Helen V. 'Honey' Passano, an environmentalist who embraced cultural and civic causes

Helen V. “Honey” Passano, whose life was defined by her interests in environmental, cultural and civic causes, died Jan. 19 from complications of a stroke at the Blakehurst Retirement Community in Towson.

Mrs. Passano, who also lived in Gibson Island, was 84.

Helen Virginia Addington was born and raised in Norfolk, Va., the daughter of Joseph C. Addington, a lumber company owner, and Helen Murphy Addington, a homemaker.

A 1951 graduate of Matthew Fontaine Maury High School in Norfolk, she was known as “Honey” to family and friends. She attended Sweet Briar College in Amherst, Va., for two years.

“Honey was blessed with an enormous amount of energy. I admired her because she had so many interests and used that energy to take part in those activities,” said Margaret “Margie” Powell of Ruxton, who had known Mrs. Passano for more than 70 years.

“We met as young teens at Virginia Beach where her family had a house,” Mrs. Powell said. “We went to college together and I introduced her to her future husband. It’s been a long and wonderful friendship.”

Her daughter, Leslie Passano of Trappe, said that after her mother met William Moore Passano Jr., he told her: “‘You can go abroad for a year or marry me.”

“So they married in 1953,” her daughter said.

Mrs. Passano and her husband, who became president of Waverly Press Inc. in 1971, lived most of their married life at a home on Gibson Island before moving five years ago to Blakehurst, where they lived part-time.

A grandson, William Harrison Hill, wrote a biographical profile of his grandmother, calling her “a fierce advocate for environmental preservation, natural foods and the women’s liberation movement.”

“Helen embodied progressivism before it was trendy, easy, or advantageous to do so,” wrote Mr. Hill, of New York City. He added that her activism “began in her role as mother and wife — roles she found deeply meaningful.”

An early participant in a food cooperative, Mrs. Passano was influenced by pioneering American nutritionist Daisie Adelle Davis. She kept an unusual kitchen for the time.

“She refused to stock her kitchen with industrial food products; if her kids wanted a slice of Wonder Bread or a can of Coke, they were told to visit a neighbor,” her grandson wrote. “She was an obsessive label reader. Detergents that contained phosphates were forbidden.”

In addition to living on the Chesapeake Bay — where she enjoyed sailing — the proximity of the water heightened her awareness and concern for the bay’s health, protection and recovery. Her grandson noted that Mrs. Passano taught her children to chart the swan migration trends they observed from their bayside home.

“She was involved in island cleanup initiatives, and worked to create areas where people could enjoy nature without the presence of development,” Mr. Hill wrote. “Helen found restorative power in the earth, and felt it important to help others do the same.”

She was a volunteer with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, a member of the Gibson Island Conservation Committee and a steward of the Gibson Island Nature Trail. She was also a lifelong gardener.

“She made a lot of difference with her environmental work with the Chesapeake Bay,” said Terry Ulmer of Roland Park, a friend of more than 40 years. “She knew what had to be done.”

She was a dedicated Democrat, and women’s liberation and women’s rights were other lifelong interests. In 1986, she attended the March for Women’s Lives/Reproductive Rights Rally in Washington. She was a strong supporter of Planned Parenthood and EMILY’s List.

She was a member of the Women’s Committee of the Walters Art Museum, and served as its president from 1981 to 1983. She was also a member of the board of the old Baltimore Opera. She enjoyed attending the opera, symphony and musical theater. On Gibson Island she served as producer of a production, “From Axes to Taxes.”

In 1999, Mrs. Passano was a founding member of Friends of Mount Vernon Place, a nonprofit whose goal is to “revitalize and transform public squares and promote them as an amenity for area residents and visitors,” reported The Baltimore Sun in 2000.

“Like the bay, she knew what had to be done in the city,” Mrs. Ulmer said.

“She was a quiet leader who volunteered and wanted to serve the community. She had a style of leading and an incredible spirit,” Mrs. Ulmer said. “She was always kind and welcoming to people who wanted to help. She was very committed to her many causes.

“She was very loyal to family and friends and always stood by them. She cared and had respect for people,” she said. “She is going to be missed in so many ways. She touched a lot of lives.”

In addition to sailing, Mrs. Passano was a member of Old Folks in Canoes, and was a world traveler. From 1996 to 2015, she attended annual summer gatherings of the Chautauqua Institute in Chautauqua, N.Y. She enjoyed reading and was a co-founder of Charlotte’s Web Book Club.

She also liked to ski, horseback ride and play tennis and golf.

She had been a member of the Gibson Island Club since the 1950s, and was an active member of the Mount Vernon Club, the Elkridge Club and the Hamilton Street Club.

“When she had an earlier stroke some time ago, she took all of her energy and just got on with it,” Mrs. Powell said. “When she couldn’t think of a word, she’d give a little laugh.”

A memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. Feb. 3 at St. Christopher By the Sea, 534 Broadway, Gibson Island.

In addition to her husband of 64 years, her daughter and grandson, Mrs. Passano is survived by a son, Will Passano of Princeton, N.J.; two other daughters, Joanne Bartlett of Owings Mills and Kemp Hill of Charlottesville, Va.; and nine other grandchildren.

fred.rasmussen@baltsun.com

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