Helen M. Passano, philanthropist and community volunteer, dies

Philanthropist and community volunteer's interests ranged from educational institutions to hospitals

Helen M. Passano, a retired chemist and philanthropist who led the restoration of the chapel at Notre Dame of Maryland University and served on the board of Roland Park Country School, died Thursday at Gilchrist Hospice Care in Towson of acute myeloid leukemia.

The longtime Tuscany-Canterbury resident was 68.

Marylou Yam, president of Notre Dame, said the institution was "deeply saddened by the passing of Helen Passano. As an alumnae, Helen was a shining example of a fearless Notre Dame woman.

"She was a loyal, enthusiastic champion of Notre Dame and a generous benefactor whose formidable presence and tireless efforts will be missed," said Dr. Yam. "Helen's enduring legacy on our campus, including the lovely Marikle Chapel of the Annunciation in memory and honor of her parents, will continue to have an impact in perpetuity."

"Helen was a wonderful woman. She was vibrant, energetic and smart as a whip," said Jean Waller Brune, head of Roland Park Country School. "She was a wonderful mother and grandmother. When I came to Roland Park, all three of her daughters were my advisees."

The daughter of Henry John Marikle, a Connecticut State Police officer, and Wanda Mildred Marikle, a homemaker, Helen Catherine Marikle was born in New London, Conn.

She was a graduate of Norwich Free Academy in Norwich, Conn, and came to what was then the College of Notre Dame of Maryland in 1964. There, she earned a bachelor's degree in chemistry in 1969.

She met her future husband, Edward Magruder "Mac" Passano Jr., who became vice chairman and secretary of Waverly Press.

"She came to Baltimore from Connecticut for college in 1964, met my dad, and never left," a daughter, Tamara "Tammy" Passano Wiggs of Ruxton, wrote in an email.

In 1978, she obtained a master's degree in administrative science from the Johns Hopkins University.

Ms. Passano launched her career in 1969 with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and worked as a research chemist until retiring in 1979.

After stepping away from her professional career, she devoted her time to philanthropy and community activism.

"Baltimore was truly her home, and she spent her life volunteering, raising money and giving back to the community," he daughter said.

For 17 years she served on the board of trustees of Notre Dame and chaired its institutional advancement committee.

She was capital campaign chair and board member at Roland Park Country School, and was still a member of the Women's Board at Johns Hopkins Hospital at her death. She also was an active member of the Junior League.

"Helen was a member of the board at Notre Dame as long as I was president — and I worked here 15 years. In fact, she was on the committee that interviewed me and gave me a dinner," said Mary Pat Seurkamp, who was president of the college from 1997 until her retirement in 2012.

"She was generous, committed and passionate, and when she set her mind to something, there was no stopping her. She loved Notre Dame and helped move it forward," she said.

When Notre Dame undertook a restoration in 2001 of the chapel in Theresa Hall, the project was funded by a $2 million gift from Ms. Passano and her husband and their family. The original sanctuary had been marred by a 1960s modernization when air conditioning was installed. The original building had been designed in 1886 by the noted Baltimore architectural firm of Baldwin & Pennington.

"I remember loving the new chapel," Ms. Passano told The Baltimore Sun in a 2001 interview. "We were cool. We got air conditioning. We thought we were moving forward with a contemporary space. But guess what? We were moving back. It's time to bring it back to its original glory."

"When she was a member of the institutional advancement committee, she always gave good advice," said Dr. Seurkamp. "I just can't say enough good about Helen."

Ms. Passano was a member of the board at Roland Park Country School from 1998 to 2004.

"If you asked Helen to do something, you knew it would be done beautifully. She organized our first post-prom party, which has been the model ever since," said Ms. Brune. "She had a generous heart, and she and Mac helped raise money to build our athletic center. She always had so much energy and I always just loved being around her."

Elaine E. Born and Ms. Passano worked together as members of the Women's Board at Johns Hopkins Hospital when Ms. Born was president.

"Helen had a real love for the Baltimore community, and we go back to the Junior League in the early 1970s. I just can't image the Women's Board at Hopkins without her. She was gracious, fun and well-organized," said Ms. Born.

Ms. Passano often served as co-chair of the hospital Women's Board's annual Best-Dressed Sale and Boutique, held in the Carriage House on the grounds of the Evergreen Museum & Library on North Charles Street.

"We price to sell," Ms. Passano told The Sun in 2012. "We won't help ourselves if we make things too high. You can get a look-to-die-for here, and people will think you have paid hundreds for it."

In addition to the University of Maryland School of Medicine and the Calvert School, the couple and their family gave $1 million to support the Hopkins Downtown Center — the lobby is named after them.

In 1997, the couple donated two letters that George Washington wrote during the 1780s to the Kenmore Foundation, which curates Ferry Farm in Stafford County, Va., Washington's boyhood home.

Ms. Passano was an avid tennis and bridge player and enjoyed spending time at a second home on Groton Long Point, Conn., where she liked sailing the Long Island Sound. She liked to winter at St. Maarten in the Caribbean.

She was a member of the Baltimore Country Club, L'Hirondelle Club, Mount Vernon Club, Stonington Country Club and the Groton Long Point Yacht Club.

Ms. Passano was a communicant of the Roman Catholic Cathedral of Mary Our Queen, 5200 N. Charles St., where a Mass of Christian burial will be offered at 10:30 a.m. June 14.

In addition to her husband of 44 years and her daughter, she is survived by two other daughters, Catherine Passano McDonnell of Green Spring Valley and Sarah Passano Meech of Barrington, R.I.; a sister, Mary Ann Soltys of Juneau, Alaska; and nine grandchildren.

frasmussen@baltsun.com

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