Margaret "Maggie" Holmes Bethea, a homemaker who cared for not only her seven children but a host of nieces, nephews, grandchildren and youths in her neighborhood of Harlem Park in West Baltimore, died May 25 in Myrtle Beach of congestive heart failure. She was 88.
Mrs. Bethea's life centered on taking care of children and being active in her church of more than 60 years, Metropolitan United Methodist Church in Harlem Park.
"My mother was one of the kindest people you know," said a daughter, Naomi Bethea of Myrtle Beach. "She never said a harsh word about anybody. She was always greeting you with a smile. Her love, her faith, you could see it in her face. People just drifted to her because of her personality."
Mrs. Bethea was the eldest of five siblings in the Burgess community of Myrtle Beach. Her mother, Agnes Carr Holmes, was a homemaker and her father, James Holmes, farmed tobacco and other crops and worked in the waste disposal department for the city of Myrtle Beach.
In 1947, she married Loranzer Bethea, and the next year the family moved to Baltimore, where Mr. Bethea worked as a crane operator for Bethlehem Steel for 27 years. They lived in the 1200 block of W. Lanvale St. for 64 years, until Mrs. Bethea moved back to Myrtle Beach in 2012 to be closer to family.
"One time my father wanted to move and she got upset," Naomi Bethea said. "She did not want to leave, this was her home."
In addition to the couple's seven children, Mrs. Bethea helped take care of her nieces and nephews when her siblings were ill and ran a day-care center out of the home. "She baby-sat almost everybody's child in the neighborhood at one time or another," Naomi Bethea said. Later, she also helped care for her grandchildren.
In the 1960s, Mrs. Bethea worked for six years as a cafeteria worker at Carter G. Woodson Elementary School. When her husband retired from Bethlehem Steel, the couple owned and managed a laundromat in the area called "Our Laundromat," for about 13 years until Mr. Bethea died in 1999.
Mrs. Bethea served as a communion steward at her church, Metropolitan United, which was a block from her house. Her favorite scripture was Psalm 23 and her favorite hymn was "Blessed Assurance." She kept her membership in the church after moving to South Carolina, and members continued to send her cards and gifts.
Mrs. Bethea also enjoyed crocheting, listening to gospel programs and attending Baltimore Orioles games with her husband. She loved finding things to do with the children she took care of, including taking them to the zoo and to parades.
"On Sundays we would hear the parades coming down Carey Street," Naomi Bethea said. "She would slam the door, turn off the food cooking in the kitchen, and we would go out and watch. She just enjoyed being with children and helping with children."
A daughter, Ruthie Bethea-Sholly of Baltimore, said her mother loved cultivating flowers, especially roses.
After her husband died, Mrs. Bethea got a boxer named "Remy," who once helped save her life, Mrs. Bethea-Sholly said.
A walled-off chimney in the family's home in Harlem Park had collapsed, sending carbon monoxide fumes through the home. Mrs. Bethea was sleeping, but Remy barked and jumped on her bed to wake her. Soon, an alarm went off indicating that there was a carbon monoxide leak, and she was able to get out safely.
"I told her, 'You are a lucky lady that that dog saved your life,'" Mrs. Bethea-Sholly said. "The dog was just bonded to my mother."
Services for family will be at 10 a.m. Monday at Metropolitan United Methodist Church, 1121 W. Lanvale St. A viewing will be held at Wylie Funeral Home at 701 N. Mount St. from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. Monday.
In addition to her daughters Naomi and Ruthie, Mrs. Bethea is survived by sons Wilson Holmes and Michael Bethea, both of Baltimore; daughters Rowena Bethea Cook of Baltimore, Angela Bethea of Baltimore and Donna Bethea Clarke of Myrtle Beach; two sisters, Viola Stevens and Barbara German, both of Myrtle Beach; a brother, Elmer Alton Holmes of Myrtle Beach; six grandchildren; eight great-grandchildren; 38 nieces and nephews; and 48 great nieces and nephews.