Catherine J. Cochran

Catherine J. Cochran, a fixture in Howard County civic and political life, has died.

Catherine J. Cochran, who became a fixture in Howard County civic and political life after settling there nearly 60 years ago and also had a successful real estate career, died Sunday at Holly Hill Farm in Clarksville. She was 85.

"She was a wonderful friend, and I first met her when we moved here in 1969. We were both interested in schools back at a time when they were country schools. With the coming of Columbia, there came a certain sophistication," said Barbara W. Rudlin, who served on the Howard County school board from 1975 to 1982. "She had great ambitions for the kids and helped make changes."

The daughter of William H. Flanagan, a restaurateur, and Catherine V. Flanagan, Catherine Joan Flanagan was born and raised in Boston.

She was a 1948 graduate of Jeanne d'Arc Academy in Milton, Mass., and earned a bachelor's degree in literature in 1952 from Newton College of the Sacred Heart, now part of Boston College.

While pursuing a master's degree in theology at St. Mary's College in Notre Dame, Ind., she met Edward Leo Cochran Jr., who was studying for his Ph.D. in chemistry at the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Ind.

The couple married in 1953, and after briefly living in New Haven, Conn., they moved to Holly Hill, an historic 10-acre Clarksville farm, in 1956.

A daughter, Courtney Cochran Watson, who lives in Ellicott City and is a former Howard County Council member, said her mother "embraced rural life."

Not long after settling in Howard County, Mrs. Cochran immersed herself in education and civil rights issues and became an advocate for minority and women's rights.

Her husband served on the Howard County Board of Education from 1965 to 1968. Mrs. Cochran and her husband wanted to end segregated county schools. During Dr. Cochran's tenure, all black schools were closed ahead of schedule and without any major incidents.

"She encouraged him to run for the school board because they were both concerned about the primitive state of the public schools, and they both worked to desegregate schools and then to convert the county to the charter form of government," said Ms. Watson.

Mrs. Cochran also successfully advocated for kindergarten programs in Howard County's public schools.

As a member of the League of Women Voters and the Howard County Citizens Association, Mrs. Cochran pushed for improving government transparency and accountability. She also worked on numerous political campaigns, supporting candidates in local, state and national elections.

When her husband ran on the Democratic ticket and was elected Howard County's second county executive in 1974, Mrs. Cochran joined him on the campaign trail, where she brought her trademark outgoing and warm personality.

She hosted coffees, handed out literature and worked at the polls on behalf of her husband's campaign. When Dr. Cochran's term ended in 1978, he returned to the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory.

Angela M. "Angie" Beltram, a Howard County civic activist, was a longtime friend.

"She had very strong feelings morally and politically and was a great supporter of Ed Cochran. She was the kind of person who took to heart criticism of politicians," said Ms. Beltram, a former Ellicott City resident who now lives in Catonsville.

"Education remained an important issue for her, and she kept on that and all other aspects of civic life in Howard County," said Ms. Rudlin, a Columbia resident.

At age 48, after her children were grown, Mrs. Cochran entered the workforce in 1978 after studying at Howard Community College and obtaining her real estate license.

Not long after she went to work for Long & Foster in Howard County, she became a top seller in the firm. She was later named top Howard County Realtor across all firms.

For more than two decades she topped production lists at three leading firms, winning numerous awards and accolades, family members said.

Jim Rouse, developer and founder of Columbia, once said that Mrs. Cochran was successful in the real estate business because she "genuinely liked people," her daughter said.

Mrs. Cochran imparted to her children the wonders of the natural world and raised them with a deep sense of social responsibility, a commitment to civic and political engagement, and a passion for intellectual and cultural development, her daughter said.

Mrs. Cochran filled the grounds of her home with bird feeders so she could observe cardinals, sparrows and woodpeckers. Bluebirds were her favorite, family members said.

On the day Mrs. Cochran died, family members said, the bluebird boxes at Holly Hill were filled with baby bluebirds.

A funeral Mass will be offered at 10 a.m. Friday at the Franciscan Friary, 12290 Folly Quarter Road, Ellicott City.

In addition to her daughter, Mrs. Cochran is survived by her husband of 62 years, who was spokesman for APL when he retired in 1994; four sons, William Cochran of Frederick, Chris Cochran of Ellicott City, Edward Cochran of Minneapolis and Mark Cochran of West Chester, Pa.; another daughter, Mary Catherine Cochran of Ellicott City; two brothers, John Flanagan of Ellicott City and William Flanagan of Needham, Mass.; a sister, Anne Thompson of Milton, Mass; 23 grandchildren; and a great-grandson.

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