.  We’ve heard the phrase, “If you can read this, thank a teacher.”  Well, if you respect those special people who have made an incalculable difference in classrooms throughout our state, tip your hat to Mike Bowler.

Not long after Mike’s passing, we learned of the death of Rashad Ollison, who died of cancer at the age of 41.  He was also a reporter for the Sun, who wrote for the major papers in Dallas, Philadelphia and Norfolk, VA, as well.  His expertise was in music and pop culture, and he wrote knowingly and compellingly about the ways in which music can uplift, enlighten and engage.  His memoir, "Soul Serenade: Rhythm, Blues, & Coming of Age Through Vinyl," is a gem.  And so was he.  

When Suzanne Cohen passed away last month, lovers of the arts lost one of our community’s most respected and generous philanthropists.  It was Sue’s support of the Baltimore Museum of Art in 2005 that allowed the BMA to offer free admission for many of its exhibitions.  She was also a generous underwriter of this station, in particular, the program and podcast, Out of the Blocks, which won an Edward R. Murrow Award for Aaron Henkin and Wendel Patrick. 

The contributions that these wonderful people have made to our city comprise some of the greatest blessings Baltimore has ever received.  May they rest in peace, and may we build on their invaluable legacies.

-- Tom Hall

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