Ruth L. Thomas, whose philanthropic interests ranged from medical and educational institutions to helping newly arrived immigrants, died Wednesday of complications from a stroke at Springhouse Assisted-Living in Pikesville.
Mrs. Thomas would have celebrated her 98th birthday this coming week.
The daughter of Jacob Legum, founder of Park Circle Motor Co., and Rose l. Legum, a homemaker, Ruth Legum was born in Norfolk, Va., and moved with her family to Fairview Avenue in Forest Park in 1917.
After graduating from Forest Park High School in 1930, Mrs. Thomas earned a bachelor's degree from Goucher College in 1934.
In 1936, she married Richard Marcus, who had been a Fairview Avenue neighbor and friend since childhood.
Mr. Marcus, who was president of the Louis Marcus Corp., one of the largest women's and children's clothing manufacturers in the world, was also a noted philanthropist who helped establish Brandeis University in Waltham, Mass.
After their marriage, the couple settled into a home in the 3500 block of Old Court Road in Pikesville.
During World War II, Mrs. Thomas sold war bonds and, in recognition of her work, was presented a special award from the Maryland Committee for the Sale of War Bonds.
In 1953, Maryland Gov. Theodore Roosevelt McKeldin appointed Mr. Marcus to the state Board of Education, and after his death in 1954, named his widow to fill his vacancy.
Mrs. Thomas had helped organize the women's auxiliary at the old Sinai Hospital on East Monument Street, and was one of the founders of the Maryland Association of Hospital Auxiliaries.
When Sinai moved to its present home in the late 1950s, Mrs. Thomas continued volunteering for decades in the hospital's nursery, library and reception area.
For years, she had been an active volunteer and auxiliary member at what is now Levindale Hebrew Geriatric Center & Hospital, and had served as president of the Levindale Auxiliary from 1951 to 1952.
She also had been vice president of the Federation of Jewish Women's Organizations of Maryland and had been a board member of the women's auxiliary of Brandeis University.
In 1954, when former first lady Eleanor Roosevelt arrived in Baltimore to speak at a dinner meeting of the Brandeis University Associates of Baltimore, Mrs. Thomas feted Mrs. Roosevelt at a private afternoon reception that was held at her Old Court Road home.
"I was just a kid, but it was all very exciting," said a daughter, Susan M. Glick, who lives in Canton. "I also remembered when she entertained Leonard Bernstein."
"She was a major player in Baltimore's Jewish community," said a nephew, Richard Sher, longtime WJZ-TV reporter who is now executive producer and moderator of the show "Square Off."
"For almost 98 years, Aunt Ruth was just like the Energizer Bunny: She kept going and going, never running out of projects to help others less fortunate," said Mr. Sher.
"This was her life's work right up till the very end. Just weeks before she passed away, she was making beautiful blankets for the young patients at Sinai," he said. "She was a true superstar, in the community and in our family."
In recent years, Mrs. Thomas began experiencing hearing loss and macular degeneration but refused to let it slow her down or interfere in her personal relationships, family members said.
"She maintained her sense of humor and kindness," said Gail M. Glick, another daughter, who lives in Washington.
"My mother was still volunteering and upbeat until the end of her life. She had volunteered all of her life. She was more interested in volunteering than being in clubs," she said.
"She worked hard to help the unfortunate. She looked at her volunteerism as a job and took it very seriously and was very rigorous when it came to it. She was never casual about it," she said.
Mrs. Thomas also helped newly arrived Jewish immigrants adjust to their new lives in Baltimore.
Well into her 80s, she was still driving immigrants to stores so they could do their shopping.
"She drove until 2005 and only gave it up after being hit by another car in the Giant parking lot," said Gail Glick.
Mrs. Thomas, who had lived at 11 Slade Ave. in Pikesville before moving to the assisted-living facility in 2009, was a founding and longtime member of Beth El Congregation in Pikesville.
"One of the other aspects of my mother was her interest in other people. She was always a good, sympathetic listener and not a talker," said Susan Glick.
Mrs. Thomas was an accomplished needleworker and enjoyed crocheting, cross-stitching, knitting and making rugs.
She was an avid reader and enjoyed attending the theater, and for many years had been a subscriber to Everyman Theatre. She also liked to travel.
In 1961, she married Leo Thomas, owner of Glenhaven Clothes, a women's clothing manufacturer, who died in 1998.
Services were Friday.
In addition to her daughters, Mrs. Thomas is survived by six grandchildren; 10 great-grandchildren; and many nieces and nephews.