Audrey Marion Eastman, a civic activist who became known as “The Rat Lady” of Charles Village as she walked its alleys in her own rodent eradication campaign, died Monday of complications from dementia at North Pines Assisted Living in Manchester. The former Guilford Avenue resident was 93.
Born in Baltimore and raised on Greenmount Avenue in Waverly, she was the daughter of Hamilton Weidner and Dorothy Coggins, who was a Glenn L. Martin worker who later ran a post office substation at Northway Stationers. She attended Baltimore public schools.
Her family home stood near the old International League Oriole Park, and she recalled watching it burn down on July 4, 1944.
She joined the old Chesapeake and Potomac Telephone Co. in the 1940s and worked as an operator at its Homewood Exchange on East 31st Street. In 1947, she married Donald Eastman, who worked in auto emissions testing.
After raising a family, Mrs. Eastman became a substitute teacher at Barclay Elementary School and belonged to a committee to plan the Barclay Recreation Center. After the naming of Charles Village in 1967, she became a member of the Charles Village Civic Association and for many years was its membership secretary.
In 1972, she operated a weekend flower cart and sold plants to raise funds for a proposed YMCA family center. She was also one of the hosts of regular neighborhood potluck dinners.
Mrs. Eastman, who appeared before the city’s zoning and liquor boards to voice neighborhood concerns, selected a cause that made her known as “Audrey Eastman, the Rat Lady.”
“Audrey was an early powerhouse in the revitalization of Charles Village,” said former state Sen. Julian L. Lapides. “She was a truly staunch advocate for its renaissance, and what it it is today is attributable to people like Audrey who had faith in the community.”
In 1974, she began a routine of walking alleys — she never learned to drive — often pushing a baby stroller containing her grandson, Christopher Eastman, and looking out for rodents.
“Seemingly at home with the other dark alley denizens — snarling watchdogs, mischievous urchins, uptown winos and other backyard habitues — The Rat Lady spends her mornings clucking at strewn garbage, junk filled garages and piles of discarded cardboard,” according to a 1975 Evening Sun article.
“I was concerned about the children who play in these alleys,” she said in The Evening Sun article, recalling that the alleys were cleaner 40 years earlier, when she was a child.
“If I see that someone is being careless or doesn’t give a damn, I’ll talk to them about it. If I don’t get anywhere, I’ll call the rat eradication people or the Health Department, who’ll sometimes summon them for a talk,” she said in the article.
She said that even liquor stores, which piled stacks of discarded cardboard boxes outdoors, provided rats with food because rats could live 30 days on the glue in the cardboard.
“After clocking a lot of miles on her inner odometer in pursuit of Mr. Rat, The Rat Lady has become what could loosely be called alley-wise,” the article said.
“Many people fail to realize how beautiful the back of Charles Village can be,” she said in the article.
A follow-up Evening Sun article published in 1978 called her a local “folk hero” who was now fighting a proposed carwash at 29th and Barclay streets, across from the local elementary school.
Family members said that she and her husband tended their own backyard garden that contained a fish pond, a grapevine and a mature peach tree whose fruit they distributed throughout the neighborhood in August.
In 1983 she was the first respondent to a city program that asked for donations from residents to fill potholes. She was photographed in the 2900 block of Guilford Ave. stamping a red heart over a newly filled pothole. She called the road repair was called a valentine to her husband.
Mrs. Eastman went on to become a volunteer at Our Daily Bread, where she worked several days a week for more than a decade. She also made teddy bears for a charity.
She enjoyed trips to Maine and Florida with her husband.
A funeral service will be held at 11 a.m. Dec. 9 at Mitchell-Wiedefeld Funeral Home, 6500 York Road.
Survivors include her daughter, Dorothy Wilkinson of Manchester; a brother, Hamilton “Buddy” Weidner of Baltimore; six grandchildren; and 10 great-grandchildren. Her husband of 63 years died in 2010. A son, Donald Eastman Jr., died in 2011.