Frances R. Rome, former educator who founded Women's Committee at the Baltimore Museum of Art, dies at age 104

Frances R. Rome, a former educator who was the founder of the Baltimore Museum of Art’s Women’s Committee, died Oct. 18 from complications of a stroke at her home in the Murray Hill neighborhood of Baltimore County.

She was 104.

“Frances Rome was, for many decades, one of the BMA’s most serious and devoted volunteers, and in numerous capacities served an institution she loved,” wrote Stiles T. Colwill, former BMA chair and longtime friend, in an email.

Mr. Colwill called her part of a “great generation of women who devoted themselves to great civic work and expressed it at the BMA, where she worked with five different directors. She will be greatly missed.”

“The Baltimore Museum of Art was the center of her life and she was absolutely amazing. I felt she gave everybody strength through her knowledge of art,” said Mary Ann Beckley, who served on the BMA’s Women’s Committee with Mrs. Rome and is now a member of the advisory council at the Evergreen Museum & Library.

“She was truly brilliant and was absolutely the kindest, warmest and knowledgeable person. She flaunted not, yet was everything,” Ms. Beckley said. “Having Frances’ friendship was a privilege.”

Betty Cooke, co-owner of The Store Ltd.in Cross Keys, had been a friend for years and said of Mrs. Rome: “I always highly admired her for being a most elegant lady. She was such a gracious person.”

“Through the decades she touched many lives with her warmth, understanding and wisdom,” she said. “She was a very inspirational and spirited person.”

The daughter of the Rev. Sanford Louis Rotter, former editor of the Raleigh News & Observer who later became an Episcopal clergyman, and Hester Beasley Rotter, a homemaker, Frances Rotter was born in Raleigh, N.C., and raised in The Plains, Va.

After graduating in 1929 from St. Catherine’s School in Richmond, Va., she entered Vassar College, where she received a bachelor’s degree in 1933. She also studied art history at Harvard University.

From 1934 until 1949, she taught ancient history, European history, art history and theater at the Madeira School in McLean, Va.

In 1941, she married Oliver Cooper Winston, and moved to Baltimore in 1947. The marriage ended in divorce.

She married Morton E. Rome, a Baltimore attorney who had been an assistant prosecutor at the Nuremberg War Crimes Trials, in 1952. They later settled in Murray Hill. He died in 1996.

Mrs. Rome was founder of the BMA’s Women’s Committee in the early 1950s, and had been a founding member with Selma Rosen and Edith Hoppe of the museum’s sales and rental gallery, established in 1953. That gallery was the brainchild of then-museum director Adelyn Breeskin, who thought it would be an notable enhancement to the BMA.

In those early days Mrs. Rome, who later served as chair of the sales and rental gallery, would travel to New York City in a rental truck with her fellow committee members to select abstract and expressionistic paintings on consignment and bring them back to Baltimore.

In a 1983 article in The Baltimore Sun, Mrs. Rosen recalled an instance when she and Mrs. Rome were “wrestling a large canvas down 57th Street in a brisk wind.”

“She was always very supportive of the museum and always had an open mind to the future,” said Bob Zimmerman, former head of the installation department and exhibition designer at the BMA. “She was very charming, nice and had a pleasant sense of humor, and I never heard a cross word from her lips.”

After the sales and rental gallery closed in the 1990s she was not as involved at the museum, said her daughter, Nancy R. H. Rome of Murray Hill.

She and her husband also had a personal art collection that featured early 20th century European, Russian and American art.

“She had a great eye,” her daughter said.

Mrs. Rome was also an accomplished athlete who enjoyed tennis, golf and riding. She also was a fly-fishing enthusiast who spent more than 25 summers in Wyoming and Montana, fly fishing and horseback riding. For more than 40 years she visited Barbuda in the eastern Caribbean.

“She had a lifelong passion for politics, the arts, liberal arts education, standing up to social injustice and educating our country’s children,” her daughter said.

Mrs. Rome was an avid reader who favored the works of Tolstoy, Trollope, Dickens and Nabokov.

She remained physically active and for years worked out at the Meadow Mill Athletic Club in Hampden.

“She also ate incredibly healthy and avoided fried foods and white bread. She ate a lot of vegetables and fish, enjoyed a little wine, and never smoked,” her daughter said.

“She was very healthy until the end, and took no medications,” she said. “She certainly was a force of nature.”

Plans for a memorial celebration of her life to be held next spring are incomplete.

In addition to her daughter, she is survived by a son, O. Cooper Winston Jr. of Norton, Mass.; five grandchildren; and four great-grandchildren. Another son, E. Perry Winston, died in 2015; and a daughter, Mary Winston Nelson, died in 2013.

fred.rasmussen@baltsun.com

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