Carolyn R. Whittington, a retired Baltimore County public schools educator whose career spanned four decades, died Sept. 26 of cardiomyopathy at Gilchrist Hospice Care in Towson. She had celebrated her 100th birthday two days earlier.
The daughter of farmers Elijah Quinten Riley and Carrie Bowden Riley, Carolyn Riley was born at home in Parsonsburg, Wicomico County, on a farm that has been in her family since 1834.
She attended the one-room Smith School through eighth grade in Parsonsburg and graduated in 1933 from Wicomico High School.
“She trained to be a teacher and was one of seven students who were the first to graduate from Salisbury State Teachers College with a four-year degree,” said her daughter, Dale Whittington Angney, who is director of research and accountability for the Shaker Heights City School District in Shaker Heights, Ohio, where she resides.
“It used to be a three-year program, and then they added an additional year, so we said she always graduated twice — first in 1936 and then 1937,” her daughter said.
Mrs. Whittington began her teaching career in 1937 at Dundalk Elementary School, and for most of her career taught grades four through six.
“Her first year teaching, she came down with scarlet fever and a case of lice,” her daughter said.
“Because she didn’t have much education in science, she made it a point to learn science and science teaching methods, and became so accomplished at teaching science that she was the teacher who was observed by other teachers in Baltimore County who struggled to teach science well,” her daughter said.
“She’d candle eggs for her students and show them the embryo. She wanted them to have a grasp of how things came into being,” said Kathleen Mitchell of Lutherville, who has known Mrs. Whittington since she was 8 years old. “She’d have an incubator and several eggs, which they could watch hatch in the classroom.”
Mrs. Whittington subsequently taught at Sparrows Point, Patapsco Neck, Carroll Manor, Towson and Eastwood elementary schools. She spent the last six years of her career as a library media specialist at Stoneleigh Elementary School, where she was known for being an expert in the field of children’s literature.
She retired in 1977.
“She had been a teacher and a librarian who made the library a very exciting place. She was an excellent librarian and a wonderful friend,” said Beverly J. Brandau of Lutherville, who taught second grade at Stoneleigh and retired in 1996 from Pleasant Plains Elementary School.
“I remember when she had a pair of quail there or she’d have an author come in. She always had something going on, and the kids really enjoyed going to the library,” Mrs. Brandau said.
“She was interested in so many things. She loved the ballet, opera, bridge, travel, and we were in the same gourmet dinner and book groups,” she said.
Theresa M. Flak, who began her career teaching in Baltimore County public schools in the 1970s, was a longtime friend.
“I’ve known her since 1972, and I always considered her a role model for young women,” said Ms. Flak, a resident of New Market who is retired from Montgomery County public schools, where she was community superintendent.
“She was a mother, teacher and a career woman who found great fulfillment in her work. I was always impressed by her wide variety of interests,” Ms. Flak said. “She was a gourmet cook and threw elaborate dinner parties at her Stoneleigh home, and she was the one who taught me the proper way to set a table and what each piece of silver was for.
“Her love of cuisine was based on her travels, as she and her husband had traveled the world,” she said. “They traveled aboard the Orient Express and were one of the first to visit China after it opened. Her spirit of adventure was boundless.”
“When she was 93, she took two grandchildren to Rome for Christmas. her luggage was lost and for a time she had to wear her 30-year-old granddaughter’s clothes,” Ms. Flak said. “It’s just incredible and speaks to her spirit. She had an amazing sense of style and a wicked sense of humor.”
A former longtime resident of Kingston Road in Stoneleigh, Mrs. Whittington moved in 2007 to the Broadmead retirement community in Cockeysville.
After retiring, Mrs. Whittington served as a docent at Hampton National Historic Site in Towson. She was an active member and former president of the Women’s Eastern Shore Society, a member of the American Association of University Women and the Three Arts Society of Homeland.
“She had a deep sense of history and deep Eastern Shore roots,” Miss Mitchell said.”She had a great love of music — especially jazz — and gardening.”
At Broadmead, Mrs. Whittington managed a zinnia cutting garden and two plots of dahlias, which were used by the retirement community for its floral arrangements. Despite increasing blindness from glaucoma, she managed to set up this summer’s garden but was unable to work in it.
She also was an opera buff and was a season ticket holder to the old Baltimore Opera Company.
Committed to women’s rights and progressive causes, Mrs. Whittington, who was a lifelong Democrat, supported Planned Parenthood, the American Civil Liberties Union and the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.
“She was politically motivated because she wanted to do good for people,” Ms. Flak said.
Mrs. Whittington tended to avoid fatty foods and salt, friends said.
“She’d put on jazz music and do her aerobics in her apartment and walked all over the Broadmead campus. She may have briefly smoked in college, because in those days everyone smoked, but she gave it up,” Miss Mitchell said. “She had liked bourbon, but in recent years drank red wine. I don’t know if she liked it all that much, but she knew it was good for her heart.”
She praised Mrs. Whittington’s willingness to stay involved even as her blindness grew.
“As things changed, her attitude changed, and she’d adapt,” Miss Mitchell said.
Her husband of 62 years, Charles Lee Whittington Jr., former treasurer of the old Maryland Glass Corp., died in 2007.
Plans for a jazz and Broadway show concert celebrating her life, which will be held at Broadmead, are incomplete.
In addition to her daughter, she is survived by two grandchildren.