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Daisy Alverda "Bert" Booth, delegate from Baltimore County, dies

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Daisy Alverda "Bert" Booth, who was elected to the House of Delegates from Baltimore County and was known for her strong advocacy of civil rights, died July 2 of a stroke at Greater Baltimore Medical Center.

The former Chestnut Ridge resident was 85.

The daughter of a Catonsville pharmacist and a homemaker, Daisy Alverda Stagmer was born in Baltimore and raised in Catonsville.

Mrs. Booth, who family members said never used her first name, preferred to be known as Alverda "Bert" Booth.

After graduating from Catonsville High School in 1942, she studied at the University of Maryland School of Pharmacy.

She married David E. Booth in 1943, and after she and her husband left Baltimore for a few years of military service and college for him, they returned to a home in the Chestnut Ridge section of Baltimore County.

Mr. Booth, who was an electrical engineer at Westinghouse Electric Corp., died in 2003.

Mrs. Booth's political involvement dated to the days when she became active in a PTA protest against Baltimore County commissioners when one of her sons was in first grade.

Because of her leadership qualities and savvy, she soon found herself vice president and legislative chairman of the PTA.

In 1956, she joined the League of Women Voters, and 11 years later, was elected president of the Baltimore County chapter of the league. In 1973, she was elected president of the League of Women Voters of Maryland.

She "spearheaded civic initiatives, too. Through her league experience, she learned to build coalitions, give speeches, write brochures, manage volunteers and set up polling places," according to a profile of Mrs. Booth in "Women of Achievement in Maryland History."

During the 1960s, it was Mrs. Booth who led the battle that resulted in Baltimore County Council members' being elected by district rather than at large. To aid in that effort, she established VOICES — Voters Organized to Improve the Councilmanic Election System — which pushed for a constitutional amendment.

Mrs. Booth had served on several county and state committees, some of which included the School Board Advisory Committee on Construction and Financing, the Baltimore County Citizens for Decency, the Regional Planning Council Housing Committee and the Citizens Committee for Modernization of Maryland Courts.

She resigned the presidency of the League of Women Voters of Maryland in 1974 to run as a Republican for a seat in the House of Delegates from Baltimore County's 11th Legislative District. At that time, Mrs. Booth told The Evening Sun, "It's high time that women take a bigger part in our political life. If we're ever going to clean up the mess we're in, we have to take our government away from the professional politicians and bring it back to the people."

Mrs. Booth won the election and remained until 1982 in the House of Delegates, where she had served on the Constitutional and Administrative Law Committee and the Commission on Intergovernmental Cooperation.

She was a founder and first president in 1979 of the Maryland Association of Elected Women, and served as president of the Legislative Study Group. In 1981, she was elected president of the Women Legislators of Maryland.

Former state Sen. Julian "Jack" Lapides served with Mrs. Booth in the legislature.

"She was a magnificent delegate and was extremely liberal and intelligent," recalled Mr. Lapides.

After having been a Republican for 33 years, Mrs. Booth renounced her party affiliation in 1980 to become a Democrat and serve as Maryland chairman that year of Rep. John B. Anderson's unsuccessful independent presidential campaign.

"I was mad," she told The Baltimore Sun in an interview at the time. "The party platform no longer supported the Equal Rights Amendment, it favored a constitutional amendment against abortion, it opposed the 55-mile-an-hour speed limit, and it wanted to select judges based on their views about abortion and the family."

She added: "All these things are so foreign to my personal philosophy that I didn't think I could work with people like that. It wasn't the party's presidential candidate so much, although I didn't like him much either."

Mrs. Booth also said that "one cannot reach goals alone. There must be a coalition."

"She realized that the Republicans were becoming narrower and narrower and that's why she switched. She was always an advocate for the oppressed," said Mr. Lapides.

"Bert had a wonderful heart and was a caring human being. She felt the party had deserted her but she wasn't about to let down her principles. That's why she may have lost re-election but that was certainly secondary to her principles," he said.

Mrs. Booth, who had been a member of the American Civil Liberties Union since the mid-1950s, introduced the first gay-rights bill while in the legislature. An anti-discrimination bill was finally passed in 2001.

Not everyone appreciated Mrs. Booth's liberal positions, and she and her family were often targets of anonymous threatening phone calls. Even though the Ku Klux Klan burned a cross on her lawn, she refused to alter her stance on civil rights for African-Americans and gays or reproductive rights for women.

She devoted herself in later years to the passage of the Equal Rights Amendment and was a member of the Maryland Advisory Committee to the U.S. Civil Rights Commission. In 1991, she was treasurer of Maryland for Choice.

While in the House of Delegates, Mrs. Booth kept her 11th Legislative District constituents informed on issues through a newspaper column she wrote for the Community Times in Reisterstown.

She explained in the "Women of Achievement in Maryland" profile that she viewed her job as a legislator "to work toward making the basic structure and operation of government open and attainable to all citizens and to make the government an object of trust and enthusiasm."

Mrs. Booth was an avid reader and was particularly interested in the history of Baltimore County. She was a member of the Baltimore County Historical Society.

At Mrs. Booth's request, there will be no services.

A memorial gathering will be held at 5 p.m. Aug. 24 at the home of a nephew, Emory Stagmer, 12031 Greenspring Ave., Lutherville.

She is survived by three sons, David E. Booth Jr. of Westminster, Richard C. Booth of Finksburg and James D. Booth of York, Pa.; five grandchildren; and a great-granddaughter.

fred.rasmussen@baltsun.com

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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